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Mad Men Recap: "The Man With the Miniature Orchestra"

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Crazy episode! "Signal 30" is the best episode yet of the season and it opens with a car crash. Pete's driver's ed class is watching "Signal 30", the horrifying highway safety video of "serious accidents caused by careless driving," and as the title of the episode, we watch a series of personal crashes caused by careless behavior. This episode centers around cars--SCDP is trying to land Jaguar, Pete is learning to drive, Ken's writing stories about falling bridges--and much of it takes place in cars, on the road as they move in and out of the city.

The episode moves from July 30, the day England won the World Cup and British New Yorkers like Lane and Jaguar VP Edwin bonded over the old country into August 1st, the day Charles Whitman, the University of Texas sniper shooter, killed 16 people and wounded 32, only two real-time weeks since the Chicago murders in last week's episode. Though unlike last week, when the murders were so central to the story, the shootings are mere background noise, small talk for dinner parties and inappropriate flirting.

Joan's back at the helm and proper partners' meetings are back in session. The scene opens on Don's notes labeled, "Traffic Meeting" (nice touch) as he doodles a really accurate noose. Foreshadowing or just a bored-kill-me-now sketch? Both. (Perhaps foreshadowing the death sentence, given to both Speck for the Chicago murders--though eventually revoked--and Whitman, shot to death by the police. Whitman, a murderer, just like Don/Dick dreamed he was two weeks ago. How excited was MW when he realized he could use this connection?)

Lane's very excited to announce he's got a piece of new business. He's British and he socializes with the VP of Jaguar and he's brought home a car account! Lane tries to close the deal "Englishman to Englishman" but he doesn't know what he's doing and after one failed dinner, Roger and Pete take over. It's Roger's "time to shine" when Edwin's looking for some extracurricular fun (he's still good for something!) so he takes them to an Adele look-alike Madam's 's high-end whorehouse. All goes well but the deal crashes and burns from a hooker's forgotten gum stuck in Edwin's pubes (arguably the most hilariously careless of hilarious careless mistakes), sending Lane into an epic tailspin--shouting in his British accent, "Because he was caught with chewing gum on his pubis." Pete calls Lane out on his biggest fear--that he's not a real partner, and Lane fights Pete! Lane knocks out Pete! Lane kisses Joan! Joan handles this humiliating moment for Lane with the utmost grace. She doesn't pull away but doesn't move at all, and then stands up, opens the door, sits back down and changes the subject. She tells him everyone else wants to hit Pete in the face (and everyone else wants to kiss her, too).

Meanwhile, the Campbells are throwing a dinner party out in Cos Cob. Don instinctively tries to get out of it. ("Saturday night in the suburbs, that's when you really want to blow your brains out.") But Megan won't call and Trudy shuts him down: "do you want to go down your list of excuses and I'll combat each one individually?" Trudy's always been a little Trudy Macbeth, and she knows it's important to socialize with the boss. It's cute the way Don's amused and gives in--he's trained now. Megan tells him to change into the country sports coat she got him, so he changes into the country sports coat and drives out to Cos Cob to dine with the Campbells and the Kosgroves. It must be true love. All three of the men have have fab country wear, especially Pete's red-white-and-blue striped tie.

Pete's currently living a version of Don's old life--married in the suburbs with a baby, flirting with teenage girls, sleeping with hookers--and this familiar setting really shows how much Don has changed. In that coat, with that smile, he's almost unrecognizable; he's friendly and normal and nice. Though strange to us, he looks more like himself--more like the relaxed version of Don/Dick we saw out in California with Anna.

Pete is outwardly (and somewhat adorably) excited Don comes over, he's working on this since season one (!) but this Don who shows up is entirely different--Old Don would never have shown up at all. He's eager for Don's approval but quickly frustrated when Don outshines him once again.

The dripping faucet is a symbol of Pete's life--the monotonous pulse of his life in the silence of the country, ticking away at his time. When the sink explodes, Don swoops in like sexy superman, takes off his shirt and fixes the sink while Pete fiddles around his toolbox. Don tells Pete how to fix the sink, like he's trying to tell him how to fix his life. Pete's trying to fix the leaking faucet-- the throbbing of his unhappiness--but his faulty quick fix caused it to explode, just like other women will do to his marriage.

In the cab home from the whorehouse, Don gets real with Pete. He tells him he should know better because he's not miserable like Roger is or he was with Betty. If he met Megan first, he says he "would've known not to throw it away." Throughout the episode Pete is being told to learn from the mistakes of others--Don's marriage and the video of crash victims teaching him to drive. It takes Lane punching out the last of his pride for him to admit to Don in the elevator "I have nothing." Maybe he's defeated enough to try to change.

Ken's writing is back. Everyone has the same response as we do--oh wait, you still do that? Ken now writes these (overly heavy-handed) metaphorical science fiction stories that reflect what's going on in the world of the show. His wife Alex Mack (its funny Don and Megan can't remember her name because we can't either) describes his story "The Punishment of X4" where there's a bridge between two planets that thousands of humans travel on and one day the maintenance robot removes the bolts and the bridge collapses and everyone dies. She says it's just like the sniper shootings but on a broader level it's just about snapping under pressure, about what happens when someone decides to stop playing their part, and a reminder that everything is one bolt away from being collapsible (like the faucet). It relates to ways people lashed out to gain control at a time when the world was changing and people felt useless--like Lane--(London bridge is falling down??)

Pete tells Roger about Ken's pen name and Roger (a "fellow unappreciated writer") tells him to shut it down, so he retires Ben Hargrove and begins with Dave Algonquin. Ken gets the name off Pete who says at dinner that Cos Cob sounds like Algonquin for 'briefcase' and the writers (perhaps) got the name off the literary Alongquin Round Table from the 20s. Ken writes about Pete, with the fictional name Coe, as the "man with the miniature orchestra," aptly describing his melancholy: "[He] thought it might've been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence and loneliness, making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear."

At dinner Pete proudly boats that his new stereo sounds like there's a tiny orchestra in there. He says, "I've never lived on the ground floor before and we don't share any walls, so I can make it as loud as I want," but he can't, Trudy has ground rules. He finally has all the pieces in place, he should be able to make the music as loud as he wants but it's not working, the sound of his symphony is not coming out. Something's wrong, a chord is loose--it's not beethoven's ninth, it's the drops of the leaking faucet. As the drops fade out, Ode to Joy ironically plays as the credits roll.

A few other things:
John Slattery killed it again as director. The dripping faucet is a powerful backdrop and his scene transitions flowed masterfully with parallel frames.

Don's more open to the outside world here than he's ever been. He references growing up on a farm with an outhouse at dinner and tells Madam Adele he grew up in a whorehouse!

Peggy and Ken have a pact: if Ken goes anywhere, Peggy goes with him. When did Peggy and Ken become friends?

Pete's hooker tries on different roles for him: the doting wife (Trudy, nope), the virgin (Peggy, nope), "you're the king" (makes him feel like Don, yup that'll work)

When Pete gives Don the directions he says promise--no charades or bridge--which actually is exactly what it is, over the bridge to play house (and talk about bridges).

Jenny from driver's ed-- Pete flirts with this young blonde who tells him about the sniper shootings. She's there to show the fear surrounding these violent events and to verbalize his fear of loss of time, "time feels like it's speeding up," and also intensify them by making him feel old when she ends up with Handsome instead.

Don's expressions have been amazing all season. He always has this cockeyed, confused-what are you guys doing look on his face talking to the younger set.

Trudy doesn't know Pete still has his rifle (but we do)-- another detail to show their disconnect.

People seemed to be very mixed on Megan. I particularly like her after this episode. Thoughts?

The scenes from next week are always so ridiculously nonsensical, it's like they're mocking us.