A Matter of Time?

 Posted by on May 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm  Season 5
May 172012

If Mystery Date established Richard Speck as an analogy for Don Draper, then Signal 30 clearly (too clearly, in my mind) links Pete Campbell with University of Texas Tower sniper Charles Whitman.  As I’m sure most Mad Men viewers unfamiliar with the case have Googled by now, Whitman was a former Marine who, on August 1, 1966, climbed to the top of the now famous clock tower in Austin, Texas and opened fired at unsuspecting people below.  Whitman killed 16 and wounded 32 others.

That Pete owns a rifle, as established in Mad Men‘s first season and slammed home during the Campbell’s dinner party scene (just in case anyone has forgotten), is too obvious a sniper connection to ignore.  Is there a statute of limitations on “Chekhov’s gun?”  I’m just asking.

Pete and Whitman are more subtly linked in the short story Ken Cosgrove’s wife, er, um, Cynthia (yeah, that’s it) forces him to tell at that same dinner party.  It’s a science fiction yarn about a robot who maintains a bridge between two planets.  Feeling helpless and depressed about its lot in life, the robot takes the only action it can and removes an important bolt holding up the bridge. Countless of people are killed when the bridge collapses. I’d argue that this story ending in a massacre ties directly with Pete’s fixing of the leaky faucet from earlier in Signal 30.  A drip, drip, drip emanating from the kitchen sink in during  the night annoys Pete so much, he takes out his tools and does what he can. The look of manly satisfaction on his face after completing this rather simple task is apparent.

Of course, later we find that Pete was not up to the job when his plumbing repairs explosively come undone at the party. Don, the man Pete aspires to be, steps in and saves the day.  “Too much pressure” in the valve, Don says, that why we don’t let him try to fix the roofs afterwards that have a little leaking and got a Residential Roofing company instead.  His emotional pressure building up throughout the episode, this is an apt description for the helpless Pete as well.

Like the driving education film from which the title is derived, Signal 30 ends in a figurative car wreck for Pete.  He loses the drivers ed girl to that  “Handsome” young student, he’s still stuck in the suburbs with Trudy (on the ground floor, he says), Lane has beaten him up (in one of the most pathetic fights I’ve ever seen), and Don’s final glance at him is loaded with pity (a fact Pete can’t help but notice).

Closing out the episode, the inner voice of Ken is heard telling another story that again could be lifted directly from Pete’s life. Strains of Beethoven described in Ken’s narrative accompany the last, depressing  shot of Pete.  Fading to black, Beethoven is punctuated by a final drip, drip, drip.  Or is that tick, tick, tick?


  40 Responses to “A Matter of Time?”

  1. You make some really good points here, but I suspect that if there’s any massacre at SCDP, it will be metaphorical, not actual. (maybe more layoffs) However, the gun business has been persistant since Peter first exchanged the chip ‘n dip for it. I think Pete is continuing to slip into self-pity and more frustration. He can’t be happy with what he has or what others have. He is an accident waiting to happen.

    • I agree with you about a symbolic rather than literal “massacre.” Sorry my post didn’t make that more clear.

      • I thought your point about a symbolic massacre was very clear….excellent post btw.

        Love this: “Too much pressure” in the valve, Don says. His emotional pressure building up throughout the episode, this is an apt description for the helpless Pete as well.”

        It feels like the seeds have been sown for a massacre at SCDP:

        1. Ken and Peggy have a pact

        2. Last week Roger calls it, “Sterling, Campbell, Draper, Pryce.”

        3. Peggy seems unhappy. Ginzo seems unhappy, especially with Don. Don is threatened and trying to get his mojo back. Kenny is thinking more about writing stories than being an account man. Roger recognizes he needs to do more and is seeking out accounts.

        4. The agency seems to be getting more business, but SCDP hasn’t really done creative work that fits with the growing trends toward rejecting the establishment, questioning authority and celebrating youth.

        Pete has always had good instincts (e.g., youth market, the Negro market), but it is difficult to imagine given the miserable state he is in that he could do something now that would actually have a positive impact.

        Maybe Pete is the catalyst in that something bad happens that he causes and he then has to rectify, resulting in a big shake or massacre at SCDP?

        • Oh yes, I thought you were referring to a symbolic massacre too, just reiterating it. Great post!

    • Don’t forget another depressed individual with real shooting skills – Betty! (she shot neighbor’s pigeons in season 1 – did she use a rifle or BB gun?)

  2. There was an interesting perspective at pandagon about what Peggy is doing…she’s working late, typing a lot and Don even comments that she must’ve been buried in Heinz. But what if she’s buried in something else? Heniz was long finished and we still saw her working on what turned out to be nothing. All the work Don and Joan poured over was minus Peggy. Maybe she is plotting her escape with others like Ken and Stan. I think the show could get away with the office splitting for next season…I would still be interested in their stories if they weren’t directly connected to Don, who no longer seems to be the main focus anyway. This season has made a point of delving into everyone’s lives outside the office more than ever before.

    • I saw that perspective also and at first I kinda dismissed it. But Peggy did ask Haryy “what were you promised?” Adn then she told Roger that he was not loyal. She was treated poorly, even her supports such as Freddy talked about her talents as watching a pig play the piano or some such. Peggy is aware of this. She told Megan that when Peggy got her success they acted like it was nothing. Don hasn’t been much of a mentor to understate and put it nicely. Then we were reminded of the pact. I too would be quite interested in Peggy and Ken and Stan and Michael should they leave. It would be intersted if the disgruntled group left for a competitor leaving Don, Roger, Pete, to compete with them at their new employer.

      • Marylou, wow, what a fantastic idea. Your idea that Peggy, Ken, Michael, and maybe Stan might leave SCDP and start their own competing agency seems completely realistic given everything that has happened this season (and also to Peggy and Ken in past seasons). In addition, wouldn’t a rivalry between SCDP and their new firm breathe wonderful new life into Seasons 6 and 7? This idea had not occurred to me as a realistic possibility (I had just thought that maybe Peg and Ken would go work for some other large agency). But now that you have brought it up I think it’s an absolutely fantastic idea. I’d love to see competing pitches by the two agencies trying to get the same clients, to see the young generation’s approach versus the older generation’s approach, and to see the Oedipal themes of the children trying to overthrow the parents play out.

        The interesting question would be — where would Pete be in all this? He’s the age of the younger ones, and in the past he has been one of the most forward-looking in his outlook about society (e.g. his ideas that clients should market to African Americans). But this season he has seemed to become prematurely middle-aged. So I’m not sure how a split would shake out for him. Maybe it would be the best possible thing for him — if they invited him along!

        • Good questions. Would Peter join the “youngins” or stay with Don and Roger. And where would Peggy and company get the money to start a new firm? More likely given their lack of captial they would have to join another firm as a group.

          • Maybe in the last few episodes they will land a large new client that they can take with them.

            Or maybe….. Ken’s father-in-law’s company. What is it? Dow Corning?

          • That’s right! I forgot Ken’s father in law could help with that. It is hard to get that first client. But perhaps they could take clients with them (but they might be contractually prevented from that). Also if Pete went with them, Pete’s father in law also has Vicks or something. If we are going to build a dream competition firm, we can get Sal back to help Stan with the artwork and Sal can also do film! 🙂

          • Oh — yes!! Bring my Sal back to head up art direction!!!

            Let’s do it — we’re starting a new firm! Olsen Cosgrove Campbell Ginsburg!

            And let’s hire Joan, too, and give her Lane’s job.

          • Done!

          • Do you really think Ken and even Peggy would want Pete to come along? Whether this is correct or not, Ken think Pete ratted him out to Roger.

          • You may very well be right. Ken and Pete have long been rivals. Maybe he woudn’t want Pete along. On the other hand, Pete is pretty good at soliciting clients, and everyone else I listed above (the other young ‘uns — Peg, Stan, Michael, Sal) are creative. They probably need more than just one account manager.

          • Maybe Cooper could join them. That would make Sterling Campbell Draper Pryce 😉

      • I took Peggy’s comment to Harry Crane as her being disgusted with his continuous whining and lack of responsibility. Peggy knows they weren’t promised anything. She really has been engrossed in something, maybe she and Stan are working on something more creative with their MJ inspriration

    • Great idea, folks! However, Peggy was part of the first “Great Escape”, so she knows as Yoda Bert stated at the time “WE NEED ACCOUNTS”. She also knows that SCDP would not have been possible without TV (so you need Harry) and Mrs. Harris (remember how disorganized they were before Roger called her).

      Cosgrove- Head of Accounts Olson- Head of Creative Crane- Head of Media

      Rizzo and Romano- Art Harris- Head of Everthing Else and New “Yoda”

    • Cosgrove, Olson, and Crane. “An agency for the 21st Century….and Beyond”

  3. Matt, I can’t tell you how often I think of that rifle now. It’s as if I’d forgotten about it when Pete seemed happy and together, especially when Trudy was pregnant. But it’s followed him around, to SCDP and through office moves, as a reminder of … what? Unfinished emotional business? His true nature?

    I don’t perceive we’re in the third act yet — for SCDP or for Pete — but the Chekhov caveat rings true. Drama is not cluttered. When a dramatic character has a weapon, eventually he uses it.

    Great post, Matt. Again. 🙂

    • If we get ninety one episodes then the third act will start in episode sixty nine—fourth episode next season. Hope Pete is still with us then, cause someone needs to provide drama, now that Don has hung it up.

      Act one ended in episode twenty three The Mountain King, we met Anna.

      • Episode 23 was The Inheritance. Don got Betty preganant. My apologies.

        Does Pete have enough crazy in him to put his rifle on his family in
        a murder/suicide? I’m afraid that rifle is not a Macguffin. It’s been an ominous tease for the entire series.

    • My first thought is that the rifle is reminder of Pete’s predatory nature.

  4. There are two types of cancer: benign and malignant.

    And there are two takes on dramatic events: symboliic vs actual significance

    Heretofore, imho, Mad Men’s season five has been totally symbolic so far. Yes some of the events in the current environment may be considered outrageous and hit close to home and seem portend gloom and doom to MM characters like Pete Campbell but nothing has happened so far. And nothing may happen in the remaining 4 episodes of the season to end the life of the most prominent characters in an untimely fashion.

    Now having said that, would the demise of Bert Cooper who is close to 80 be seen as a great surprise? I don’t think so.

    But if you go by life insurance actuarial charts, Roger Sterling is the next most likely to die because of his 2 previous heart attacks. His demise would be a surprise but not a shock.

    As for Don, Peggy, Megan, Betty, Henry, Don, and Pete Campbell it seems highly likely they will be around in season 6. Folks in their age bracket don’t die very often in civilian life, even in 1966.

    Suicide is often broached as a possibility for Pete. Let me offer a scenario where it might be possible. In 1983, Dan Aykroyd starred in a movie called Trading Places in which he played a stock broker who had grown up in wealth and was well off. His uncles decided to conduct an experiment to see what happened if the Aykroyd character was stripped of all his friends, dignity, status, wealth and income, to see what happened to him if became a bum on the streets. His uncles went to great lengths to create the perfect conditions and to make a long story short he ends up attempting suicide but the gun misfires.

    The one thing you take away from that part of the movie is that the Aykroyd character has become very sad, depressed, feels he is without hope and does not have the survival skills necessary to rebound.

    But once he finds out he has been set up by his uncles he becomes very angry and vows to get back at them anyway he can. He takes his revenge and suicide is off the table.

    And what does this have to do with Pete Campbell? If you notice since Signal 30, Pete is no longer depressed but instead he is a very angry young man. The scene on the train with Howard in which Pete tells Howard, “You can spend it with your girl and I’ll spend Thanksgiving screwing your wife” completely epitomizes Pete’s state of mind currently and how unfair he considers his personal situation.

    And if you check the history of suicide, very few people commit suicide in a state of anger, outrage, or indignation. By the same token many more people commit crimes against other people when they have lost their temper, gone irate, or feel hard done by. And it the latter state of mind that I believe Pete is in now.

    Thus I don’t believe Pete will commit suicide in season five. Instead he is more likely to engage in rape (as he did with the au pair in his apartment building) or murder. But the odds of Pete actually engaging in such behavior are also great. Imho, for Pete to engage in such dysfunctional or anti-social behavior I believe Pete would have to lose everything–his wife, his partnership, his wealth and income and become a virtual pariah. And despite what has happened in Pete’s life since Signal 30, I don’t think Pete is there yet.

    But who knows what state of mind Pete will find himself by the final episode of season five? Four more episodes will take us into 1967. Will Pete’s current anger turn into a deep depression by then?

    And a final note: Pete could end up in a serious car accident without dying. After all Pete is not a good driver.

  5. “If Mystery Date established Richard Speck as an analogy for Don Draper, then Signal 30 clearly (too clearly, in my mind) links Pete Campbell with University of Texas Tower sniper Charles Whitman.”

    “That Pete owns a rifle, as established in Mad Men‘s first season and slammed home during the Campbell’s dinner party scene (just in case anyone has forgotten), is too obvious a sniper connection to ignore.”

    I completely missed the Speck/Draper analogy. Could you expand on this, MM?

    Most of us recall that Pete traded a chip ‘n’ dip for a rifle (which seems like an expected thing for a twenty-something man to do) and that he had a contemplative moment with that rifle in his office (the same episode). Pete also shared a related fantasy with Peggy – about killing, dressing, bringing home, cutting up, cooking, and relishing a game animal. This was a moving, intimate moment for them.

    To me, none of this adds up to a sniper connection. Pete is clearly in a bad emotional place, but so are millions of American gun owners at all times. Although it’s most likely that murder will occur between friends and family, such murder is rare in an absolute sense. For this to take place on the show would be a jume the shark moment of a high order.

    Am I being too literal here?

    • I think Matt was trying to link up Pauline’s comment in Mystery Date that Speck’s problem with his mother motivated him to kill those nurses to Don’s own issues with his own mother.

      Jahn Gault, I agree with you that the analogy is debatable. Is Don’s real problem tied to his mother or is Don’s main issue based on the lack of self-esteem he had as a child being called a “whore child” and being raised by a woman (Abigail) after Archie died who never showed him any love.

      Notice when Don was with Adam in the cafe in “5G” how vicious he got when the subject of Abigail’s death came up. He said, “Abigail was never by mother. She never let me forget that.”

      I realize this is a minority position and I am no psychologist or psychiatrist but could Don’s problems from childhood not stem from his mother dying in childhood but from being labeled or stigmatized from day one as the son of a prostitute? In other words, Don didn’t hate his mother, but he hated the identity that he grew up with. And was Don’s decision to assume someone else’s identity brought about by his strong desire to change his identity and thus how he felt about himself by playing a new role with a new name? And was Don’s hatred for Abigail part and parcel of her forcing his identity upon him?

      Frankly I see little similarity between Speck and Don Draper. By all accounts Speck was a loner and not a lady’s man. And he certainly wasn’t as good looking either and had the kind of job Don has. Speck was a man who appeared to have a chip on his shoulder by all accounts.

      In contrast Don Draper although insecure due to “identity challenges” doesn’t conduct himself like he has a chip on his shoulder, is a lady’s man, charming and has shown no signs whatsoever that he is going to go off the reservation (except for disappearing in CA), become extremely irrational and commit multiple murders.

      I really think that most of the blogs I read have it all wrong. Don’s problem will never be solved through psychoanalysis. However it will be solved by LOVE or at least begin to be solved by LOVE.

      Megan said something so profound to Don in the premiere episode: “No one loves Dick Whitman. I love you.” When you assume another man’s identity and persona, those words represent reaching the top of Mt. Everest. As long has Don has Megan’s love and he does not drive it away as he almost did in Far Away Places or becoming extremely jealous, I see Don staying mentally and psychologically happy. But life and intervening events can change that dynamic, can’t they?

  6. OK, Matt, a symbolic massa-cree (to use the Joyce pronounciation).

    • Love it. I don’t think it would be soapy if Pete offed himself. The long slow burn of evidence has been established.

    • Arlo Guthrie would use that pronunciation the following year (1967) in Alice’s Restaurant Massacre

  7. My guess is Pete dies in a car accident. I even wrote the obituary:


  8. There are many scenes from earlier seasons that do not get the attention they deserve. Here from season one is Pete talking to Peggy about going hunting:

    Season 1 episode 7 Red in the Face

    “It’s an incredible sensation. You have to be very quiet. Take it down with the first shot or you scare it away. And sometimes you have to go up and finish it off. Then you tie it to your bumper and go home. You know what I’ve always wanted to do: I would pick it up and throw its back legs over my shoulder and drag it through the snow to a little cabin and there I’d hang it up…cut it open, drain it, dress it and then I’d take this knife and cut its loin out of its side. Then there would be this woman waiting for me standing by one of those old stoves with a big black pipe and I’d hand it to her and she’d put it in a cast-iron skillet and then I’d sit at the table and she’d bring it to me and I’d wipe my knife on my knee and then I would eat it while she watches.”

    Absolutely chilling stuff. Watch Pete’s face as he is saying the words.

    • And Peggy looks hot over it too. Easily, one of the creepiest scenes ever filmed.

    • It’s an amazing scene. To me, it epitomizes the sense of entrapment felt by the men at this time. Usually women’s issues get all the attention, but there was a deep masculine identity crisis too. As life became more and more urban, many things that defined men as men were being lost. The new class of professional men did not fix their own cars or repair their own homes, nor did they have much opportunity for hunting. Pete, who has just been humiliated by his wife and spends his days indoors at a desk, longs for the more primitive existence of the woods where survival is as basic as shooting a deer and a man is unquestioned master in his home. I love the lead up to this when Trudy is insisting that Pete return the rifle. “Those gifts are for US,” she says. But they aren’t. The gifts are really all for the bride. I had always just taken that for granted until I heard Pete point that out. I think the presence of the rifle in the story is not necessarily to foreshadow a suicide (or murder-suicide), but as something to represent Pete’s longing for control of his own life. “Why do they always get to decide what happens?” he asks in despair after Beth seduces him and then summarily dumps him after. Pete has always been overshadowed by women, first by his domineering mother, and then by Trudy. She is an amazing woman in many ways, beautiful, intelligent,devoted, but she is “a force”, and she ultimately always gets her way. Even at the office, he is frequently “upped” by Peggy, who has been welcomed into creative, while his attempt to present “ideas” resulted in a near-firing. I do think that with the drip, drip, drip of the faucet, and the crash imagery of Signal 30, the writers could be setting Pete up for a tragedy of some sort. If so, the rifle will probably be involved. Maybe he will shoot Lane when the embezzlement is discovered…

  9. As the last episode is arriving, I have to wonder if Petey uses the rifle to take out his womanizing train-mate neighbor. His scheme would have him dying as well and taking on a new identity (like Don). A massive train wreck would resonate with the “alien bridge” story Ken wrote, and could have the benefit of covering his disappearance. Of course, Pete would buy a place downtown with insurance money and have his neighbors scheming widow move in with him.

  10. Then there is the matter of the missing elevator car. Did Don just shrug that off or notify the building super? I think Don, just shrugged it odd, and we were left nervously watching Peggy board that elevator on her departure from the company.

    Who will fall into the shaft?

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