‘Mad Men’ Recap: Drive My Car
That fever really did a number on Don. Now he’s refusing the goods at a brothel and telling Pete to stop cheating on his wife? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly a bad thing – did you ever see him smile at Betty like he did before he violated Megan on the side of the highway? – but after several seasons of philandering, this whole fidelity thing is going to take some getting used to.
Now that Don is no longer the paradigm of the miserable suburban husband, Pete has unwittingly stepped into the role. True, Pete has been riding high professionally this season, but we always knew his arrogance would also be his downfall. In the long run, his business acumen is vital to SCDP’s success, but after several episodes watching him embarrass Roger, it was rather pleasant seeing this cocky little prick cut down to size.
Poor Little Rich Boy
Despite the beautiful, adoring wife, the daughter, the partnership and the house in Connecticut, Pete still feels the need to expend his energy proving to the world that he “has it all.” He and Trudy throw a dinner party for Don and Megan and Ken Cosgrove and his wife, Cynthia, showing off their sleek hi-fi and not even trying to hide their delight that Don actually made the trip out from the city. Only problem with inviting Don Draper to your party is the fact that Don Draper will be at your party. When a leaky faucet explodes into a geyser in the kitchen, alpha male farmboy Don shows up pampered city boy Pete with his rudimentary plumbing skills. Not to mention Pete’s inability to compete with Don’s rippled, T-shirted chest. (Note Cynthia’s “Look, it’s Superman” line – a possible in-joke relating to Jon Hamm, who was briefly considered for a Superman reboot.)
As if he didn’t feel emasculated enough, now that he’s a suburbanite it’s time for Pete to get a driver’s license. This means he’s been spending quite a bit of time over at the high school watching “Signal 30” (also the title of the episode) highway safety films and flirting with a perky young coed named Jenny Gunther (does every SCDP exec get a nubile teenager to hang with this season?). Jenny’s bummed out that her parents might not let her go to college out of state, what with the recent shootings at the University of Texas by student Charles Whitman (at the Campbells’ party, the gunman is mistakenly referred to as “Charles Whitmore,” but Don is quick to correct the error. Megan’s startled reaction to the name “Whitman” isn’t subtle, either). Pete’s idea of cheering Jenny up is a trip to the New York Botanical Garden. But saying that your family donated money to said garden doesn’t really impress teenagers these days. Especially not when their newest driver’s ed classmate is hunky Jim Hanson, a jock who actually goes by the nickname “Handsome.”
Now that he’s starting to feel threatened by guys almost half his age, it’s no wonder that Pete is all for a night out at one of New York’s finest brothels with Don, Roger and a potential new client, Edwin Baker of Jaguar. But even after a romp that includes being called “my king” by a leopard-print-lingerie-clad hooker, Pete’s still in a bad mood as he slumps in a taxi with Don. Especially because Pete is being judged for doing exactly what Don used to do on a regular basis: “I can’t believe I have to explain I was doing my job to a man who just pulled his pants up to the world.” Don understands that Pete is unhappy, but he implores Pete to reconsider being unfaithful to Trudy because he regrets his past behavior: “You don’t get another chance at what you have . . . If I’d met [Megan] first I would’ve known not to throw it away.” Who would’ve thought – Don Draper, moral sage.
The following day, Pete shoots his mouth off to Lane and gets his ass kicked in the process. Humiliated, he goes home in the middle of the day. He sees Don in the elevator, but Don remains silent to Pete’s pleas. Pete has become so wretched that he goes so far as to say, “I have nothing, Don,” when in actuality he has everything that Don regrets having to give up. It’s no wonder Don doesn’t want to listen to Pete’s whining.
Englishman in New York
The mysterious financial problems the Pryce family was battling in the season premiere appear to have been tabled for the time being, as Lane was handed his first story line since “A Little Kiss” and cash flow wasn’t mentioned. One thing that hasn’t changed for SCDP’s financial chief is his difficulty in finding his niche – both in America and at the company. When Lane has the potential to bring in the shagadelic Jaguar automobiles as a client – he makes friends with Edwin Baker, the senior vice president of public relations and a fellow Brit, while watching the World Cup at a local bar – his overwhelming desire to remain relevant winds up killing the entire deal. Instead of leaving the wooing to the account executives, Lane insists on pursuing Baker on his own. Roger (John Slattery pulling double duty this episode as its director), suggesting that he shouldn’t be put out to pasture just yet, gives the stiff-upper-lipped Englishman a crash course on wining and dining. But his lessons are for naught. During a sedate dinner, Lane exudes about as much charm as a mailbox and his nerves overtake him. No hands are shaken.
Since it’s blatantly obvious that Lane has no flair for this side of the business (“Lane couldn’t close a door,” Pete snipes), Roger, Pete and Don are forced to pull out all the stops. They take Baker for a lobster dinner, complete with bibs, and cap off the evening with a visit to an upscale whorehouse. The deal is a go.
Or so they think. The following morning, Lane receives a distressing call from his wife, Rebecca. Turns out she and Baker’s wife have become quite chummy. So much so that it didn’t take long for the past evening’s escapades to come to light. Why? As Jared Harris so eloquently puts it, in the kind of perfect accent I can only deign to re-create in print, “[Baker] was caught with chewing gum on his PUB-ISS!” At this point, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Lane, because like Roger, he’s losing his importance at the company, and his desperation only makes him look worse. Lane shouts at the partners that Jaguar was his account, but Pete, who has already demonstrated his disregard for obsolete executives, silences the Brit by telling him he has no idea what he’s doing and that “our need for you disappeared the day after you fired us [in Season Three, which allowed Roger, Bert Cooper and Don to start SCDP].” For the record, and this just goes to show how Pete tends to forget his place in the hierarchy, Pete was never fired from Sterling Cooper. Only Roger, Bert and Don were.
Refusing to be embarrassed any further, Lane challenges Pete to a fistfight, right there in the SCDP conference room. With both men holding their fists up as if it was a boxing match from 1902, they look equally ridiculous, but that doesn’t stop Don from drawing the curtains and Roger freely admitting he wants to watch. Lane ultimately knocks Pete to the ground, both literally and off his high horse.
But it’s a Pyrrhic victory for Lane, who bemoans his position to Joan, newly reinstalled at SCDP and tending to his injured hand. He feels that she could do his job – and that there’s just no place for him there anymore. Just as Lane reassured Joan that she was indispensable at SCDP, Joan now does the same for him (“Everyone in this office has wanted to do that to Pete Campbell”), and he shows his appreciation by planting a nice big wet one on her mouth. In a move that once again nicely demonstrates Joan’s aplomb in delicate situations, she stands up, opens the door, and sits back down. The kiss is not discussed, nor is it rebuked, but the opportunity for it to happen once more has been removed. At least for now.
Wrap-Up: The episode closes with a voice-over of Ken Cosgrove writing under his new nom de plume, Dave Algonquin, no doubt taken from the famous Round Table writers group. His stint as a fantasy/sci-fi writer has abruptly come to an end after Pete blabbed about Ken’s side projects to Roger. Roger, visibly jealous of Ken’s success after having to self-publish his memoir last season, warns the account executive against deviating from his day job again, making sure to toss in the word “security” as an added blow. But you can’t keep a good writer down – especially when you can use words to get back at an arrogant, yet still insecure, colleague. “The Man With the Miniature Orchestra” describes a sad young man living in the country, “killing him with its silence and loneliness. Making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear.” The description sounds an awful lot like a certain WASP-y advertising executive, recently installed in a Connecticut suburb, taking driver’s ed at age 32 – staring at the teenage girl he’s lusting after being groped by the local jock as they watch the latest installment of “Signal 30” safety films.
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