Taking its title from one of the many educational pictures produced by Highway Safety Films that consisted of footage taken at the scene of actual motor vehicle accidents, ‘Signal 30,’ is easily the tamest amongst other titles like Mechanized Death and Carrier or Killer. Seeing as how Mad Men threw a giant curveball with last week’s ‘Mystery Date,’ going with a rather benign sounding title, over something like Highways of Agony was probably a wise choice.
But ‘Signal 30’ still has its fair share of wreckage; mostly concerning aging man-child Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and his refusal to be dragged silently into maturity and whatever dull comforts that stage of life brings to a man. Having achieved the things he’s wanted most in life, Pete is left wanting more – the problem being, Pete expects no one to mind when he takes whatever it is that he wants. Pete has already succeeded in pushing Roger to the margins of SCDP, and pouted and insulted himself into a bigger office with a window, so when he sees something he wants, it’s expected that he’ll soon have it.
For example: Pete lusts after a young woman recently out of high school, while attempting to impress her by scoffing at one of the graphic films shown in their Driver’s Education course. Like the faucet in his kitchen, Pete’s thoughts of more, puerile or not, refuse to shut off. And, also like the faucet, Pete’s capable only of a temporary fix, but he’s not skilled enough to correct the problem entirely.
That why when Don (Jon Hamm) jumps in to fix the faucet that Pete had only managed to make worse, he amplifies Pete’s shortcomings by effortlessly doing that which takes all of Pete’s skill, and more, to accomplish. Whether its succeeding in business, attracting women, or Don’s newest feat: being happy in his marriage and home life, Don makes everything look easy, while Pete just ends up making Don look better.
So, with all that in mind, it’s easy to understand that when faced with another potential rival, Pete immediately goes on the offensive. This time, however, Pete has himself convinced Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) will be a pushover compared to Don, so he lets Lane court Jaguar on his own, but only after degrading a coveted automobile account by referring to it as worth only a measly $3 million.
Unlike Pete, Roger (John Slattery) goes to Lane with some really good advice on how to properly land an account. However, the problem Roger fails to see is that the advice he gives carries with it the assumption Lane shares his particularly slick personality. Unfortunately, turning business into a simple conversation that may or may not end up including several prostitutes simply isn’t Lane’s forte. And so, after one round, Pete throws in the towel on Lane’s attempt to land Jaguar. Putting him, Don and Roger front and center, instead.
After the client suggests they all have some fun, since he’s going to hand SCDP Jaguar anyway, they all end up at a little brothel Roger happens to know of. Everyone pairs off, except Don, who contentedly waits at the bar; winning the madam over with the admission he was conceived in a similar place – although it went by a decidedly more straightforward name.
Like other’s in the office, Pete doesn’t understand how Don’s home life can be enough, and after role-playing with a prostitute telling him “you’re my king,” Pete, feeling judged, turns on Don in the cab home. The confrontation is similar to the one at the episode’s end where the two share an elevator after Pete’s mouth gets him into some serious fisticuffs with Lane. It’s only after the fight, and with tears in his eyes that we understand Pete is angry with Don for not stepping in before he engaged in some kind of ruinous behavior. How else can Pete be as “virtuous” as Don, if not without his help?
‘Signal 30’ further explores the idea from the season premiere that for most, “home isn’t everything.” It’s clear by Lane putting the moves on Joan (Christina Hendricks) that this is certainly the case for him, but it’s starting to be the opposite for Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton). When confronting Ken about his extracurricular writing activities, Roger says that when it’s good, working at SCDP satisfies every need. Drawing that parallel between work and marriage suggests that you’re happy in one and miserable in the other. Unless you’re Pete Campbell, in which case you’re just miserable all around.
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘Far Away Places’ @10pm on AMC.