“Mad Men” Episode 5 Review: Two Parts Loathing, One Part Fisticuffs, and One Part Fiction

Written by Barfoot April 18, 2012

At first I suspected that ‘Signal 30,’ this weeks episode of Mad Men, might turn into the type of episode I wasn’t a fan of in seasons three and four, the kind of episode where nothing happens except people sitting around getting drunk and masking their feelings. But there was something very upfront about this episode, partially from the always welcome inclusion of Alison Brie, and John Slattery’s quick and confident direction. Everyone’s angst was on full display and really came out in the climax of the episode, something that rarely happens.

Oh yeah, and Pete and Lane fight!

For my money, one of the weirdest screencaps from a Mad Men episode ever

I thought their fight might end up being a fake out, like last week’s Don Draper Strangulation Happy Hour, but no, they actually fought! And Lane won, or at least as much as he could win, since now the fact that he is essentially useless at the office has been brought up. Lane leaves this episode a shattered man, humiliated, as he admits. Lane has been a sad sack for quite a while now and it was good to clear the air about it. Maybe now he can make a roaring comeback.

There were a lot of great things about the episode, especially the Campbell’s dinner party, but space is limited so I’ll only be pointing out the re-emergence of Ken Congrove, God love him. There’s been a distinct lack of Ken so far this season, and now I’m seeing why. For all of his scheming and womanizing, Ken seems to be the most well-adjusted man in the office, acting like a human palate cleanser. Too much Ken would be a bad thing. I also think it’s no surprise that the episode with the most Ken is also the episode with the most humor. Last week all of the laughs were placed at the beginning, but this week the chuckles just kept on coming. [see screencap above] Some of the jokes were a little mean, but there were some great reaction shots from Peggy and Roger, and Ken brought some nice warm humour and humility to things.

Now that is one happy camper

It was good to see that Ken had kept up with his writing. Back in season three I thought his plot with Sal about his short story was one of the stronger ones, and it was nice to see that this episode framed itself around his science fiction stories. Science fiction hasn’t really been touched on so far in Mad Men, at least not that I can remember, and I’m glad that it received the attention that the still burgeoning genre deserved.

I thought Ken’s story of the robot that destroys a bridge because it was asked to [though it’s more complicated than that, Ken tries to explain] was a perfect symbol for the episode. Everyone in ‘Signal 30’ was so eager to please at some point in their life that they would do anything, usually for Don (who seems to be the only man who never had to obey anyone, at least as a professional). Pete has spent almost five seasons trying to be Don, Roger’s whole career is based on jumping through hoops to keep the client happy, and Lane is seemingly at the whim of everyone.

It was an unusually strong episode for good old Pete Campbell too. He’s been coming more to the forefront with each episode, but I thought his emergence as a total douche and horrible human being would be saved for later in the season for some finale drama. Once again my memory may be failing on me here, but I think this is the first time that Pete has opened up to Don about what he aspired to be at SCDP, and it’s about damn time. If these people would just communicate! But they’re robots, so what’re the odds that there’s going to be many happy emotions after this episode?

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