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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Mad Men – “Signal 30”

“I know cooler heads should prevail but am I the only one that wants to see this?”

Cynthia, Megan, and Trudy in front of the exploding faucet.

In a different time, this would've been the best wet t-shirt contest.

Pete is a monster.

He’s always been unlikeable. He’s overly-competitive, backstabbish, conniving, rude, bitchfacey, and somehow more self-entitled than Hannah on Girls (which seems impossible). But this season has shown him making some moves and gaining some traction with those moves, particularly in respect to gaining ground on Roger. As the gray guard scrambles to keep relevant, it’s Pete that chases him all over the place, finding every way he can to erode Roger’s standing.

Becoming partner has inflated his ego to a level where he’s no longer just an annoyance or minor antagonist. He’s a full-on radioactive monster trampling through the city. He is the Game of Thrones Joffery before and after usurping the kingdom. He is the person for whom you are begging comeuppance.

He’s also the saddest guy on the show. This is an episode dedicated Pete’s treachery and to his continual emasculation. But that’s his own fault for stepping out on Alison Brie. The universe will not stand for that.

There is more that connects Peggy and Pete than the baby that never existed. Just as Peggy looks up to Don as a role model for who she wants to become, Pete looks at Don the same way. They are the opposite sides of the same Draper Wannabe coin: the one who wants to earn it and the one who wants to take it.

The difference between them is how they actually see Don. Peggy essentially sees the Dick Whitman in him tempered by the facade of Don. Pete, despite actually knowing about Whitman, only sees his career idol from a few seasons back: carousing, impressive in appearances, a man who is willing to take his happiness from wherever he wants and wring it from those unwilling to give it to him. To Pete, Don is a demanding self-important tyrant for whom there are secret conventions of society under the ones he knows that allows him to not pay consequences for things like cheating on his wife. That’s Pete looking into the future at his ideal self.

So what anger Pete must feel when he acts in his perceived Draper fashion only to get a dirty look from Don when he’s doing it. And to be honest, it wasn’t even a dirty look. It was the lack of an atta-boy look. Pete feels like he’s at the top of his game, sitting at the same table as Don, getting him to come out to Connecticut, partying with him and Roger, and, yet, Don denies him the affirmation he’s always wanted/needed.

And maybe that’s the main difference between Pete and Peggy: a matter of confidence and self-determination. Peggy knows where she’s going and isn’t terribly worried about people stealing her position (even after she hired Ginsberg). Pete is constantly afraid he’s going to be usurped or, possibly worse, overshadowed. It’s summed-up (a little hamhandedly) by woman in the brothel when she gives him scenarios for their sexing where coquettish adoring lover (probably the most like Trudy) and virgin (interestingly, probably the most like the high school student he’s fixated on in driver’s ed) don’t turn him on — but the servile wench who grants Pete his kingdom does. Insecurity in talent and position that needs to be bolstered by the fantasy of a woman pretending to like him. Fitting that this is an episode where the private successes of Cosgrove, who has never needed the validation of anyone at work or anywhere, are also highlighted.

But Pete’s insecurity isn’t the problem everyone has with him. Everyone on this show is insecure, even Don. It’s his overcompensation for his insecurity that makes everyone want to kill him. When the potshots at Roger turn into potshots at Lane, surprisingly it’s Lane that pops him a handlebar mustache short of a 1920s gentleman’s bout.

It’s the comeuppance we all wanted to see. Someone knocking Pete in the face so that his rude comments don’t slide. Usually, when Pete says something so abnormally blunt or malicious or accusatory, the people around him let it go simply since they’re so nonplussed they don’t know what to say or they reprimand him eloquently but with empty threats of fate, the universe, or “other people” not so willing to let him speak such a negative piece. But Lane is too frustrated with being an outsider in his own home and at the workplace to keep his fists to himself. That everyone else in the room was willing to play unobtrusive audience is perfect. Don even pulls the blinds.

Pete’s overcompensation for his insecurity is also a compensation for his constant emasculation. Whether its people only coming over for dinner because Trudy has to play a game of subterfuge to get them there or getting his lights knocked out by a foppish man whose information on the sweet science is 40 years old, Pete constantly gets his manhood checked. At the end, he whimpers to Don that he has nothing. Because, unlike Cosgrove, he is this profession. It is his only claim to power and power is the only thing he really wants. Trudy is great for him but it doesn’t matter. She’s there for appearances. The house and everything in it is a demonstration that he commands all that he surveys. But to be knocked down a peg at work, for him to lose ground irreversibly, is, in his mind, a collapse. If he’s to stay who he is forever, because those that are more handsome and more gifted are able to take more of what they want out of life than he will ever be able to, is the ultimate loss.

He is a man that demands pears but is told there are none for him to take.

Some other things about the episode:

  • I had a hard time understanding what Pete was doing in a classroom with a bunch of high school students. Did anyone else think he was dreaming?
  • Not to doubt the Mad Men historical researchers but England supporters would usually wear England’s King’s Cross, not the UK Union Jack, right? I guess if it’s something that World Cup Willie wore, everyone was on board.
  • “Unless you have plans.”
  • “Cup of what?” You silly Americans.
  • When Lane mentions the new Jaguar business, is Pete doing an impression of Lane or Colonel Sanders?
  • “I’d love a shred of privacy. Just a shred.” The essence of what makes Cosgrove so great. He is the antithesis of everyone else in this office and, by that virtue, is the happiest person confined by those walls.
  • I love that he writes sci-fi/fantasy though.
  • The match-cut with Cosgrove and Lane confuses me. I think I’m forcing a connection but is it because Cosgrove is happy to be an outsider and Lane is miserable as one?
  • Why are they talking about Pete not having a license OH THEY’RE AT A DRIVER’S ED CLASS BECAUSE PETE LIVES IN THE STICKS.
  • I love that no one remembers what Ken’s wife’s name is. I could only think Alex Mack.
  • “Big and brown.”
  • “Now with that Charles Widmore –” “Whitman.” Two things that are great: (1) the Charles Widmore mistake is a clear LOST reference that I’m infatuated with and (2) the reactions by both Don and Megan when Don corrects Cynthia that it’s Whitman, not Widmore is priceless. Secret identity jokes are always smirkable.
  • Part one of Pete’s master emasculation: Don is able to fix the sink that Pete only fixed half-assedly. It’s important that Pete fixed the problem by curing the symptoms and not because he has any fundamental knowledge of plumbing.
  • Lobster bibs are ridiculous.
  • “Jesus, Don. Even in this place you’re doing better than us.”
  • Is Roger putting the screws to Ken because he’s jealous over his success? I don’t understand since it seems like Ken is doing just fine workwise.
  • Chewing gum? You would think a professional would have a little more tact. Did they get interrupted during some peanut butter play?
  • I love that Joan has the wherewithal to turn on the speaker to the outside. And that Peggy and Joan listen in together.
  • Joan’s ability to let a man who has just humiliated himself keep his dignity is immensely impressive. No reaction to the kiss, just a slow gait to the door so that it’s left opened. Brilliant.
  • Part two of Pete’s master emasculation: the kid from Suburgatory getting to second base with this girl in the class and Jane Levy in the same week.
  • I think I could’ve done without the voiceover but Ken solidified his position as the only person that knows Pete. Ken’s his Peggy! Except no one wants to be Pete.
  • And we end with the saddest version of “Ode to Joy.”

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