A few times while watching “Signal 30,” I thought about high school.
I was confused at first about if Pete was really in class or not. I wasn’t paying enough attention at the beginning of the episode and didn’t realize he was in a driver’s ed class. (I know, I know, the film should have been a dead giveaway.) I kept thinking maybe the whole thing was a dream—why would he be in school? Maybe he just wished he was back in high school, with easy (and non-creepy) access to young girls.
At Pete’s house later on, he and Ken stand around looking at the stereo and talking about appropriate party topics (Pete says he told Trudy she can’t talk about the baby). Pete looks like the nervous kid at the high school party waiting for the cool senior to finally show up. Sure enough, when he hears a knock at the door [Don and Megan], he says to Ken, “Terrific—that’s them!” He practically bubbles with excitement as he opens the door and greets Don and Megan. He has a drink ready for Don, asks Don if he likes the music that’s playing, and Ken tells Don that he gets “the big steak.” When Don looks confused, Pete tells him what a big deal it is to him that Don came to his home. Even Don and Megan’s drive home from the dinner party is reminiscent of two teenagers, pulling over to the side of the road to make out (or more likely, “go all the way”).
Back in driver’s ed class, Pete saves a seat for Jenny (aka young Scarlett Johansson crossed with Peggy), and they almost plan a date to the gardens, but Handsome Hanson (aka young Don) swoops in and steals his thunder. Later that week, Pete finds consolation with a beautiful young call girl who has a repertoire of interesting lines. He settles on the line, “You’re my king,” though I don’t think he ever quite believes that someone could mean it.
At the partners’ meeting, Pete is sitting across from Don & Roger. Those two are the Big Men on Campus. The frat-boy humor they all share (to Lane’s disgust) is similar to the old days of Pete/Paul/Ken/Harry, but in this case, Don & Roger are not Pete’s equals, they’re the ones that he wants to impress. Lane is the nerdy kid in school, and Cooper is the teacher who tries unsuccessfully to calm the waters. Pete’s faux-cool kid bravado fades quickly when Lane physically threatens him. He tries to act like he’s fine with it, but you can see him visibly pale when he realizes he has to fight.
After the fight is over, Roger and Don turn back into adults, father-figures that try to help Pete out. Pete, the shamefaced kid, leaves the room in embarrassment. He doesn’t like them seeing how badly he failed.
Peggy and Ken are momentarily high school kids, too. Peggy runs in like an eager-beaver student (“Did you hear? Lane kicked the crap out of Pete!”). Ken doesn’t really care about all that, but he confides in her that he plans to stop with all the “fantasy stuff.” It’s not totally true, of course, he’s still going to keep writing, but momentarily we see the boy trying to grow up and be a man.
In the last scene—a dream sequence involving Pete, Jenny, and Hanson—Pete is the man (watching the boy and girl), but he feels helpless and trapped by his loneliness.