Mad Men: Who Do You Think You Are?

Mad Men S05E05 “Signal 30”

For a good chunk of Mad Men’s run, the driving force behind each episode was the question of “Who is Don Draper?” Now, with Don seemingly content in his marriage to Megan, strangling the harlots of his dreams in some sort of subconscious war with the old Don’s womanizing ways, it seems that the question has evolved. Now, the question is, “Who is everyone else?”

“Signal 30” and Mad Men’s new preoccupation with late '60s mass murderers drove this point home faster than Don and Megan’s nookie-laden commute back to the city after their Saturday night in the suburbs with Pete and Trudy Campbell. (Loved the jacket, Don. Hope you bust it out at the SCDP Halloween party this year. You’ll make a lovely test pattern.)

Charles Whitman’s August 1, 1966 rampage at the University of Texas at Austin provided the latest horrifying backdrop to a Mad Men storyline and while the shootings in Texas didn’t have quite the same impact on everyone as the nurse murders in Chicago appeared to last week, the purveying feeling of a massive societal unbalance continued to touch the margins of everything.

In some ways, Whitman’s rampage was more jarring due to his seemingly upstanding image. He was a former Marine, an engineering student, the product of a middle-class upbringing, and the handsome husband to a beautiful wife. While there is no justifying his actions, it’s impossible to tell his story without mentioning the brain tumor that was discovered during autopsy, thought by many to explain why he seemingly snapped. While it isn’t a complete pardon for his crimes, it certainly humanizes him, rationalizing his actions as something that he couldn’t control. He becomes a sick man, rather than an evil man, someone that society can at least attempt to understand.

The high-class world that Don, Pete, Roger, and Lane occupy on Mad Men is carefully constructed around a strict adherence to roles. It would be dizzyingly easy to topple the structure if someone chose to act out: We got a taste of this last season when Don’s drinking began to overshadow his golden touch. We see it in the ongoing attitude toward African American secretary Dawn, in the sentiment that she doesn’t really belong on Madison Avenue, that she is unworthy of such an “illustrious” position. And in Betty’s struggles with her weight, what she perceives as fading beauty, a loss of status on her part. We saw it last week as Peggy debated the masculinity she's been forced to adopt in order to succeed as a female copywriter at SCDP, and Joan’s decision to ditch married life, despite the fact that the role of housewife was one that she seemingly pined for in Mad Men's early storylines. And finally, we saw it again in “Signal 30” with Ken’s struggle to balance his dual roles of account manager and writer, Pete’s difficulty in navigating his life in the suburbs, and Lane’s fish-out-of-water routine in trying to woo an account of his very own with Jaguar.

Don, for once, seemed to be in his comfort zone, which in and of itself was a jarring visual. We have spent four previous seasons with the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, banging-everything-that-moves Don Draper and suddenly, he is the wise old man giving marital advice in the back of a taxi to a disheveled Pete Campbell. It was weird for us, as an audience with a set concept of what Mad Men norms are, but for the character of Don Draper as he exists in the Mad Men universe, he seemed very much at ease. For now, Don knows who he is, further rejecting any confusion by correcting one of the women at Pete and Trudy’s dinner when she mispronounced Charles Whitman’s last name. Technically, they share a last name, the mass murderer and Don, and it’s a last name that Don Draper has spent most of the series trying to distance himself from. He said it without flinching, without a speck of nervousness, essentially “othering” it by giving it over wholly to a man who had recently struck fear into the American consciousness. THAT man is a Whitman. Don is not a Whitman. THAT man was confused. Don is not confused.

Of course, TECHNICALLY Don is a Whitman. And honestly, Don is often confused about who and what he is. I don’t want to say that he’s going to snap at some point this season, but I certainly won’t be surprised when/if it happens. But I will be a little bit sad. After all, much like Charles Whitman, Don Draper/Dick Whitman is not a monster at heart.


Questions:

1. Did everyone else heave a sigh of relief when Pete DIDN’T get to bang the high school girl?

2. Who were you cheering for in the Great Partner Meeting Smackdown of ’66? Pete or Lane? Did anyone share my hivemind and think it would devolve into a slapfight? Were you disappointed when it didn’t? (I was.)

Comments (20)
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I was definitely rooting for Lane during the fight. Also funny was Joan and Peggy listening in on it, especially when the wall shook.
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In regards to the first question, I thought it was heading that way until Pete gave the high school GUY the same checking-him-out stare that he gave the GIRL. What's the deal with that?
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Everybody who cheats on Annie...uhm Trudy, deserves to get his ass kicked.
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I don't really like Pete. I keep trying to like him, but it just won't stick. And - is it me or is his hairline receding? It just looks like it starts higher up on his forehead than in previous seasons. It makes it look like he's aging faster than anyone else on the show (maybe that's on purpose?) and that he's trying hard to make it look thicker in spite of it receding. Loved the fight. Lane should have said something about being a fisticuffs champ.
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Yeah and he's gained weight too.
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Good review of a good episode, not being from the USA maybe you'll forgive me for not knowing about Charles Whitman's attack, so it was once again through Mad Men that a moment of history was taught to me (perhaps not the best tool I know). But I agree with your main assessment that they used the name similarity as a subtle means of illustrating how settled Don is, which has indeed been a continuing theme of this season. I can also envisage a Don break at some point (most likely this season) where his perfectly formed new life goes horribly wrong.



As for Lane vs Pete, I really enjoy Pete's character (and how much more we are getting to know him recently) but as a fellow Brit I was hoping Lane would triumph.



Another highlight was watching the opening scenes with all the British rammed into a pub to celebrate the world cup, and the complete apathy of the Americans afterwards.



One minor issue; the flags they all had were Union Jacks (i.e. the flag of the U.K.), it should have been only English flags, we play football as individual countries and trust me there is not much love lost between our countries when it comes to football. The Scottish ethos of supporting 'anyone but England' at football tournaments should explain it sufficiently.
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My father is Scottish. I know EXACTLY what you mean.
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Badass Lane! Cry moar Pete, you will never become Don.
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Lane is so boss!



He got to kick Pete's ass AND kiss Joan.
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Loved the episode and also loved the sloooowest boxing match between a yankee and a brit I've ever seen LOL the slowest yet the funniest!
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Pete seemed to be like a dirty old man who didn't seem to be able to get anything else but a high school girl, kind of sad. I was laughing so loud when they actually started to fight and Don and Roger who were thrilled to see it happen. I was expecting Pete to start crying like a little girl... Which he did at the end of the episode. Never did like Pete.
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Pete should have known better than to get in a boxing match with a Brit. With Don's happy marriage we are definitely getting to know some of the other characters and their lives more this season. Any episode without a Betty story lines is a good episode indeed.
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Why everybody complainin' about Mad men this season? I don't get it. It was so far very interesting and excellent. It isn't like it was before I agree but it needs to be that coz we are in late 60s almost and it can't be the same very subtle very less-dynamic Mad Men of previous seasons. Its more dynamic more rough storytelling reflects dynamics of late 60s. Everything is changin' so are the Mad men. Office fight was brilliant. It could never happened in season 3 for example not with those Don Roger and Price.
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People are COMPLAINING about this season of Mad Men?! Are they insane??? This season us FANTASTIC! People forget that Mad Men is a period piece. The 60's were different from the 50's so of course it is different. Plus which it would be a boring show if the characters didn't evolve. Although I still think Pete is a douche and I enjoyed seeing him get his butt kicked and crying like a little kid. I would've thought that Don would be a little bit more sympathetic, after all he felt exactly the same way only a few seasons ago. All in all this may turn out to be my favourite season (but only if they come up with an episode that is better than The Suitcase, and I don't know if that is possible!)
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I was really annoyed when Pete banged that hooker, he was really starting to grow on me. When he had that conversation with Trudy about him not wanting her leaving without him again, I felt like he had really turned a corner and was appreciating what he had. But no, now he's back to being a spineless dick!
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the fight scene was AWESOME. SOOOO funny.



I also gotta say Roger had like a dozen hilarious scene stealing lines.
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The fight was unexpected and fun, the reaction of Don, Cooper and Roger was even more hilarious. Sure, Pete is annoying, but we can see he isn't happy and he's trying to find his place in this world.

1)Yes, I was relieved that he didn't sleep with the girl.

2) I was cheering for Lane but thought he would lose ^^ So I was surprised by his first move! But not disappointed.
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That fight was hilarious. "I know cooler heads should prevail...Loved how Roger pulled out a cig to watch.
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Pete is so annoying, I hope he gets himself in order, because we had enough whining from him in the 5 seasons.
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I was glad Pete got his ass kicked. Someone needed to knock him down a peg. Last season he was bearable. This season it feels like he is trying to make up for slacking off last year, and yes, I was glad Pete did not get to sleep with the girl.



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