The Lede: Arrested Development
We are shaped by our experiences and, unfortunately, Pete Campbell is no different. The great duality of growing up is that you work so hard to be everything your parents are not while inevitably becoming just like them. We only received one glimpse of Pete's father ("New Amsterdam," s1e4) and it is not a very flattering image, but it is one that has greatly informed Pete, up to -- and most certainly including -- last night's episode, “Signal 30.”
Andrew Campbell sits in shorts with drink in hand, his legs crossed in a stance that forever relays the message that he is not impressed. He holds in his hand not just a glass of brown alcohol but an ever-present prowess, a certain kind of power that is informed by the implicit acceptance of New York's upper crust and put to power over his two sons. He sits from on high, completely unimpressed by his son's efforts. He views his son's job as, "wining and whoring... no job for a white man” and refuses to give Pete money to get an apartment with Trudy seemingly on a selfish whim (although it being a bit too far uptown might have something to do with it). When Pete asks what the father has ever done for him, he says plainly, "We gave you everything. We gave you your name. What have you done with it?"
It's a question that Pete has been relentlessly trying to answer ever since, even after his father's death in "Flight 1" (s2e2). Pete's only true proxy in this show is Betty, another child born wealthy and cast aside to develop on their own, as if money was sunlight and cruelty was water. It clearly left Pete as a powerless figure, so caught under the thumb of a patriarchal system built with wealth and exacerbated by the whole of New York's upper crust society. He is a Campbell so he ought to be the best. But no one ever gave him a guide on how to get that done. So he languishes as a child in an adult's body, thrust into their world without any of the tools necessary for survival, let alone success.
Pete tries to bite some of his father's power by bedding young, impressionable women. First there was Peggy, someone who he won by simply showing up at her door and saying he wants her (“Smoke in your Eyes,” s1e1). Later, as he takes her on his couch before work one day (“Hobo Code,” s1e8), he mentions post baby-making how he hasn't read her Belle Jolie copy yet, letting her know exactly where his position is (beyond just recently on top). The same could be said for the impressionable, rejected model who is taken with Pete's job title (“Maidenform,” s2e6) in the same manner that Pete isn't deterred when the model takes him back to her place and tells her mom to be quiet, alright?! Pete goes further down the rabbit hole when turning a nice gesture to a neighbor's au pair (“Souvenir,” s3e8) into a sexual transaction; a price exacted if she wants to cheat on her boyfriend or not.
This drive to get strong -- and young -- continued tonight as Pete effortlessly falls into a driver's ed class taught at a local high school, with some of the students as his classmates. He admires one girl, a pretty blonde, who he quickly strikes up a conversation with in the same awkward 17-year-old impish way he has with women of the past. But she's eighteen, and he's now a married man, a father, and an owner of a house out in the suburbs. He throws dinner parties with couples from work; he shouldn't be happily shocked when the girl confesses that she's getting over a hangover (by drinking vanilla extract of all things). While Pete's face is young, and beams wonderfully against the trophy case during one conversation with the young lass, the shadows hide a quickly-retreating hairline (one commented on in the opening of this season) that belies his real age. When a fit jock actually named “Handsome” moves in on his girl and plays her thigh like an upright bass, he takes it begrudgingly. If he's thinking, “this is not how it's supposed to be,” well, it's certainly not the first time the thought has crossed his mind.
After Pete's father's death in “Flight 1," Pete fully threw his father image at Don Draper, the very man he tried to destroy at the tail end of season one. While he's always looking for Don's acceptance, he's also taking notes on how to live his life, emulating it all (begrudgingly): have children, move to the suburbs, throw your life away. It all must be very disconcerting for the poor lad when he realizes that his hero is actually living out the dream he wants: a nice apartment in the city, a childless home, a young, adoring wife who will always dress up without having to worry about spittle ruining her garment. Someone else always has what Pete wants, even if Pete doesn't always know what Pete wants. Pete even went to a whore house and took to the clientele (who, after starting a spinning wheel of male fantasies, lands on “big, strong, powerful man”) as Don -- DON -- refused.
To compound things further, the entitled stance he takes at the office (which is somewhat earned) takes a major fall after Roger proves himself to still be useful and Lane proves that he can throw a left hook, even if he didn't fight in The Big One. And, in a sad turn of events, he takes his father's role of ever-disapproving and self-aggrandizing while Lane is the one who actually gets a chance to fight back and put Pete on the ground. It's of no shock when Pete confesses to a suddenly put-upon Don, “I have nothing.” It's partly true. He has everything; he just has no method in which to appreciate it. And that's something you just can't buy.
The Theme: Are You Experienced?
This week dealt heavily with masters and novices, teachers and pupils. The aforementioned Pete Campbell is trying to be an adult like Don and failing rather miserably at it. In fact, his experience is tossed aside rather easily when he nearly begs his wife to put the brownies in the icebox, as that's the way he likes them. It falls on deaf ears. But other experiences that matter....
- Lane Price, that staunch Englishman, believes that he knows how to best woo a fellow Brit with civility and chumminess. It doesn't work. He leans on the experience of Roger and, like in a high school rom-com where the protagonist tries to do something "like everyone else" and fails until he learns to just do it his way, he doesn't come through with the deal. And, in some fashion, ruins the marriage of one of his wife's few British friends in New York. He did have some sort of experience throwing a hook, though. Not bad for a guy who worked the supply line during The Big One.
- Don is forced to call up Trudy and try to cancel on her because of Megan's refusal to do so for him. Unfortunately, the persistent Mrs. Campbell refuses to let Don treat her like a client. In fact, she sells Don to some extent, letting him know that there's no way he won't come; she knows a response to every one of his tired excuses. His inexperience shines through when he has to talk personal with his co-workers, including Ken and his wife...*what's her name*...Alex Mack? But he does carry himself well in conversation, talking about his outhouse-visiting past. His experience is also sought by the owner of the whore house, though he lets that experience stay in the past tense.
- Roger is finally allowed to use some of his greatest assets accrued from a lifetime of accounts work: cheap ploys to get people drunk and take their money and whores. Which is to say that he's everything that the late Mr. Campbell thought a man in Pete's position would be. He's also able to give some valuable advice to his friend and fellow "unappreciated author" Ken Cosgrove from the fulfilling experience he used to have.
- Nobody knows how to be Joan better than the original article. Notice the dignity and grace after she tries to simply care for Lane in the same way he was there for her earlier this year and he leans in and kisses her. Up, open the door, and come back with some compassion and understanding. This is clearly not the first time that Joan has realized that her being her is misconstrued as something else.
- Ken learns from this experience to not stop writing, but to stop writing under his exposed pen name. He knows it's wrong (as Roger astutely points out), but it's something that's in his blood. Who would have guessed that the most revealing thing said at Pete and Trudy's dinner party was that Ken is a sci-fi writer?
The Nit Pick: Leaky Faucets
- Pete tries to shore up his adulterous desires, taking out his tool kit and temporarily fixing the constant drip, but Don is the alpha male who finds the solution. No tools, no problem, and looks great while doing it. Pete can only come in late with his box of worthless tools and be told by his surrogate daddy that he didn't do it right. His next line about how he had nothing to do with his baby leads right into this idea of impotency already at play. Rarely is a sturdy metal toolbox made to make someone look so limp.
- This is the second time this season where Pete has bled from the nose. The first incident came in the series opener, "A Little Kiss," when he fought and lost against the column in his previous office. At least this time he got the opportunity to give (but mostly take) punches from something animate.
- A rather experimental episode from third-time director John Slattery. At least experimental for this rather buttoned-down show. There were two nice match cuts involving Pete: as Lane opened a door and Pete was revealed to be opening it, and when Pete sat in one scene to fade into Pete in nearly the exact same position sitting in another location. To top it off, there were some rather jarring cuts of a drunken post-fight Pete getting ready to leave the office.
- Odd that AMC let the word "shit" go, but refused to bleep the many instances of the word "friend," when that is most certainly a four-letter word in this show's universe.
- Ah, so the kinship between Ken and Peggy, first touched upon in the pivotal "Maidenform" (s1e6) where Kenny promises to always keep her in the loop has now blossomed into a full-fledged pact to leave together if (or when) the time comes. This, friends, is called "foreshadowing."
- The name of the University of Texas bell tower sniper is mistakenly said as, "Charles Whitmore." Is this a possible nod to the nefarious character in LOST? And is that show's co-creator Damon Lindelof admission of writing Mad Men fan-fiction super awesome? The answer to both is "yes, Mike, of course" for that is the only one I'll be satisfied with. Moving along!
- UPDATE: Oh yeah and the last name of the Bell Tower Shooter, "Whitman," just so happens to be Don's old last name, too. I honestly glossed over this one completely, so kudos to our copy editor nate for picking out this extremely obvious, incredibly important piece of storytelling that I completely overlooked.
- "Signal 30" is the name of the instructional video being shown at the driver's ed course. Naturally, it's real, and you can view it in all its terribly cheap 1959 gory right here.
- Two very interesting tidbits from Megan. She does, in fact, admire Peggy, as Don told Peggy she did ("Tomorrowland," s4e13) and credits Peggy's work for getting her interested in advertising. Also, her quick and frank response to not having children makes me wonder if she can even have children. Or if she just, y'know, wants nothing to do with birthing any babies at this juncture in time. This, friends, we call "foreshadowing...?"
- Ken is only the second person in the show's history to get his writing laid out in voiceover. Don received the treatment (to great scorn) in s4e8's "The Summerman." Congrats, Aaron Staton.
- Kudos to the costume department who managed to get Roger Sterling a tie that matches the nameplates. What a well put together gent. And, sadly, kudos to the writing staff for realizing a man like Roger wouldn't know what the World Cup was in 1966. Though I'm loathe to say a similar executive would be just as clueless in 2012.
- A first: two tags on once scene! After the hilariously awful fight scene, the show's director gets a great one-liner -- "I don't know about you guys, but I had my money on Lane" -- with an equally as funny quip from Bert Cooper, telling Joan to "reschedule the meeting." Beautiful timing, great writing, and excellent deliveries, all.
- The final song played is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, more commonly known as "Ode to Joy." And even more commonly known as "the song that plays when they break the electromagnetic seal in Die Hard and the bad guys get to play around with all that money." So, a very fitting song to play after Pete admits to Don that he "has nothing." Nothing except a kickin' hi-fi that can fit Wilt Chamberlain, of course!
The Guess: I don't watch coming attractions, but I did properly nail that this week was going to focus on Pete and Lane. So now every week I'll just throw out a random guess based off of the previous week's storylines to see what will happen. So let's roll the dice, shall we?
Be sure to tune in next week, when we discuss Peggy's relationship with Ginsberg, how Sally is stealing pills from her suddenly favorite relative, and we watch chewing gum painfully removed from a pubis or two.
Image courtesy of AMC Television / Lionsgate