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Mad Men recap: Desperate admen - Pete and Lane strain against the bounds of rigid roles

16

April

s5ep53.jpgPoor Pete Campbell.

Like the entitled son of privilege he will always be, Mad Men's L'Enfant terrible revealed in Sunday's episode he will always live in the shadow of superhero adman Don Draper -- even when he seems to have everything Draper doesn't.

On the surface, he's living the dream of that cultural moment; a growing career at a powerful ad agency, a smart, beautiful wife ready to help him achieve all his ambitions, and a cute young daughter.

But we've seen in previous episodes that Pete is straining at the rigid straitjacket he's built for himself, made restless by his own insecurities and desires. Even as he scoffs as fellow commuters who put off heading home from Manhattan to their suburban homes as long as possible, he knows those feelings are building in his own breast, and they came out in force during Sunday's episode, "Signal 30."

The overriding theme seemed to be frustration pushing men to outlandish behavior: from Campbell's wandering eye after his child was born to partner Lane Pryce's increasing disdain for his British roots, even as he feels pulled back to them and humiliated by them again and again.

s5ep52.jpgThe fulcrum for most of this is a veddy British friend of Lane's who just happens to control the American advertising account for Jaguar motors. But despite Lane's attempts to win him over at dinner, it takes the yanks from Sterling Cooper to divine what this pal really wants; a decidedly un-distinguished roll in the hay with an American woman of the night.

We learn more about Draper's relationship with his new wife in these moments as well. Old Draper would have joined his pals in partaking of the ladies of the evening; but as Campbell and Roger Sterling pair off, Draper sits at the bar, uninterested in the women around him.

Not forcing himself to avoid the women, mind you. He is not interested. Which is a major development, coming after the fever dream last week in which he killed the embodiment of his own philandering urges.

Draper seems to be a different man -- a domesticated man who lets his new, young wife tell him what sportcoat to wear, while handling the drive home. This woman has a place in his heart ex-wife Betty, as an infantilized caricature of a suburban wife, could never achieve. (This is obvious when he later tells Pete "If i would have met her first, I would have known not to throw it all away.")

abc_mad_men_premiere_dm_120326_main.jpgMegan seems to have earned Draper's fealty in ways we are only now beginning to see. Wonder how it will all go wrong.

Because in Mad Men-land, it always does.

Just ask Lane, who saw his British buddy's marriage explode after his pal's wife figured out the indiscretion. this led to the two best moments of Sunday's episode; Layne laying the smackdown on Pete in a conference room fistfight (Roger, as always, gets the best line: "I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?") and Layne later stealing a kiss from Joan Harris while recovering from the fight.

(The biggest irony here: Lane's British pal assumed he wouldn't go along with a trip to a whorehouse, when we viewers know the firm's buttoned-down financial man has been yearning for a way to step out of his life for a while now.)

Losing that fight, by the way, completes Pete's emasculation on every front. He is shot down while trying to flirt with a young girl in driving school, sees a dashing Draper swoop in to fix an exploded water faucet in his own home he thought he had repaired, and withers under Draper's disapproving stare as he stoops to cheating on the woman who just had his baby while the biggest philanderer in New York City holds back.

I look forward to seeing all the new ways creator Matt Weiner finds to humiliate Pete even further.

 

[Last modified: Monday, April 16, 2012 9:23am]

    

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