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'Mad Men' recap: 'Signal 30' and fisticuffs

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie) in "Mad Men" Season 5. (Credit: AMC)

OK, let's talk last night's "Mad Men" -- titled "Signal 30." There's plenty to talk about, and I'm going to let my fingers do the thinking -- as the saying goes -- which means a rambling blog post with bulleted points. What was this thing -- directed incidentally by John Slattery -- all about? Oh, plenty. Let 'er rip:

-- What was "Signal 30" all about anyway? It was the collision -- word purposely used given that title -- between desire and consummation of desire. Does anyone -- or Pete or Lane -- get what they want or once they get it, are they happy, or just empty vessels adrift in a loney existential sea? It's the oldest theme of "Mad Men,' and one on full testosteronal display last night.

-- The soccer match on TV. Remember that scene early on, with Lane -- as decidedly not a sports enthusiast as God ever put on this Earth -- feigning great excitement at the victory of England over Germany; all part of his forced need to establish a relationship with Mr. Jaguar, to prove that he too can be a rainmaker at the agency, just as Pete and Don are. Remember Lane's great yawning insecurity -- do they really need him, especially when he realizes that Joan could do his job with one hand tied behind her back?

-- "Signal 30. " Yes, go ahead admit it -- I will. We all Googled "Signal 30" and now know or remember (the press already knew because it came up during the recent junkets) that it was that creepy/terrifying cautionary 1959 film, featuring bloodied car crash victims. For some reason, that scene brought to mind that creepy/eroticized '96 Cronenberg movie, "Crash," 'specially with Pete sitting there ogling the actress like she's a side of pork rib, with the sound of squealing tires in the background. It was one of the creepiest scenes of the entire season -- one, of course of so many so far.

-- Beethoven's Ninth. And not just a snatch from the "Ode to Joy" fourth movement, which would be instantly recognizable to everyone, but a brief passage from the less well known third movement. Why, why, why? It's a bit of a puzzle, but ties into the broader theme of domination, power -- the Ninth, like so much of Wagner, has been co-opted by a broad swatch of popular culture as representing Teutonic power lust.

It's a bit unfair, perhaps, but the Ninth to a certain degree established that rep. Two instances this occurred last night. The first, with Pete and his new record player. What does he play for his guests when they arrive? Not the latest top 40, not something from Frankie Laine. Oh, he plays the Ninth! And not the Fifth -- that would’ve been just sadly pretentious -- or the Seventh (the more difficult, interesting of the symphonies), or the Third -- Eroica, or so on. But the Ninth! The very symphony that Hitler was apparently listening to as flames consumed the bunker. (How would anyone even know this?)

And then, in the end, Ken is listening as restarts his strangely purple overblown sci-fi fantasy fiction career -- a closeted career. I'm just spitballing here, dear reader, but the Ninth had a starring role in last night's creepy episode.

-- Charles Whitman. Yup, another indelibly creepy moment last night, referring to the maniac who gunned down 16 people during a rampage on a University of Texas campus. It happened in August 1966, just a month after Richard Speck's horrific mass murder -- the subject of last week's episode.

Of course, we know another Whitman, by the name of Dick. Witness Don's almost sheepish horror when he mentions this other "Whitman." And for the second week in a row, "Mad Men" has played with murderous impulses in our hero -- the name, and last week, that nightmare. What is going on here? I dunno.

-- Don fixing the plumbing. One of the oldest sexual metaphors in history, dating back to at least Roman times. But while Don fixes the pipes, Pete scampers off to do something else -- a clear indication of who the real man of the house is, even when it's not even his own house.

-- Fisticuffs. A classic "Mad Men" moment, and the climax of an entire episode. Pete is thoroughly whipped by English-boarding-school trained Lane, who gives Pete his second bloody nose in as many episodes. It's a remarkable scene, given the implicit comic -- and horror elements; comic especially. Don looked amused; Roger looked engrossed, Bert (Cooper) looked bored.

And then, moments later, a manned-up Lane plants a kiss on Joan, who gets up, opens the door, sits down, and says (after he apologizes) something to the effect that nothing happened. Another classic moment, and a foreshadow as well. OK, that's it for now friends. Sorry for the ramble, and any disputatious reader is free to weigh in at comments, to tell me exactly how off base I am here ... or provide further illumination.

Photo: "Mad Men" characters are from left, Ken Cosgrove, played by Aaron Stanton; Pete Campbell, by Vincent Kartheiser, and Trudy Campbell, by Alison Brie, in episode one of the fifth season.

Tags: mad men , signal 30 , jon hamm , john slattery , vincent kartheiser , aaron stanton

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