Mad Men Mondays: "Signal 30"

Note: My "Mad Men" reviews contain spoilers.  "Mad Men" can definitely be enjoyed even with said spoilers (it's not "Lost"), but if you want to be surprised and/or respect Matthew Weiner's wishes, just watch it first.  Also, my reviews aren't always full episode recaps; if you're looking to read the plot, I direct you to PurseBlog (seriously), or my frequent substantive source, Vulture.

I think I found Ken Hargrove's book!
Episode 505, "Signal 30" (portentously named after a car-crash video showed to driver's ed students in the 1960s), was an all-around strong, back-to-the-basics chapter.   There was some old fashioned Dick-Whitman-grew-up-in-a-whorehouse character building, confirmation of Joan's never-a-hair-uncoiffed resilience in the face of personal tragedy, and a classic, scrambling Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Campbell brainstorm to close the deal with a finicky client.  There was indeed a brothel, a nubile teenager regaling a story of being "hungover" from vanilla extract, and exposure of hereto-bland Ken Hargrove as a burgeoning science fiction writer.   But, the only scene anyone is going to talk about is when Pete Campbell got punched in the fucking face.

I'll admit: due to a DVR malfunction, I watched this episode in two bisected halves two nights in a row.  "Mad Men" is not best enjoyed piecemeal, benefiting as it does from its slow-build momentum.   However, this particular episode rather neatly lent itself to a Before and After.

In the Before time, tortured Don was dream-strangling ex-lovers and avoiding dinner parties,  Roger was complacent in his growing uselessness (at one point calling himself "Professor Emeritus of Accounts"), Pete was outfitting a shiny new saddle for his high horse, and Lane was hopelessly, helplessly emasculated.   Beginning almost exactly halfway through the episode, though, the power balance began to shift like a creaky teeter-toter.  Don was faced with consequence-free, socially-sanctioned infidelity on a business trip to a whorehouse, but seemed not to even wrestle with temptation; he was so celibate and unaffected that the post-coital Pete Campbell accused him of being "a nun."  This adventure served not only to reposition Don into a new-found sense of self-restraint and maturity (his defense of his marriage to Megan makes the awkward memory of "Zou Bisou Bisou" seem like it happened to a different couple), but also to make absolutely sure that even if you're tuning into "Mad Men" tonight for the first time ever, you already want someone to punch Pete Campbell in the face.

And who less expected -- but more perfect -- than Lane Pryce to do the punching.  Furious that the Yanks stole his English friend (who also happens to be a Jaguar executive and randy potential client) and took him to a brothel, and further provoked by a snotty, nasty comment from Pete (a less-veiled version of what Pete has been slowly saying to Roger all season), Lane rolls up his sleeves, takes off his glasses (nerds of the world rejoice!), and challenges Pete to a conference-room fisticuffs.  Pete surveys the room with the offended smugness of a child about to tattle on a playground bully, and we get to watch -- delightedly -- as that doughy smirk falls down Pete's face when he realizes there are no teachers to be found.  The name partners stand together with the silent sense that this is precisely how this ego-inflating, manhood-assaulting altercation should be resolved.  Well, at least silent until Roger says what we're all thinking:
"Cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?"
No, you're not Roger.  We all want to see this.  In this beautiful, sad/funny, gritty little "Mad Men" moment, Lane actually fights Pete -- and Lane does it old school, in a boxing stance, a tactic so upfront and masculine that dirty, whiny, below-the-belt Pete doesn't have a chance.  Pete gets in a few swings, but Lane hits him, and hits him hard.  And there's no one in the room or in the audience who doesn't find themselves with half-balled fists, wishing it'd been us delivering the blows.

There's more to be said, of course, about this episode -- about Pete's pathetic driver's ed flirtation that ends with him feeling even lamer than when Lane knocked his legs out from under him; about Lane making a bold move on Joan that's somehow more charming than we thought it'd be when it was presaged in the season premiere.  But I don't get paid for writing this so I'm stopping here.

As a final note, John Flattery directed this gem of an episode, confirming that he's infinitely more useful and likeable in real life than his character Roger Sterling (did you know Mona, Sterling's ex-wife on the show, is Flattery's real life wife? I know!).  This episode makes Jon Hamm's more heavily publicized debut direction of episode 503 "Tea Leaves" (aka "Fat Betty") look like comparatively restrained filler.  Which raises the question: is Matthew Weiner just giving all the main players a swing at the director bat this season?  Will Elizabeth Moss's episode be breathless and neurotic and adorable?  Will Christina Hendrick's episode be super steamy, filled with X-rated double entendres?  Is January Jones' episode going to be frozen like her ice cream and her heart?  Oh, "Mad Men," I can't wait!


A final, final note for all of you Boomstick fans!  As if I needed a reason to be more obsessed with "Mad Men," Lane's wife on the show is played by none other than Embeth Davidtz:

 Whom you might remember as:

And of course:
Baby, you got real ugly.


It all comes full circle.
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Write comments
April 17, 2012 at 9:21 AM delete

Great episode and great review. Do you ever wonder, though, if Wiener and crew mistake writing erratic, inconsistent, inscrutable behavior for character complexity?

April 17, 2012 at 9:23 AM delete

Chewing gum on the privates... if I had a nickle every time...

April 17, 2012 at 8:26 PM delete

Anonymous: How many times have I told you to quit chewing gum while on the clock? It's really hurting our business.



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