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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Televangelist:'Mad Men' Season 5, Ep 5

  • AMC
  • "COME AT ME, BRO!"

The pall cast over last week's episode lingered into this week, with all of our major male characters wallowing in bourgeois ennui. But darn it if it wasn't entertaining to watch: Whores! Fisticuffs! Ben Hargrove! Reschedule that meeting, Joan - everyone's in crisis here.

Perhaps no one fell so far or looked so miserable as Pete Campbell last night. Pete is absolutely a "grimy little pimp" (thank you, Lane) and always has been, but for myself, and most viewers, there remains something - if not redemptive or likable, exactly - a forgiveness with Pete. He may be, aside from Don, the most complex character on the show. Or perhaps everything in his life boils down to two things: his ambition and need for respect. He has fought to break into the SCDP named-partners crowd since they began their own agency, although only this year has he pushed so hard for it. He marries a rich, charming girl, moves to the suburbs, has a baby, buys a big stereo to flaunt his wealth, hosts Saturday night dinners, attempts to carry on affairs and goes whoring with the Account team, and what does it get him? Misery, apparently. And it's awfully close to the same path Don - clearly a role model for Pete - took with his first marriage. But, he continues to be rejected. So now he constantly sneers and makes petulant quips at Roger, Don and Lane, none of which of course endear him to them any further. And in one of the most hilarious and simultaneously poignant scenes in "Mad Men" history, it lead to a fight!

A battered Pete on the elevator said heartbreakingly to Don, "we're supposed to be friends!" and commented morosely, "I have nothing." Pete has plenty, as a newly wised-up Don tries to tell him. But do the doodles of a noose (by Don) and a mention of Pete's unused gun foreshadow a darker future for the young Mr Campbell? He's not the only one to be caught up in existential melancholy. Lane Pryce, quietly a favorite of mine, also seems to be "without." His wife doesn't seem particularly fond of him, he has personal financial issues, he doesn't feel respected at work and he ultimately wonders if indeed he has any place at SCDP at all. My money was on Lane during the fight as well, if only because the sort of feelings that fueled Pete have been fueling a darkness in Lane for much longer.

And on the other side of things is Don who, of all people, has become the moral guide of the office - a role no one saw coming. Now a happy man, he even consented to go to the suburbs in his sports-coat and made small talk with people he doesn't like, and I couldn't help but feel a deja vu of his life with Betty. But then Don spoke honestly twice during the evening (in different company) about both growing up in the country and growing up in a whore house. With Megan at least, Dick Whitman is allowed some air time now and again, which seems to help keep Don balanced. Later, Don drunkenly pressures Megan to have a baby, feeling perhaps like he wants to truly start his family life over again (or wishes that his original family life had turned out differently). As long-time viewers will recall in the Kodak Carousel episode from Season One, Don and Betty were happy for a time as well. Don's life seems to be repeating itself, and he was the only one who really seemed to connect with Ken's story about the robot for which everything is the same and he has no agency, except he can decide whether the bolt goes in or out. And if you choose not to put the bolts in, you die. Is that the choice facing Pete, Don and Lane at this point?

Even poor Ken Cosgrove, Accounts! / Ben Hargrove / Dave Algonquin had it rough last night. Ken is one of the last good guys at SCDP. Despite his early frat-boy-esque days at the firm hitting on every female and calling for Panty Raids, he's matured into a nice and dependable man. He and Peggy are still friends and still have their "pact," and he never for a moment thought that she was the one who tattled to Roger about his "other" job (he knew, instinctually, that it was Pete). And of course Roger, completely unfairly, gave Ken a stern warning to stop of all his writing, as it was a distraction. Luckily, it appears Ken will pay this no mind. But his stories continue in the dark vein that permeated the episode, including the weirdly hilarious line, "... while death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails."

Despite the melancholic pall, "Signal 30" was another A+ episode where every scene had something great to offer. The episode was directed by John Slattery (Roger), and aside from a few artily self-aware jump cuts, it was expertly executed. The trajectory the show is taking has been dark, but it's also been punctuated with such fantastically weird moments (Fat Betty, the Fight, etc) that it never slips too far into the morose. But like Lane said of football soccer, "the first half is only flirting," one expects the second half of this season to really raise the stakes.

Musings and Miscellanea:

- The dinner party was excruciating and familiar. From Megan remembering Cynthia's name so obviously to the gun talk to Ken having to explain his robot story, it was fantastic viewing.

- Don ripping off his shirt to fix the leaky faucet ... let me watch that a few more times for, um, "research" of the scene...

- I loved Roger reminding us of his autobiography, "Sterling's Gold."

- Trudy should be in accounts, she not only closed a tough deal but schooled Don Draper!

- It took me almost the entire episode to figure out that Pete was in Driver's Ed. Continuity fail!

- Everything about the fight scene slayed me, from the other men eagerly looking on and Don casually closing the drapes to Joan listening in and Roger later declaring "I had Lane!"

- As soon as the Jaguar man wanted to have "fun," everyone looked at Roger to know where the best whores are. "This is your area, Roger,"

- Having just finished watching "Game of Thrones" before this episode, when the prostitute said to Pete "You're my king" I got flashbacks.

- Gum. On. His. Pubis.

- "He didn't ask you because he thinks you're a homo" - Pete to Lane

- I was annoyed that Lane kissed Joan and ruined their great budding friendship / alliance, but the way she handled it was so flawless, and Lane was dutifully ashamed. Hopefully they can still offer each other platonic comforts int he future.

- Lawd these late 60s fashions ... at least Matthew Weiner has promised we won't be going into the 70s. I don't think I could handle it, sartorially speaking.

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