Mad Men recap: Season 5, Episode 5: "Signal 30"
This post contains spoilers.
This week's Mad Men took its title from a driving safety film. Pete, amazingly, is still learning to drive, long after starting a family and moving to a Connecticut suburb his sophisticated dinner guests rather charmingly refer to as "the country." Given a chance to relive what for many high schoolers is a rite of passage, Pete can't totally be blamed for allowing his eye to wander. Much of "Signal 30" pondered exactly how far the most straitlaced SCDP partner was willing to stray. He's a child in more than one sense: When a sink breaks, it's left to Don to man up and fix it. (That act of derring-do notwithstanding, Don is seen as having settled into fogeydom. He arrives at the dinner party in a comically awful plaid jacket that Megan has picked out for him.)
Furthermore, Pete ends the episode having been bested in what amounts to a schoolyard brawl with Lane, who has his own issues with inadequacy (previously voiced?). One of the remarkable things about the installment was the way it saves Lane's pass at Joan for the very end, throwing it in almost as an afterthought. Ken, too, is feeling ambivalent about adulthood, especially after his wife blurts out that he's moonlighting as a writer in what many probably consider to be a juvenile genre, sci-fi.
In Mad Men, one always wonders to what extent historical references exist simply as guides and to what extent they're thematically relevant. It seems notable that "Signal 30" was the second installment in a row to feature fleeting references to a killing spree. Last week it was Richard Speck murdering nurses in Chicago; this week, the wives are gossiping about Charles Whitman, and the horror that a marine—a good boy—could suddenly snap and turn on his family. The idea of gunfire elsewhere, just offscreen, is sure to come into play in subsequent episodes, as Vietnam ramps up. And while it's orders of magnitude less extreme than Whitman's case, the notion of hidden psychodrama surfaces elsewhere in the episode: Don, cabbing it home with Pete after taking a prospective client to a brothel, remarks that he never knew Pete was unhappy. One way of looking at "Signal 30" is that it begins with a premonition of violence, in the driving film. After Pete and Lane's brawl, it ends in a wreck.