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TV Talk: MAD MEN 5.5 - “SIGNAL 30” - Hulk’s Take

This weeks' MAD MEN was a great one, and Hulk examines the theme of masculinity and emasculation running through it.

TV Talk: MAD MEN 5.5 - “SIGNAL 30” - Hulk’s Take

- EPISODE NUMBER: 5.05 -

- EPISODE TITLE: SIGNAL 30 -

- FAVORITE QUOTE: "I KNOW COOLER HEADS SHOULD PREVAIL, BUT AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO WANTS TO SEE THIS?" -

- OVERALL IMPRESSION -

MASCULINITY... IT MORE THAN JUST HANGS OVER THE ENTIRE EPISODE; IT IS THE ENTIRE EPISODE.

WHETHER IT'S PETE'S INABILITY TO FIX A FAUCET. DON'S TOTAL ABILITY TO FIX A FAUCET (AND LOOK LIKE SUPERMAN WHILE DOING SO). COSGROVE'S PROSPECTIVE WRITING CAREER. LANE'S ROLE AND LACK OF VALUE IN THE COMPANY.  STERLING'S CONTINUED LACK OF USEFULNESS ALL TOGETHER... THE THREAT OF EMASCULATION IS EVERYWHERE. AND IT RESULTED IN ANOTHER OF THE SERIES' TRULY GREAT EPISODES, A NEAR-PERFECT ANALYSIS OF THE TRAPPINGS OF THE MALE MIND.

... LET'S SEE HOW EVERYONE RESPONDED.

- PETE  -

WE'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE. AT THE START OF THE SERIES, PETE CAMPBELL WAS ABSOLUTELY SWIMMING IN EMASCULATION. HE WAS A LITTLE BOY TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH A GROUP OF MANLY SUPERIORS. FEELING LEFT OUT, HE ONLY KNEW HOW TO BLUSTER HIS WAY IN WITH A COMPLETE LACK OF GUILE. AND AS A COUNTER-POINT, HE AND ALL THE JUNIOR EXECUTIVES REEKED OF FRATTY HIJINKS IN THEIR TIGHT LITTLE BOYS CLUB (REMEMBER: IT WAS AT THIS SOCIETAL URGING AND PEER PRESSURE THAT HE EVEN WANTED TO GO AFTER PEGGY IN THE FIRST PLACE). PETE CAMPBELL WAS SOMEWHAT INSUFFERABLE, WHICH WAS ALL VERY MUCH ON PURPOSE, MIND YOU.

BUT THEN A FUNNY THING HAPPENED... MATTHEW WEINER TURNED HIM INTO ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING CHARACTERS ON TELEVISION. IT'S NOT THAT PETE CAMPBELL "CHANGED" SO TO SPEAK. IT'S JUST THE LENS IN WHICH THE SHOW LOOKED AT HIM CHANGED.

HULK LIKES TO EXPLAIN IT LIKE THIS: PETE IS BORN AT THE WRONG TIME ESSENTIALLY. HE'S A FEW TOO MANY YEARS BEHIND DON'S CLASS, AND A FEW TOO MANY YEARS AHEAD OF PEGGY. THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE IS DRAMATICALLY ALTERING AND HE'S STUCK RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE WITHOUT A DECENT SENSE OF HOW TO WORK IT OUT. HE'S A 20 SOMETHING WHO CAN'T KEEP UP WITH THE MASCULINE, FUCK-ALL STRIPES OF DRAPER AND CO, AND YET HE CAN'T HANG WITH THE COUNTER-CULTURE COOL KIDS LIKE PEGGY CAN. HE'S A SQUARE WHO STILL LIKES SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS. AND THE MOMENT HE BECAME FASCINATING WAS WHEN HE LEARNED TO WEAR THIS IDENTITY LIKE ARMOR. PETE BECAME EMBOLDENED. HE UNFURLED HIS UNIQUE MIX OF "PETULANT CONFIDENCE" AT CLIENTS, COWORKERS AND LOVED ONES WITHOUT RESERVATION. THE RESULTS WERE FASCINATING AND OFTEN FUNNY (HIS BEING THRUST INTO THE RESPONSIBILITY OF REMOVING BLANKENSHIP IS ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE MOMENTS EVER).

BUT IT'S NOT LIKE PETE HAS REALLY CHANGED. ALL THESE BEHAVIORS ARE VERY MUCH ROOTED IN THAT SAME FEAR OF EMASCULATION THAT HAS DEFINED HIM FROM THE ONSET. ALL THIS CURRENT BUSINESS WITH ROGER: IT'S ABOUT BEING "THE MAN." AGAIN, IT'S THE SAME ISSUES HE'S ALWAYS HAD, HE JUST MORPHED THEM INTO SOMETHING LESS JUVENILE, BUT CERTAINLY MORE SCARY.

AND TONIGHT'S EPISODE REALLY BROUGHT THE ATTENTION BACK TO THE FRAGILE SEXUAL EGO OF PETE CAMPBELL.

IT REALLY PERMEATES EVERY MOMENT. HE ATTEMPTS TO FIX A LEAKY FAUCET (THINKING IT'S A JOB WELL-DONE). HE LUSTS AFTER A HIGH SCHOOL GIRL'S ATTENTION (AND FOR THE RELEVANCE OF "SIGNAL 30" CHECK OUT DEVIN'S COLUMN ON THE MATTER HERE). AND EVEN IF HE'S "HAPPILY MARRIED" TO TRUDY  THE ALLURE OF SEXUALITY IS STILL THERE. OH AND HOW FREAKIN' TALENTED IS ALISON BRIE? THE MOMENT WHERE SHE OUT-DON-ED DON WAS SPECTACULAR. BUT PETE STILL HAS THAT SAME THING THAT BROUGHT HIM TO PEGGY ALL THOSE YEARS AGO. TO THE SCANDINAVIAN BABYSITTER. PETE WAS EVEN WARNED ON THE TRAIN IN THE PREMIERE EPISODE: "PRETTY SOON YOU START TAKING THE 7:05." WELL, TONIGHT WE GOT WHAT WAS HIS 7:05 TRAIN MOMENT. ALL HE REALLY NEEDED WAS THE SLIGHTEST EXCUSE.

AFTER DON SHOWS HIM UP IN THE SINK DEBACLE (WE'LL GET TO THAT) AND THE NEXT "HANDSOME" GUY COMES ALONG TO ROB HIM OF THE HIGH SCHOOL GIRL'S ATTENTION, PETE CAMPBELL SUDDENLY FINDS HIMSELF FACE TO FACE WITH A HOOKER (ON OFFICIAL S.C.D.P. BUSINESS OF COURSE). AND PETE DOESN'T MESS AROUND. HE GOES RIGHT FOR IT. SHE EVEN TRIES A FEW PLAYFUL CHARACTERIZATIONS (IT'S LIKE IMPOTENCE-COMBATING MAD LIBS), BEFORE PETE GETS THE EGO-MASSAGING RESPONSE HE WANTS.

HOOKER: "YOU'RE MY KING."

PETE: "... OKAY."

SO IN CASE IT'S NOT OBVIOUS, PETE WANTS TO BE THE KING. HE ALWAYS HAS. HE THOUGHT HE COULD TAKE ON DON. NOW HE GOES AFTER ROGER. IT'S HIS PETULANCE AND IT ALL GOES BACK TO SOME CAREFULLY LAID OUT DADDY ISSUES. WHAT'S FUNNY IS THAT PETE KIND OF KNOWS HOW TO GET THE PROMISED LAND IN A BUSINESS SENSE (AFTER ALL, IT'S EASY TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY WHEN LITERALLY THE ONLY THING YOU CARE ABOUT IS MAKING A LOT OF MONEY). HE EVEN SEEMS TO BE DOING RATHER WELL AT IT... HE JUST HAS NO IDEA HOW TO GET THERE IN AN EMOTIONAL SENSE. IS HE GOING TO BE THE MAN AT THIS COMPANY? IS HE STILL A BOY WATCHING SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS?

AND IF HE KEEPS ON THE "7:05" PATH, ARE PETE AND TRUDY GOING TO BE THE NEXT DON AND BETTY?

FOR EVERYONE THE LESSON SHOULD CLEAR: THE BORING SUBURBS AUTOMATICALLY MAKE YOU INTO A CHEATING JERKFACE... GOOD GOD HULK KIDDING.

- DON & MEGAN -

SO LET'S TALK ABOUT THE SINK.

HULK HAS SPOKEN BEFORE ABOUT HOW JON HAMM DEFIES ALL LAWS OF ATTRACTION. WE ARE ALL ESSENTIALLY HAMM-OSEXUALS. WHICH IS TOTALLY COOL AND SOMETHING TO BE EMBRACED. AND SO TO HAVE THAT MOMENT WHERE HE TAKES OFF THE SHIRT IN FRONT OF THE WIVES, TO HAVE ONE OF THEM MAKE THE SUPERMAN COMMENT AS PETE CAREFULLY "FINDS HIS TOOL," WELL THAT SAYS IT ALL, DOESN'T IT? THOUGH IT'S NOT EXACTLY FAIR TO GET DIRECTLY COMPARED TO HAMM.... MOVING ON.

LET'S ALSO TALK ABOUT DON AND MEGAN. THEY CONTINUE THEIR DANCE OF EMBRACING MATURITY. SHE KEEPS ENCOURAGING HIM TO BE OUTGOING. TO DO THE RIGHT THING. IT ALL WORKS AS WONDERFUL SET UP TO DON'S GREAT LINE, "OH COME ON. WE WERE LONG OVERDUE!" IS THIS WHAT MATURE DON LOOKS LIKE? IS MEGAN TOO PERFECT AFTER THIS SHORT RUN OF EPISODES? THE PREMIERE POINTED TOWARD HER FEELING DISCONNECTED FROM DON (THE BALCONY SCENE), BUT SINCE THEN SHE KEEPS GETTING THROUGH TO HIM. SO WHERE ARE THEY HEADED? HULK HAS TO ASK THIS BECAUSE THERE IS NO DENYING THAT DON IS PERHAPS IN THE MENTALLY HEALTHIEST PLACE HE'S EVER BEEN... LAST WEEK'S MURDER DREAMS TOTALLY NOTWITHSTANDING.

SERIOUSLY, DO YOU THINK THE DON OF YORE WOULD HAVE SAID THE MOST REVEALING LINE EVER, WHEN INQUIRED ABOUT HIS CHEATING PAST: "I WOULDN'T HAVE, IF I HAD WHAT I HAVE NOW."

... WOW.

- LANE -

HULK WILL GET TO THE FIGHT IN A MOMENT.

FIRST, LANE GETS CONVINCED TO GO WATCH THE WORLD CUP FINAL BY HIS WIFE AND NATURALLY HE TURNS IT INTO AN EXCUSE TO GO NUTS AND PARTY. IT ALSO ENDS UP BEING A GOOD BUSINESS DECISION, AS THE HUSBAND OF HIS WIFE'S FRIEND WANTS TO THROW JAGUAR DOLLARS THEIR WAY. WHICH IS A BIG DEAL (DON SO BLUNTLY STATES THE APPEAL OF THE ACCOUNT WITH, "IT'S A CAR"). BUT WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING HERE IS A FEAST OF CHARACTERIZATION.

HULK ABSOLUTELY LOVES THE WAY THE SHOW ARTICULATES LANE'S PERSONALITY. HE IS SOMEONE WHO IS SO SHY AND RESERVED AND YET CONSTANTLY GETS PROVOKED RIGHT OUT OF HIS SHELL AND INTO EXCESS. THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND. WE ALL KNOW SOMEONE LIKE THIS. HE CAN'T JUST GO TO THE PLAYBOY CLUB - HE FALLS IN LOVE WITH A GIRL WHO WORKS THERE. HE CAN'T JUST GO OUT TO DINNER, HE GETS DRUNK AND SLAPS A BIG STEAK ON HIS CROTCH. HE ABSORBS THE WORLD OF THOSE AROUND HIM AND REFLECTS IT AS AN EXTREME. HE IS A HABITUAL (AND IN THIS CASE LITERAL) "BANDWAGONER."

AND HE CAN'T JUST BE CALLED INSIGNIFICANT OR ELSE HE'LL FUCKING FIGHT YOUR ASS.

AND BOY WAS THE FIGHT SOMETHING ELSE. PETE, DRUNK ON HIS OWN FEELINGS OF WORTHLESSNESS, TAUNTS LANE WITH SOME TRULY SHARP CRITICISM "YOU LOST YOUR VALUE THE MOMENT YOU FIRED US." THIS OF COURSE LEADS TO LANE IMMEDIATELY DROPPING INTO ANOTHER KIND OF EXCESS AND RESORTING TO VIOLENCE. HE CHALLENGES PETE TO AN OLD TIMEY FIGHT AND PROCEEDS TO WIPE THE FLOOR WITH HIM. THE ALTERCATION ALSO PROVIDES ROGER ONE OF THE LINES OF THE CENTURY: "I KNOW COOLER HEADS SHOULD PREVAIL, BUT AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO WANTS TO SEE THIS?"

BUT, LIKE ALL FIGHTS, THIS ONE DOESN'T LEAD TO SOME GREATER SUPREMACY, UNDERSTANDING OR EVEN FEELINGS OF ADEQUACY. PETE FEELS ASHAMED. LANE FEELS ASHAMED. BUT LANE STILL KNOWS THAT THERE IS A PART OF PETE'S STATEMENT THAT IS TRUE. AND, DOING AS HE DOES, HE FUNNELS THAT SADNESS INTO AN IMPROMPTU KISS UPON JOAN. SHE REACTS WITH A REAL SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING. SHE GETS LANE AND IMPLICITLY KNOWS WHY HE DID IT. AND IN QUIET GESTURE, SHE SIMPLY GETS UP, OPENS THE DOOR,  SITS BACK DOWN AND SMOOTHS IT OVER WITH A GENTLE SMILE. SHE CONVEYS EVERYTHING THAT NEEDS TO BE SAID ABOUT THE APPROPRIATENESS OF THE INTERACTION.

AND SO, LANE APOLOGIZES, EVER THE MAN OF EXCESS.

- KEN COSGROVE -

REMEMBER KEN?

WHILE IT MAY NOT SEEM LIKE IT, HIS STORY WHOLLY FIGURES IN TO THE MAIN THEME AT PLAY, ONLY THIS TIME IT'S THE EMASCULATION OF THE CREATIVE MIND. LAST WE CHECKED IN WITH COSGROVE'S WRITING CAREER HE WAS GOING SOME SORT OF WHITMAN-ESQUE / EE CUMMINGS ROUTE AND GETTING PUBLISHED IN THE ATLANTIC. NOW? HE'S SLINGING SOME PULPY SCI-FI, MUCH TO HIS SEEMING BOREDOM. HE EVEN WRITES UNDER THE OH-SO WANTON AND SAD PEN NAME OF BEN HARGROVE (META ADDITION! HIS LEAD CHARACTER IS NAMED COLE, WHICH HULK CAN ASSURE YOU IS A REFERENCE TO HIS ROLE AS COLE PHELPS IN L.A. NOIRE). ANYCRAP, KEN COSGROVE DOESN'T EVEN SEEM TO BE ALL THAT INTO THIS SIDE CAREER. THERE'S A PART OF HIM THAT JUST WANTS TO BE WRITING BECAUSE HE DOESN'T WANT TO THINK OF HIMSELF AS JUST AN ACCOUNT MAN. IT CERTAINLY DOESN'T SEEM TO BE FOR PASSION. WHEN HULK THINK ABOUT THE KEN WE SAW IN SEASONS PAST: WELL-ADJUSTED, SMART, CONFIDENT. WHERE IS THAT KEN? THIS ONE SEEMS UNINSPIRED.

WHAT HULK THINKS IS THAT KEN IS SEEMINGLY DEFINED BY HIS NEUTRALITY. IT'S NOT A NEUTRALITY LIKE DON HAS, WHERE HE IS CONSTANTLY WILLING TO SPIN MORALITY FOR HIS OWN DIRECTION. NO, KEN'S LACK OF CARING AND LACK OF PRETENSION IS WHY PEOPLE HAVE SUCH AN EASY TIME HANGING OUT WITH HIM... BUT IT'S ALSO EXACTLY WHY HE DOESN'T SEEM TO GET FURTHER. HE'S A FORMER GOLDEN BOY COASTING ON TALENT, BUT NOW HE SEEMS TO BE SLEEPWALKING THROUGH LIFE.

AT LEAST HE'S STILL MARRIED TO ALEX MACK.

- PARTING WORDS -

SO THAT'S A QUICK TAKE ON THIS WEEK'S FANTASTIC EPISODE. MEREDITH WILL HAVE SOME MORE WONDERFUL INSIGHTS LATER THIS WEEK!

AND KEEP ENJOYING MAD MEN.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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