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?