Monday, April 16, 2012

The Emasculation of Pete Campbell

Earlier today, in a conversation with a friend he remarked that nothing "had happened" in the first three episodes of Mad Men. And while his lament, that the show moves slowly, is in my opinion part of the reason it is so great, an episode like tonight is also pretty fucking good. Tonight's episode centered on Pete Campbell, on the surface a happily married father to a beautiful, roadside sex inducing, baby, but someone who I described as "snottily competent" and someone that no one actually likes. Pete's never been likable, but he's indispensable to Sterling Cooper Draper Price, until it seems now.

The episode began on a high note for Pete, his dripping faucet stopped thanks to his handiwork, and he appeared on the verge of sealing the deal with the cute high school girl from his driving class. However, Matt Wiener was clearly only holding Pete up so that he could spend the rest of the episode figuratively and literally knocking him down. The first hit was just a body blow, Don emasculating Pete in front of his wife for having no idea what he was doing under the sink. In any other episode, this would have been typical of Pete and Don's relationship, but the abuse just kept going. Roger's dead cat bounce seems to be occurring, his advice to Lane seemed every bit the part of Professor Emeritus. The fact that Roger volunteered to take shotgun on the Jaguar account evinces the fact that he isn't content to end his time at SCDP resting on his ball chair, but wants to sock it to the little twerp who supplanted the former king. Things aren't going to go back to the way they were with Roger, but he sure as hell seems capable of resembling the account man he used to be, and I'm sure we haven't seen the last of his resurgence.

Pete's attempt to step out on Trudy, something which seemed so easy to Don and Roger, failed miserably. Mr. Handsome swooped in with typical high school charm, "how did I not see you in Chemistry?" "my Dad went ape," and ended up being the one with his hand up her skirt instead of Pete. With his wife failing to arouse his interest and his high schooler uninterested in exploring the dark corners of the Bronx Botanical Gardens, Pete turned to option three, a hooker (and again it wasn't until option three that Pete was successful). Even Pete's good night was tempered by a stern rebuke from Don. When Don's doling out lectures on morality, you know it's a crazy episode.

The first half hour's worth of craziness would have been enough to make this the most entertaining episode of the season, but then there was the fight. Lane's continuing struggles with his role at SCDP and his life in America will be discussed elsewhere, I'll focus for now on him addressing Pete Campbell's insult. Pete's arrogance and condescension about Lane's handling of the Jaguar account is further evidence that Pete Campbell, unlike any of the other partners, is only in it for himself. He wants Don to step in and side with him like a teammate or a friend, but no one likes Pete because they see through his act. Lane might be useless or unaware enough to think kissing Joan was relevant, but he still cares at the firm. Pete's ratting to Roger isn't going to win him any favors, and Peggy and Ken's pact shows his colleagues distancing themselves from a Campbell-centered firm. I think this is more than just a bad week for Pete but the end of his brief reign at the top of the SCDP food chain. Lane came at the king and he did not miss.

There was a ton of other interesting developments in tonight's episode that Jon will touch on, but before I end I have to mention a few of my favorite parts. Lane's fighting style; the six seconds where I expected neither man to connect and just quit with both behind; a new storage place for gum, sorry the underside of the desk; Cup of what?; Don unlocking Fort Knox; and the episode's most brilliant touch, Pete's tiny orchestra playing beautiful Beethoven to the sniveling pimp.

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