Joe Chiarenzelli is an editor at The Gadfly Press and wishes he was Don Draper.
Mandy Lafond is a soon-to-be graduate of St. Lawrence University, studying philosophy with a minor in Asian studies. She’s currently writing a thesis on postmodernist film theory and Jean Baudrillard. In her spare time she likes philosophizing, playing with her pet rabbit and reading Wikipedia for fun.
Opening with a car wreck, this week's episode of Mad Men focuses mainly on Peter Campbell. In the first scene we see Pete in a classroom with a bunch of high schoolers, watching driver's ed videos. Aside from the suit he's wearing though, Pete doesn't look all that much older from his classmates, and it's hardly surprising when we catch Pete eyeing Jenny, the girl that sits next to him. We're reminded that Pete really is a young guy, especially compared to the rest of the partners at SCDP. From the first scene of Pete this season on the train commuting from the suburbs, there's been a distinct feeling that Pete is unhappy with his life, which is what this episode centers on.
A descendant of the well-heeled Dyckman clan, one of New York's founding elite families, Pete has big shoes to fill. Although his father squandered his family's fortune, Pete still feels the need to live up to his legacy, and certainly Pete has big aspirations. As Mad Men's progressed, we've seen Pete marry a beautiful well-to-do girl, become a junior partner at the thriving SCDP, buy a house in the suburbs and become a father to baby girl. Pete's always wanted what Don has, and now he seemingly has it, yet he's more miserable than ever. Though they've had their share of run-ins over the years (like when Pete discovered Don's true identity), Pete idolizes Don and nowhere is it more apparent than at the party that he and Trudy throw with Don as the guest of honor. "You get the big steak," says Pete, in deference to Don, who is sporting a plaid jacket not all that dissimilar from the one Pete wore at Don's birthday party. After a somewhat awkward dinner in which Ken Cosgrove is "outed" as a writer by his wife (Played by Larisa Oleynik from 'The Secret World of Alex Mack' for those of you who grew up in the 90's), Don proceeds to unintentionally emasculate Pete by repairing the dripping faucet that Pete himself couldn't fix. I have some idea as to why Pete's miserable, but what do you think?
I do think that Pete is miserable and that his emasculation is the major theme of the episode, but there is also some of that for Lane. The difference between the two’s unhappiness is not something to be disregarded though. The reason Pete is incapable of being happy is the narrative he has set himself up to follow. He wanted the idyllic life that society presents as the ultimate goal of the American man, a house in the suburbs with a beautiful wife and children. Now that he has it he is forced to confront the fact that the narrative he has led his life by is just a story. Ironically, as we have seen with Don’s struggles with domesticity, the deep dissatisfaction with these goals is that these stories we tell ourselves we want in life were really just made to “sell people nylons”. Pete will try to play his part in the domestic sphere (and probably fail), but if he just wants to wear the costume and expect happiness to come to him because he has the logistical situation of a good life, he won’t receive it.
Lane, on the other hand, has issues with feeling as if he doesn’t fit in or belong in his adopted home. He ultimately does try to make the best of his situation by attempting to court a Jaguar executive as he watches England win the World Cup final (the only time England has won it to date). He seeks counsel from Roger about how to win over Jaguar’s business and Roger provides him with some subtle account man techniques. Lane seems to use them mildly well and gets a second sit-down with the executive, although the scene cuts away as he begins to launch into his pitch. However, the American contingent of SCDP decides they would like to take over, so they bring the executive out on the town without Lane. However, things didn’t seem to go quite smoothly from there, wouldn’t you agree?
It was interesting to see Don abstain from uh... temptation, that's for sure. And while I'm sure Megan would not have approved of him even being at a brothel (high class even!) in the first place, Don is clearly committed to remaining faithful to her. Pete on the other hand, continues his self-sabotage (a la pre-season 5 Don?) by giving in to the seductions of one of the prostitutes, and of course Roger has never been one to say no to the ladies. While Don seems a bit disappointed with the behavior of his colleagues and their client, he isn't espousing any sort of moral superiority, though Pete accuses him of it in the cab ("Why do I feel like I'm riding with a nun?"). Don excuses Roger's behavior, saying "Roger's miserable, I didn't think you were." But Pete is miserable, for the reasons you've mentioned above.
I honestly thought that would be the end of it, that they would seal the deal with Jaguar and that would be it, but boy was I wrong. In a surprising, albeit comical turn of events, Lane barges in on a meeting the next day to inform Don and the others that the deal has fallen through because of the rather indiscreet location of a piece of bubble gum found on the executive by his wife. I've never really been able to figure out Lane, but I certainly didn't peg him as the fighting type. Angry over the loss of the deal, and the fact that he was excluded from their little adventure, Lane singles out Pete, calling him a "greasy little pimp". Seeing Pete get his ass kicked by Lane while Roger, Bert and Don look on, was probably one of the greatest Mad Men moments ever. As Joan says later in the episode, who hasn't wanted to do that to Pete at some point? My question for you though, is whether you think Pete was unfairly singled out by Lane?
I do think that Lane did single Pete out somewhat unfairly, but for understandable reasons. Pete has consistently been derisive of people he feels he can get a leg up on. He thought he could do that to Lane, but he was quite incorrect. The scene itself was comedy gold, with Pete stepping over the line when he revealed to Lane that his contact at Jaguar thinks he’s a “homo”. It seems like Pete thought that the other partners were going to prevent it all from escalating, but Pete is really very poor at reading people. He just digs himself in deeper by challenging Lane’s usefulness. Of course, all this happens with Don, Roger, and Bert in the middle of the room looking back and forth between the two combatants like they are watching a game of pong. When they both finally get their restrictive layers of clothing off, Roger professes how much he wants to see them go at it, and Don closes the office drapes (that visual pun had to be purposeful right?) the fight commences. In 1920 fighter’s poses they trade blows, and eventually Pete is beaten. All of this, of course, created a large enough commotion that both Peggy and Joan get to hear some of the fight.
The aftermath of the fight leaves the two combatants and different states of disarray. Lane admits to Joan that he knows that he isn’t needed and kisses her. Her reaction, being Joan, was subdued and unflappable, simply opening up the office door to make sure he didn’t try any more funny business and letting him know that it was already forgotten. Pete, on the other hand, has to walk out of the office ashamedly, running into Don on the elevator. Again, it’s revealed how little Pete understands other people. When he says that they all work together, so they are supposed to be friends, this points to what I said earlier about Pete’s happiness. He has the surroundings that he thinks will make him happy. But he wants both himself and those around him to stick to the script and be happy, instead of being real people with real problems and emotions.
Who would win in a fight, Gustavo Fring or Lane Pryce? Were you happy to see Pete get his smug little ass handed to him? What did you think of all the little death portents throughout the episode, is it all leading up to something? Let us know in the comments.