Season One, Episode Five
To say that “5G” is uneventful or unrevelatory isn’t really doing it justice, but the point could probably be made. Of the episode’s major story points, none of them are all that surprising: yes, they fill in some blanks in Don Draper’s past and present, but elsewhere the episode plays much into the same things we already know. Pete is unwilling to share the spitlight, Draper has a lot of secrets, and Peggy is still just a little in the dark when it comes to how to handle her new position.
What “5G” does, though, is make these elements more starkly real: it displays the pettiness of Pete and the desperation of Draper. Pete’s attempt at being famous is a bit of a simple little plot point until you consider the implications on her marital relationship, but Draper’s actions take his character to a new level. The relationship between his old life and his current one is what paralyzes him, and here we see that seeing those two worlds collide creates a volatile situation.
Draper is all about compartmentalizing his life: he gets frustrated with Midge for calling directly to the office, and downright vicious with his brother for daring to even step into the building. In some ways, this is smart: Peggy overhearing even the tiniest bit of conversation causes her to react – not necessarily in a dangerous way, but in a way that is just confused enough to lead to others (Like Joan) doing more with that information.
As the episode demonstrates, his reaction is quick and assured: literally buying his brother out of his life for the second time is the only way he can think about it. That it means the Drapers can’t buy a Summer House isn’t of concern to him: unlike Pete, who is tentative in accepting his in-laws’ help, Don is willing to do whatever it takes in order to maintain the big picture. As an Ad Man, this is a great skill: it’s what allows him to win the award central to the episode, a vision that others simply don’t (or can’t) have.
Of course, the episode’s big Ad buy is simple: Executive accounts. It’s one of the most “on the nose” connections between his life and his job, as it is really an idea tailor made for his kind of lifestyle: an “executive” (Not private, which indicates it is something to keep others away from vs. something for a higher level of customer) bank account to appeal to business people like himself. His willingness to so quickly commodify his own lifestyle, with its demands for discreetness and separation, is something the show relies on quite heavily. Here, it feels like a lot of things we’ve seen before (and will see again) but in the form of blackmailing away his family it shows the level he is willing to go to.
For Pete, of course, it’s a petty desire to match with Ken’s recent publishing success – in his case, he is willing to pimp out his wife in order to attempt to get a story of his own (Featuring a talking bear, a touch I always liked) published in a similar magazine. It’s a reaction to his struggles in the last episode, and a further sign that his character has serious issues with control – of his fate, of his wife, and of something as relatively trivial as a short story in a nationwide publication.
More complicated, of course, is the great scene where Betty and Peggy finally square off: Peggy, housing important information about Don’s scandalous lunch meeting, and Betty, unaware of any of it except that they need to get the pictures taken. It is clear that Betty doesn’t belong in this world, and that Peggy doesn’t belong yet – Pete, meanwhile, has no idea what world he even wants to live in, so he’s grasping at anything that sounds prestigious. These trends will all continue into future episodes, where we learn the parts that everyone else plays.
- Part of me, especially in rewatching it and writing these thoughts, is reminded of Arrested Development, and Michael’s willingness to pimp out his mother in order to snag Oscar and get back the Lemon Grove deal. Which isn’t really related, but does make me laugh. So, score one for Pete’s storyline.
- As you may have noticed, this is a fairly male-centric episode – that all changes next week, when Joan, Peggy and Rachel return to our central narrative (The former two in a big, big way) in “Babylon.”