Random violence was one of the ’60s themes on display in Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men,” but a stunning fistfight between two advertising agency colleagues was anything but random.
It was violent, though, as the British chief financial officer of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), threw down the gauntlet and challenged smarmy Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) to put up his dukes in the SCDP conference room before an audience of Roger Sterling (John Slattery, who directed the episode), Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Bert Cooper (Robert Morse).
It was all very British — which was one of the other themes running through the episode seen on AMC, Week 4 of the new fifth season of “Mad Men.” Pete had insulted Lane’s honor by calling him a name. Lane retaliated by calling Pete “a grimy little pimp” because of Pete’s role in procuring a prostitute for a British friend of Lane’s, a man who worked for Jaguar and was planning on hiring SCDP to launch the automobile brand in the United States.
Before long, the two men’s jackets were off and Pete wound up on the boardroom floor. Both men were wounded, though, at least psychologically — and you had to wonder how the two will deal with each other at the office from now on.
Lane was so beside himself that he later impulsively moved in to kiss Joan (Christina Hendricks). He then apologized, but she indicated that wasn’t necessary. Will these two have an affair now? It’s certainly possible.
The episode’s time frame was midsummer 1966. A sniper named Charles Whitman had just climbed a landmark tower at the University of Texas in Austin and killed 16 strangers, and wounded 32 others. (Kurt Russell played him in a TV movie called “The Deadly Tower” in 1975.)
The shocking violence — coupled with the murder, rape and torture of eight student nurses in Chicago just a few weeks earlier (and referenced in the “Mad Men” episode a week earlier) — had various characters on edge, particularly a high school senior Pete befriended at driving school. Pete had designs on the girl, but she fell for a handsome classmate. (Pete, a lifelong Manhattanite, is trying to get a driver’s license for the first time in his life.)
He later cheated on wife Trudy (Alison Brie) with a prostitute, during the same outing that went awry with the potential Jaguar client. The client’s wife found out about her husband’s wild night and SCDP lost the account.
Ironically, the only one of the SCDP execs on hand at the upscale brothel who didn’t avail himself of the services being offered there was the newly chaste Don Draper, who remained true to new wife Megan (Jessica Pare). Don befriended the establishment’s madam, though, and even revealed that he grew up in “a whorehouse.”
Speaking of Don’s past, he seemed well-aware that the Texas sniper’s last name — “Whitman” — was the same as his own real last name (Don is, of course, Dick Whitman — no relation to Charlie).
Elsewhere in the episode, we got a look at Pete and Trudy’s lifestyle in suburban Cos Cob, N.Y., when they had a dinner party with Don and Megan, and young SCDP exec Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) and wife Cynthia (Larisa Oleynik).
We also learned that Ken writes sci-fi stories in his spare time. Where the show will go with that storyline is anybody’s guess.
“Mad Men” airs Sunday nights at 10 on AMC.