by Claire Moshenberg on April 17, 2012

Sunday night, we took an intimate look at the many men of “Mad Men.” Though the episode was called Signal 30, a reference to the gory video Pete watches in his driving class, I felt like the classic Ray Charles song “What Kind of Man Are You?” made a better title, and spelled out the core question each of our favorite Mad Men seemed to face this week.

Roger: Meet the New Bert Cooper

Roger nailed it when he called himself the Professor Emeritus of Accounts. Now that he’s done competing with Pete (mostly because Pete won ages ago), Roger is settling into his role as the new Bert Cooper. When Roger hears that Lane has received important paperwork from a potential client, he swoops in and offers smart, savvy advice from his bygone legitimate accounts man days. He doesn’t patronize Lane or attempt to steal the account. When Lane’s dinner doesn’t go as planned, he’s gentle in his criticism, and even works with Pete to fix the situation. And later, when Lane beats the stuffing out of Pete, Roger rushes over to help at the end. The only dark spot in his otherwise decent behavior throughout this episode was his dressing down of Ken Cosgrove. We’ve already seen this scene three times over the past five episodes, where Roger plays big boss man and asserts his authority over an underling, only to end up being blackmailed (Harry and Peggy) or ignored (Ken).

Ken Cosgrove: The Best One

Undercover writer, sensitive soul, forward thinking person in an often backwards thinking crowd. Warm, kind, married to the girl who played “Alex Mack,” ignores Roger’s power play, has a pact with Peggy—he doesn’t get a lot of airtime, but when he does, Ken Cosgrove makes the most of it. He wins Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Price’s most likable, well-adjusted person award.

Don Draper: Introducing New and Improved Likable Don Draper

This episode, we met a new character: Likable, upstanding Don Draper. Likable Don Draper, henceforth known as LDD, listens to his wife and wears a country casual blazer to Pete and Trudy’s dinner. Hell, LLD goes to Pete and Trudy’s dinner, which after his many social failures with Betty, feels like a solid step in the right direction. While he’s there, he’s funny and open, mentioning his past and joking about everything from horse shit to stolen beers. When a sink explodes, he strips down to his shirt sleeves and emerges barrel chested and broad shouldered, and shows that sink who’s boss. He follows his ovary-melting Act 1 with a delightful Act 2, where he coos and smiles at the Campbells’ baby.

Later, when LDD has to go to a fancy brothel for a work outing, he sticks to drinking, inspiring the admiration of the house Madame, who first offers him a male prostitute, finds out he was raised in a whorehouse, and covers his tab. He even attempts to be fatherly towards lost little boy Pete during the cab ride home, when Pete is nursing a guilt conscious and an impending hangover. Overall, LDD seems upstanding, happy, and madly in love with his new wife. Our little lying adulterer is growing up! I’m not holding my breath, but, good for you LDD. Good for you.

Lane: Papa Don’t Take No Mess

Lane stumbles into the living room clad in his robe, much to the chagrin of his wife, who’s ready for them to race off to a bar to watch a football match with “immigrants, like us.”  Lane isn’t interested in football which, despite his wife’s protestations, is his father’s preferred game, not his. And he isn’t  interested in new immigrant friends who want to “bring England over in pieces.” But he makes do, throws on his striped scarf and hat, and is downright bawdy at the bar, like a cartoon of a Brit, throwing his arms around spare shoulders and wailing the lyrics to “God Save the Queen.” He rubs elbows with new British friends and makes a solid business connection with a man who works for Jaguar. The next morning, at a partners meeting, a grinning Lane is the only one who brings in business. At work, and in life, it’s starting to look like Lane fits in.

Then, just as suddenly, his heyday is over.  At his business dinner, Lane struggles to relate to his new friend; he attempts to trade confidences and gesticulates wildly in the hopes of appearing fun and friendly, but ultimately is unsuccessful in closing the deal. The other partners take over the account, and destroy it after a visit to a brothel, where Jaguar guy gets “chewing gum stuck to his pubis,” and is found out by his wife. Lane is horrified, but his horror is met with laughter, and malice from Pete, who claims that his new friend “thought he was a homo” and that Lane stopped serving any purpose for the group after he fired them.

Lane has probably lost his new friend, has definitely lost his account, but has not lost his steely pride. So he does what everyone at Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Price has wanted to do for ages: He beats the stuffing out of Pete Campbell. It’s glorious. Pete’s left on the floor with a bloody nose, and from the look on the other partners’ faces, it showed enormous restraint for them not to all cheer.

Joan comes to his office with a bucket of ice and an equal amount of kind words. Their friendship is a new, lovely pleasure; together, they are the odd moral compass of the office. Joan tells Lane the truth about fitting in: “If they’ve tried to make you feel you’re different than them, you are. That’s a good way to be.” Unfortunately, he seems to get swept up in the rare excitement of being liked, because he responds by grabbing Joan and kissing her on the mouth. When Joan makes it clear that this was inappropriate, he shows that what she said was right: He is different. He doesn’t try to explain or push her, he doesn’t lie or cajole. He’s genuinely apologetic and kind, and the scene ends with them sharing a warm smile, as friends.

Pete: The Boy with the Thorn in His Side

A few weeks ago, there was a much maligned blog post by a writer who claimed a) She had on again, off again psychic abilities and b) Said abilities had shown her that Pete Campbell is going to kill himself this season. Every time I saw statuses about this blog, posted on Facebook, it was paired with sentiments ranging from “Sure, crazy pants, that’s a stretch” to “IS THIS THE DEATH OF POP CULTURE WRITING?” (I know a lot of histrionic writers.)

Well naysayers and all caps users, after this episode, we might all have to order up a helping of humble pie or crow or some other terrible food stuff reserved for people in the wrong. Possibly psychic girl might be on to something.

Pete has never seemed happy. Sure, he can pull off a certain shiny charm with clients, and can be cordial, even warm, with coworkers.  (Though never a big Pete fan, I will say that he has been far more charming in previous seasons.) But overall, Pete seems generally displeased with his lot in life. His parents were terrible, he never seemed to think Trudy was the right choice (remember that end of the world conversation with Peggy in Season 2?), and his big country house and infant daughter seem to be new crosses to bear. Work has been a series of humiliations: others getting promoted over him, ending up in awful offices, not receiving enough attention or accolades.

All of these offenses, big and small, have made him bitter and depressed. He bullies Roger, and any other coworker who ends up in cross hairs. He also seems oddly childlike. At a dinner party at the beginning of the episode, he seemed like a boastful little boy, showing off his big stereo, bragging that he can play at as loud as he wants, even though he has a baby sleeping upstairs. And when that baby is brought downstairs later, and everyone ogles it lovingly, he looks perplexed. “I take no credit for her at all,” he says of his infant daughter.

Though his young daughter is of no interest to him, he has another young girl on his mind: pretty, honey blonde high school senior, Jenny Gunther, who sits in front of him at driving school. He tries to seduce her by relating to her late adolescent philosophical ramblings, and inviting her to to join him at the Botanical Gardens. But even the small pleasure of her attention is stolen from him when a kid named Handsome joins the class. Handsome and Jenny flirt and bond over age appropriate things, and Pete is ignored, again.

Later, a drunk and disheveled Pete enjoys the company of a call girl at a work sponsored brothel night. She offers him a range of experiences for the night; he goes with the one where she’s crouched on all fours, unblinking eyes trained on him, saying  “You are my king.” Don and Pete share a cab, and Pete continuously lobs cutting remarks at Don, insulting Don for judging Pete’s activities. “Why do I feel like I’m riding with a nun? You of all people,” Pete sneers. He’s like a little boy, responding loudly to Don’s “Have a good night” with “I already did! Boy, this is rich.”

Pete has been craving Don’s paternal advice, and mentoring, since Episode One, Season One. So it was a little unsettling to see that once Don offered solid advice, Pete met it with a sneer. “I’m just trying to tell you because I am who I am and I’ve been where I’ve been that you don’t get another chance at what you have,” Don says, referring to Trudy. After Pete insults the fact that Don is on his second wife, Don replies “And if I met her first, I would’ve known not to throw her away.”

There’s almost too much to say about Pete when it comes to this episode. There’s Lane knocking him out, and no one catching him when he hits the floor. There’s Don finally playing daddy, and Pete finally admitting “I have nothing, Don.” And there are more disturbing bits—a sketch of a noose, the acknowledgement that Pete has a rifle stowed away at the office, Pete’s cutting jabs to all of his coworkers, and his tears at the end of the episode when he says “This is an office; we’re supposed to be friends.” Throughout every twist and turn, he seems unhinged and utterly alone.

At the end of the episode, Ken Cosgrove begins to write a story about a lost man, slowly falling apart in the country, and the camera closes in on Pete’s face. As the frame gets tighter, locked on Pete’s blank stare, all we hear is the drip drip of his broken faucet, which sounds distinctly like the tick tock of a clock, counting down the moments until Pete comes undone.


Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco based author, activist, and new media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox.

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