Mad Men, Season 5

Blood in the Conference Room!
Talking television.
April 16 2012 12:54 AM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Blood in the conference room!

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Suits!

Michael Yarish/AMC

Read an interview with Mad Men's Pete Campbell, Vincent Kartheiser, about this episode here.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Hello you, Hello you,

I’m not going to bore you with compliments—actually, yes I am. The best episodes of Mad Men give you everything you’ve always desired and then pile on a few things you never even thought to desire. This was one of those episodes. For three seasons I’ve longed to know whether Ken Cosgrove, author of the classic Atlantic Monthly short story “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning,” was still writing fiction. It turns out that not only did he never hang up his literary ambitions, he took a nom de plume and became the Philip K. Dick of Jackson Heights. I’ve long wondered whether we’d ever see Don resist sexual temptation. He did so this evening, and in great style, offering some free advice to an appreciative madam (no TV—keep it classy). And then, one of the biggest surprises since Ken rode that John Deere onto the Sterling Cooper service elevator: A rumble in the conference room between the British Bulldog, Lane Pryce, and the Pride of Cos Cob, Pete Campbell. 

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Two of my favorite scenes tonight were thematically linked: They found our old friends Roger and Don playing the role of unlikely mentor. When Roger was dispatched to give Lane a pep talk about how to land the Jaguar account, I assumed we’d be treated to some classic Sterling foolishness involving cocktail onions and brothel passwords. That expertise would be called upon later in the episode, but his words of wisdom for Lane cast a new light on SCDP’s professor emeritus. Roger is surely a liar, but he sagely notes that lying won’t get Lane the account. He teaches Lane to nurse his Scotch, to draw his man out, to prey on his weakness, or, failing that, to offer up a weakness of his own as the basis for a “friendship” that will grow into a partnership. We’ve been all too eager to dismiss Roger as washed up, a vestige of a back-slapping “normal” world that no longer exists. That may yet prove to be the case, but it seems there’s a method to his crapulousness.

Don’s mentorship was perhaps the even greater surprise: Having resisted temptation at the whorehouse, he tells Pete not to throw away what he has with Trudy. “You don’t get another chance at what you have,” he tells his younger colleague. Did you guys ever think we’d live to see the day when Don was doling out such advice? Pete is too ashamed to do anything but point out the richness of the irony. But I was impressed by Don—he seems, for the moment at least, committed in a way we haven’t seen him before. Let’s-make-a-baby committed.

It took a season of soul-searching, lap-swimming, and vomiting in the office toilet for Don to get here, but I’m not sure he ever had an episode as bad as the one Pete suffered this evening. It was a 45-minute emasculation. Pete thinks he’s fixed the leaky faucet that’s keeping him up at night, only to have it erupt in the middle of his dinner party, providing Don with an occasion to pull off his shirt, Superman-style, and save the day, and without so much as a wrench. Pete’s nascent flirtation with the high-schooler in his drivers' ed class is (mercifully) cut short by the arrival of the muscular “Handsome,” who mistakes Pete for the class teacher. (In one of many great directorial touches, John Slattery let the camera wander over Handsome’s muscles the way it had over the girl’s gams earlier in the episode.) Pete’s yard is overrun with varmints and his wife won’t let him have a gun in the house. It’s no wonder that it was the “you’re my king” scenario that finally got Pete interested in his prostitute. 

And then, of course, there’s the K.O. from Lane. This episode was called “Signal 30,” after one of the fear-inspiring films Pete was forced to watch during his drivers' ed class. That title, and all that drunk driving, had me on the edge of my seat waiting for disaster. I never would have guessed that when blood was finally drawn, it would be in the conference room, in a rumble between two executives tired of being unmanned.

There’s so much more to discuss: Trudy’s masterful handling of Don, leaving him no choice but to attend the dinner party. The deeper meaning of Ken Cosgrove’s dystopic “The Punishment of X4.” The pact between Peggy and Ken—were you guys surprised to learn they’d hitched their fates together? And that smooch! Joan handled it so kindly, opening the door to prevent any more shenanigans, but letting Lane know she’d already forgiven and forgotten. “This is an office—we’re supposed to be friends,” Pete whines to Don, but we know he doesn’t believe that. He squealed on Ken (or so Ken believes—it could have been Peggy); he’s relished digging Roger’s grave. But Lane and Joan’s tender moment suggests there can be friendship between colleagues.

Also, we’re very lucky this week to be joined by two Mad Men story editors, André and Maria Jacquemetton. I’m particularly curious what it’s like to write a scene like the one that takes place over dinner at the Campbells’. How do you balance the demands of exposition—Ken’s revelation to his colleagues that he’s still a writer, Don’s new feelings about life in the 'burbs—with the demands of realism, of making this sound like an actual dinner conversation. And all while making it funny, too—Megan’s ejaculation of “Cynthia!” was hilarious. And please tell me that you guys actually mock up full versions of Ken's stories and that you'll be sharing the full text of "X-4" with us!

I like parties,

John

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