Signal to noise.

I’m reading enjoying this new season of Mad Men – no surprise, that – but I especially enjoyed the most current episode, “Signal 30.”

Easily one of this show’s “instaclassics,” right? Pretty much on par with last season’s “The Suitcase.”

It especially fascinated me because it was a Pete-centric episode, especially since Pete was always my least favorite character. For the first season, he was the show’s villain du jour around the office, and his whole personality was always designed for you to love how much you hate him. Plus, I despised the actor by association of his character on Angel. And yet Pete is one of the realest depictions of what it’s like to work in an office like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and try to stand beside the towering monolith of all things awesome which is Don Draper and try to survive with the comparison.

I think once upon a time Peggy was also that character for us, young and hungry, trying to learn from Don and become like him, to become something in the advertising industry in the 60s, to be admired by peers and to leave the office each day with some self worth, but I think that’s beyond Peggy now. Or, rather, Peggy is beyond that. I think the show’s done a pretty good job now at showing that whatever Peggy’s destiny is, it’s not to become the next Don Draper. It’s to become something different, something new in the changing world that Mad Men teeters on the brink of.

And then there’s Pete. And Lane. Two guys who will always be fish out of water, who work hard, but can’t shake the fact that they feel they’re owed some other kind of respect. There’s struggles and there’s loneliness and there’s a lot of stabs in the dark at connections with people that ultimately fail. And then there’s the loneliness again, and the passage of time and the moments that always slip away. This show is so good at showing at time is always moving, always getting away from you.

There’s an expression that I always used to hear as a kid (far too much, in fact) that went like this: “God always answers your prayers, but He does so in the order in which they’re received.” Once upon a time, Don Draper’s confident, self-assured life looked perfect to Pete. The wife, the kids, the suburbs. Pete went out and got that for himself, without taking the time to appreciate it, and now it feels even lonelier. Don’s happy little life slipped away from him and he found himself another one.

And again all Pete can do is look over there, angry and envious, feeling as if he has nothing, and therefore is nothing.

The only thing I think that Pete Campbell/Theon Greyjoy wants to be more than Don Draper is not himself.

He’s a guy from a family that once had privilege, but they gave it all away. Probably because they figured that they were sitting on an endless supply of it. Sadly, Pete inherited a lot of that thinking. And now he’s either out there, acting without thinking, trying to claim what he feels should have always been his, or he’s left alone, so alone, sitting on top of a mountain of thoughts about how everything should be is and yet, somehow, is not.

There’s something just amazing about this past episode to me. The rhythmic moving of the teenage girl’s sandaled feet, keeping in time with the dripping of the kitchen faucet that haunts Pete, keeping in time with the ticking of the clock. There’s a man on a clocktower picking off pregnant women with a rifle, and Pete’s life is mired with echoes and ghosts, all visible but intangible, all tasting of ash.

And his former enemy, Ken Cosgrove, having himself surrendered in their rivalry, and somehow still doing better and happier with a successful career as a sci fi writer and married to TV’s Alex Mack. Kenny Cosgrove turns his dinners into drinks and he still finds time to write about robots who repair bridges, and meanwhile neither Lane nor Pete can maintain the ones they hope to link them to their fellow men. How can Pete learn to drive if everywhere he’d drive to is the same old shit that he brings himself wherever he goes? How much more irony and neat little metaphors can be packed in here?

I could go on and on, but bottom line: It was good. The episode had a sort of mesmerizing quality about it. The noble sadness of the normal guy, who is doomed to never appreciate what he has and something, something, something about a dog with two bones. Nice direction by John Slattery and an excellent script co-written by the writer of Dog Day Afternoon and Cool Hand Luke, I chuckled when I heard “Ode To Joy” playing.

Just like this season of Game Of Thrones continues it’s not too subtle quest to define power and where it comes from, the characters of Mad Men are just struggling to keep a little of it for themselves. Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. They keep foreshadowing the death of Don Draper, which, in Mad Men language, I presume, will mean that someone close to Don will die this season rather than Don himself. No one wants to see Don Draper dead but we’d all like to see Don Draper deal with a loss so close to home, or so work, or to wherever his interior self lies.

So much of Game Of Thrones‘ story lays in its past, but the TV show nor the books (I’m only like 200 or so pages into the third book so careful on the spoilers, please) want to go back there. Mad Men will do flashbacks, sparingly, but it’s just to show you how much can change in so little time. The point of both shows is the same: This train is not stopping. It only goes faster. And we’re heading into the future.

One minute your dad is the Hand of the King and the next minute he’s getting his head chopped off and the sons of bitches all have crossbows pointed at you.

One minute every thing is fine and dandy at the whorehouse a few blocks from here and then the next a life, a marriage, and the hopes at landing that contracted are ruined by some bubblegum found on the pubis and we can only settle this one way…

Like men. In the medieval ways that we think men are supposed to act.

It’s hard to put one foot in front of the other when you have no idea where you’re going and no idea what you want out of the journey.