This episode centers around the travails of Pete Campbell, Head of Accounts at the reorganized Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce. Regrettably, it represent a regression of his character.
In Seasons I & II, Pete comes to learn that many men who work in advertising cheat on their wives. Now, Pete himself has lovely and devoted wife, and doesn’t seem especially motivated by sex. But he is especially attuned to relative status markers, and he instinctively understands that the ability to attract women into low-commitment sex is the mark of a high status man. Pete is small in both physical stature and personality, and he becomes acutely aware, once he starts looking for it, that women respond to him with indifference. This indifference inflicts substantial pain, and Pete sets out, with malice aforethought, to seduce more-or-less random women as the opportunities present.
These conquests turn out to be unfulfilling, and events conspire to rob them of the personal affirmation he was seeking. It had seemed to me that he had got this out of his system and resolved to be content with what he had. But now the writers are returning to this theme.
In “Signal 30”, Pete faces a full spectrum of failure. When the kitchen faucet fails catastrophically during his dinner party, Don fixes it while Pete fusses ineffectually with his tools.** He watches helplessly as the attentions of a young woman he had befriended are snatched away by a taller, stronger man. He picks a public fight with Lane Pryce and loses – badly.
“I have nothing,” he complains despondently to Don at the end of the episode. Well, no! He has a wife that loves him and who apparently isn’t put off by his personal mediocrity. So, he’s never going to compete with Don; he should change the game. He’s never going to cut it as a PUA; so, he should play his own league by being a good husband and father.
I totally get that this may not be the life he planned on. I may even understand that it’s not the life he would choose now. But it is the life that’s available to him, and one that affords its own joys and happiness if he would but embrace it.
* Parenthetically, in Season V, now that the remarried Draper is doing his best to straighten up and fly right, the writers are having him claim that his earlier philandering was not especially motivated by sex, either. This claim is frankly incredible; and Draper is either lying, or the writers have gotten lazy and mawkish. In a series like this, the audience can never be sure if we’re having our chain yanked.
** I’m especially sensitive to this, having been on the receiving end of “help” that only raised the status of the helper at my expense. In this case, Don should have realized that this was Pete’s house. He should have coached him through the repair rather than just doing it himself.
Real life example: I was observing a couple at the range the other day, and watched as the female handled her pistol in an unsafe manner. Rather than correct her, however, I pulled him aside and explained what she was doing wrong. He took the cue and straitened her out. I think this went a ways in upholding the status of their relationship (whatever it was).