Last week’s episode “Mystery Date” looked at shifting feminine roles. This week’s “Signal 30” was the masculine counterpoint. The episode addresses men or, more accurately, men projecting perceptions of manhood. It does so while eschewing the prominent male leads.
The episode centers on Pete Campbell. We see him assert his manhood in multiple ways (see: Wilt Chamberlain-sized stereo) only to be thwarted cruelly. Pete creeps on a high-school senior in Driver’s Ed class before being foiled by the caricature “Handsome” Hanson. He “fixes” the faucet only to have Don rip off his shirt and save the day in front of an audience in his own home. He fantasizes about being king with the prostitute. He attempts to emasculate Lane with a snide comment, only to be thoroughly emasculated himself when Lane beats him up.
Pete tries to be his perception of a man, which is Don. He wants to be the cool professional, the family man, the womanizer and the deft deployer of words. He lashes out at Don when he doesn’t get his approval. He ultimately discovers what it’s like to be Don, disingenuous, empty and alone.
Lane’s lost wallet storyline returns, as he channels his desire to reaffirm his manliness through the workplace. He plays the prideful Englishmen, celebrating the World Cup victory and thinking back to the war. He aims to land the Jaguar deal on his own – a ploy to become one of the guys – and fails. He’s presented with some redemption though as Roger, Pete and Don end up scuttling the deal and he scores a decisive victory in his fight with Pete. Lane grasps impulsively with one last bold stroke by kissing Joan, who gracefully brings him back to reality.
Ken Cosgrove epitomizes every character’s struggle for self-actualization. His wife reveals secret identity as a science-fiction writer under the nom de plume Ben Hargrove. He cannot reconcile his inner longing to write with the career path he feels obligated to follow. Don understands the desire, justifying it by saying “no one grows up wanting to be in advertising.” Roger advises him to kill it. Ken avows to give up writing, yet we see him toiling away with a pad in bed. He is who he is, if only by his bedside lamp.
Like “Mystery Date” the episode is rife with violent death imagery, but it is in the guise of the perpetrator rather than the victim. “Signal 30” is the infamous Drivers’ Ed video Pete watches initially, filled with gruesome car wrecks. Don doodles a noose during the partners’ meeting and references “blowing his brains out” at the thought of a return to the Suburbs. Characters discuss the Charles Whitman shootings at the University of Texas.
We also get more testament to the show’s impeccable attention to detail with the World Cup scene. England fans, in 1966, did use the Union Jack rather than the St. George’s flag.
[Photos via Mike the Intern]