Tonight’s episode title, “Signal 30,” refers to the graphic car crash video that opens the episode. Pete’s in driving school watching it and this episode is all about the car crash that is Pete, and a little bit about the fender bender that is Lane. We also learn that Ken Cosgrove is far more mentally stable than anyone else in that office, thanks to his ability to have interests outside the office. He’s clearly doomed. And onward!
Pete watches graphic footage of car accidents and grins and starts to snicker. This catches the attention of a pretty teenage girl sitting in front of him, who ends up catching Pete’s eye right away. Later he talks to her about her future and why he doesn’t have a license. She talks about going away to college, and the University of Texas shooting. Pete knows what college she’s going to, so he clearly knows her from around town. After a talk, he invites her to go to the New York Botanical Gardens with him. The face she makes next is familiar to most women (and some men) who hit that wall sometime in the late teenage years when what they thought was a nice conversation with a family friend took an unexpected turn towards a proposition. She’s clearly not interested. Pete doesn’t get this at all. Later as Pete’s chatting with her a male classmate of hers comes in to join their class, and her attention is completely diverted from Pete to the young man who is literally called “Handsome.”
While Pete is failing to impress the teenager in his driver’s ed class, he’s also feeling like a failure at home. The Campbells have finally managed to finagle Don and Megan to a party at their house with the Cosgroves where it’s made explicitly clear early on that Don is the guest of honor. Pete’s plan for the evening has clearly been mapped out (with ample help from Trudy) and things just seem to slowly drift off course the longer Don is in his house. In the first scene of the episode, Pete attempted to fix a leaking faucet and seemed to succeed. At the party, though, the sink explodes on the ladies. As Pete runs to get the tools, Don takes command of the situation and directs Ken in assisting. Pete brings the tools and as Pete is still fumbling in the toolbox, Don fixes the sink to applause. And Pete can only stand there silently as the guests admire his baby girl, the baby he told his wife she was not to bring up at the party who woke due to the commotion around the sink. “I take no credit for her.” Pete says. It’s meant to be a joke, but it seems pretty literal.
Lane and his wife argue about going out to the pub to watch the world cup finals, with Mrs. Pryce winning, which turns into Lane meeting the senior vice president of Jaguar in the U.S., Edwin Baker, and earning some potential new business for the firm! Yay, Lane! He jumps at the chance to handle the account himself, so Roger tries to give him some pointers on how to “handle” clients. Only after Pete gives him some shit because of course he does. Roger attempts to council Lane about how to get secrets out of people to ingratiate yourself with them. The problem with this, of course, is that Roger is charming and Lane really isn’t. Watching Lane attempt to connect with Mr. Baker is like watching someone playing charades except the other party is talking; Lane keeps guessing at what he thinks is his “in” and visibly deflating when his dinner companion deflects. It makes for a TERRIBLE conversation. The upshot of this is that the rest of the guys end up taking Lane’s client out to dinner instead. At their dinner, the conversation seems to be progressing more smoothly and Mr. Baker is comfortable enough with them to make his vices known to them after saying that he felt Lane wouldn’t approve. So, of course, the festivities take them to an apartment of ill repute featuring many lovely young ladies. I’m wondering if Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce might want to put this place on retainer just to save some time. Roger and Pete indulge, with Pete’s girl tempting him into bed by saying, “You’re my king” which, ew. Don, however, abstains and says something about growing up in a whorehouse which seems inaccurate. Is he bullshitting for the sake of bullshitting or has he grown bored with his new life in which his wife is aware and accepting of his dual personality and dark past and is working on building a new one? In the taxi, Pete gives Don a hard time for his non-whoring ways. Don gets a bit high and mighty about Pete appreciating what he’s got and insists that if he’d been married to Megan first he TOTALLY would’ve been happily married for always with no other women. Not buying it even for a minute. Pete looks like a petulant child through this entire conversation, but I probably wouldn’t take a “step away from other women and love your wife and child!” speech from Don Draper particularly well either so I can’t fault Pete for getting miffed.
While this had been going on, we’ve learned some interesting new information about Ken that’s not fitting particularly well anywhere else in this recap: Earlier Peggy spotted Ken at a diner with a mysterious gentleman and while she seems interested in talking with them, Ken demurs. Back at the office Peggy confronts him about this interaction because “we had a pact!” That pact being “If I go anywhere, you go with me” because Ken and Peggy are awesome. Ken admits that it was a publisher, he’s been writing sci-fi stories under a pen name and his wife, Cynthia, has been trying to get a collection of them published. Ken’s extracurricular activities are a secret around the office and Peggy has to wheedle his pen name out of him. At least they were secret until the Campbell’s dinner party, where Cynthia boasts of his stories to Don, Megan, and Pete. Roger ends up calling Ken into his office to warn him off writing anymore, which is kind of a genuine dick move as Roger “I take drunken naps in my office” Sterling makes the argument that it interferes with Ken’s regular job absent any proof of such and that Ken must put down his pen. Ken looks chastened though, and suspects Pete ratted him out. He tells Peggy that he’s giving it up, and Peggy is also sad about this.
The next day (ish?) at a meeting, Lane breaks the bad news that Jaguar has pulled their commitment due to personal embarrassment. Apparently when you come home with someone else’s chewing gum tangled up in your pubic hair it’s nearly impossible for your wife to suspend disbelief. Lane blows up at the other guys over the whorehouse and Pete taunts him right back, saying the client thought he was gay even though it just seemed like he thought Lane wasn’t the whoring type. The other partners, just a moment ago laughing at the imagery of some Bazooka Joe hanging out next to some Joe’s bazooka become silent as the “shit just got real” look comes across Don’s face. Lane calls Pete a monster and Pete keeps pushing at Lane about his inability to handle the account until Lane challenges him to a full on fist fight while calling him a “grimy little pimp” which is kind of excellent. Roger says what we’re all thinking: “I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?” The thing to remember about Lane is that his upbringing most assuredly included a boarding school that taught boxing as a matter of course. That’s right, it was standard operating procedure to lock a bunch of teenage boys up together and then teach them how to punch each other more effectively. I’m amazed that British boarding schools didn’t have a 40% mortality rate. I knew Lane was going to win this fight before it even started, but it’s hard to take any joy in the victory. Watching Pete get his comeuppance is far less satisfying than one would think, particularly when it comes at the hands of Lane who is doing it not because Pete deserves it but as a manifestation of his own feelings of inadequacy and alienation. Pete’s the bully who says he’s bullied when his victims fight back. He snipes and undermines and treats his coworkers with contempt going back to day one, but he’ll tell you that they’re always ganging up on him. That they’re just jealous of his intelligence and abilities, that they hold him back from being what he could really be. This beating won’t make him change, it’ll make him double-down on the victim act and that’s probably the saddest part of all. As the men leave, Bert looks at Joan and simply says, “Reschedule the meeting.”
In Lane’s office, Joan brings him a bucket of ice and shuts the door. As he sticks his hand in the bucket he confesses his feelings of worthlessness at the office to Joan and she tells him, “If they’ve tried to make you feel you’re different then them, you are. That’s a good way to be.” Lane kisses her, probably more out of loneliness and desperation than true lust. The tiny flail Joan does with her hands afterwards is almost perfect. Because Joan loves Lane, though not like that, she gets up and walks to the door, opens the door and pauses. Then she comes and sits back down. Lane gets flustered about all the humiliation he’s suffered that day and Joan reassures him that everyone has always wanted to beat up Pete, choosing to gloss over the kiss to both of their relief.
Pete has always wanted to be like Don, and the saddest this is that he might one day get there. He’s unsatisfied with his marriage, he’s been cheating on Trudy as long as the show’s been on the air, and he seems to have no intention of curbing his behavior. He really doesn’t see what a terrible idol Don Draper makes because not even Don Draper is Don Draper. At the end of the episode, Pete and Don end up in the elevator together. Don doesn’t even want to look at Pete’s swollen face, and shakes off Pete’s attempt at shaming him for not stepping in during the fight. For not coming to his rescue. Pete: “We’re supposed to be friends.” Don: “”¦” Pete says he has nothing, and starts crying. Pete’s place in the world is fuzzy. He grew up privileged, but he no longer has the means to live in that world. The world he does inhabit, though, is one he was never prepared for and so he constantly feels at once better than everyone around him and incredibly incompetent. He probably can’t even recognize what’s wrong with him enough to make any genuine changes.
The episode ends with Ken in bed, writing a new story. He writes about Beethoven’s 9th symphony composed as “death stood in the doorway, clipping his fingernails.” We close on Pete Campbell watching his teenage classmates snuggle during some other car crash video while seething. His jealousy is pathetic and a little frightening. As the credits come in, the sounds of Beethoven’s 9th swell in the background.