Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)
It finally happened: Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) was punched in the face. Roger (John Slattery) may have lunged at him last season (but he was restrained by others), but when Lane (Jared Harris) goes for the blow, no one stops him. Don (Jon Hamm) may be the one drawing the nooses, but Pete is the one hanging them, a fact that's foreshadowed by the episode's title, "Signal 30," which is the title of the (real) Driver's Ed video that Pete watches that uses gory images of real-life accidents to encourage safe driving. Much like the Don of earlier seasons, Pete is, metaphorically speaking, a slow motion car accident, and it's going to take much more than Lane's fist to put an end to his downward spiral.
Pete Is In A Bad, Bad Place
From beat one, Pete's shortcomings are put on the line. He's leering at a recent high school graduate in the automotive class, and, much like his unwanted moves on the German aupair last season, he is oblivious to his inappropriateness. His leaky sink is keeping him awake and he rigs it into (temporary) silence, but we're very much aware the Pete's antagonists are in his head, a skull full of demons to which he may never successfully take a wrench.
Lane, too, is struggling to lasso some sense of self-worth. His nagging, perpetually homesick wife puts him in the company of Jaguar's PR guy, giving Lane a shot to actually land a client. But when fellow Brit Edwin Baker (David Hunt) shows an interest in doing business, Lane struggles to explain his role at SCDP, and is left mumbling about his name being on the door.
In many ways, as Joan (Christina Hendricks) points out, Lane is not like the rest of the guys as SCDP. He may act as though he can drink and womanize with the best of them, but he is reluctantly bound to a different moral code. He may flirt with impropriety (or the wife of a man who lost his wallet), but in the end, he will always do the right thing (i.e., give the wallet back). Aside from his accent, Lane's charms aren't as readily apparent as the others, a fact that becomes painfully evident when Lane is unable to woo the Edwin despite Roger's detailed instructions: "You order a scotch rocks and water. You drink half of it until it turns see through. Then you order another drink."
If Roger is right, and a business meeting is like a first date, Lane is barely able to snag a walk to first base. He doesn't have Roger's effortless charisma, Don's easy intrigue, or even Pete's gift for ingratiating himself. He's awkward, his palms are probably clammy, and the client senses his unease. Edwin doesn't want Lane's fumbling; he wants to be in the hands of men who see business as he does: as the perfect excuse to misbehave, to come home late, smelling of smoke and scotch with a perfectly legitimate excuse.
And, apparently, so does Pete, who uses the courting of a client as an excuse to partake in a prostitute's affections. His scene in the bedroom with her is sadly telling. She tries on several personas for him in an effort to entice him. The doting housewife and the innocent virgin characters fail to get a literal rise out of Pete, but she finally utters the magic words: "You're my king."
Pete's ego needs pandering to (no surprise there), and even Don is starting to see that Pete is perpetually unhappy with what he's got at home. When Pete looks to Don for a thumbs-up before he heads away with the call girl, he gets a scowl instead, and later, even a lecture from his father figure. "I'm just trying to tell you because of who I am and where I've been," says Don. "You don't get another chance at what you have."
Don Draper: Mr. Fix-It
Don is still winning in the battle against his vices, yes, but he's also privy to just how awesome Pete's wife Trudy (Alison Brie) actually is. She's tough enough to talk Don into dinner against his wishes (He remarks: "It's too bad your husband can't close a deal like this."), and she's exactly what Pete needs, much like Megan (Jessica Pare) is what Don needs. But Pete perceives his remark as mere moralizing, a way for Don to get yet another leg up on his co-worker. Don gets the "big steak" at Pete's table, he's even cleans up Pete's mistakes when he fixes that sink, and, in all respects, he's the man of house...in Pete's own home.
Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), ad man by day, pseudonymous sci-fi/fantasy writer by night, pens a story about a robot who is responsible for maintaining a bridge between two planets, purposely leaves a bolt loose, and causes thousands of people to die. The story most clearly illustrates Ken's lack of satisfaction with his day job, and echoes loose-screw sniper Charles Whitman's shooting at college students, but it also applies to Pete's neglect of the one element that is most necessary to his survival: Trudy.
As we see when Don, Roger, and Pete's combined efforts to land Jaguar are thwarted by a lone piece of bazooka (according to Lane, "Because he was caught with chewing gum on his pubis."), it takes very little to lose what you love. The implications of it all seem to be lost on Pete until his perpetually loose lips let out a few choice words about Lane's usefulness having expired since he fired them all way back when. Pete's daggers are usually shaken off without repercussion, but Lane in unwilling to take the blow without firing back. He lands an amazing insult on Pete, calling him a "grimy little pimp" before he physically puts Pete in his place, leaving him bruised and whimpering to Don in the elevator. "I have nothing," he says, nearly in tears.
That's not really accurate, though, is it? Pete is a very successful young guy with a caring, beautiful wife and a newborn child. It's only his own self-pity that gets in the way, and nothing more, a fact that's highlighted by Ken, who has written a new story under a new nom de plume (and is apparently unfazed by Roger's warnings about his extra-curricular activities), titled, "The Man with a Miniature Orchestra."
On the surface, it's a call back to Pete's comment about his new stereo earlier in the episode ("I keep expecting to open the doors and see a tiny orchestra in there"), but it also brings up thoughts of tiny violins (as in, Pete's "poor me" complex) and, most clearly, his need for an adoring audience. As Ken narrates, "Everything ordinary [is] too beautiful to bare." Pete is reaching for some imaginary high bar, but he can't get a grasp on a firm sense of self-worth or anything slightly resembling satisfaction. And unlike Ken, who seems to have a healthy work/life balance, all of Pete's chips are in SCDP's basket, a basket whose bottom is slowly unraveling before his eyes.
Other Points Of Interest
- Don and Megan's roadside romp is punctuated by a come-on only Don could pull off: "I'm too drunk for you to drive. Let's have a baby."
- Without Greg around, Joan is at her best, caring for needs that are not expressed and filling roles that are not on her job description (like coming to Lane's rescue with an ice bucket.) Even the gentle reproach of Lane's unwanted advance on her (opening the door without even mentioning his faux-pas) was classic Joan.
- Roger's best line of the night, when Lane challenges Pete to a fight: "I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one that wants to see this?"
- The jacket that Megan makes Don wear seems more fit for Pete. Is she suddenly uncomfortable with their age differences, and, thus, trying to make him look younger?
- Don corrects Trudy on the sniper's last name (Whitman), which is, coincidentally, his own. Is series creator Matthew Weiner trying to draw comparisons between Don's inclination towards violence and and the "frustrated ex-marine" who suddenly snaps?
- Lane's final words in the wake of his victory over Pete: "Consider that my last piece of advice!"
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)