This week's episode of MAD MEN came with many gifts. Pete Campbell with a bloody nose being one of them, along with some fabulous fashions along the way, but let's start at the beginning ...
The writers' first gift to us was Joan's return to the offices of SCDP. Even though she's been included in the last few episodes, I've still missed her presence at the meetings, necklace pen at the ready. Welcome back, Joanie!
Next up in our string of presents was Trudy Campbell and her dress of the large-umbrella-skirt variety. Seriously, she must have at least two petticoats on under that thing! Anywho, I've always liked Trudy and I was glad we got to see more of her this week, especially since it gave me an opportunity to ponder how weird of a name "Trudy" actually is. Just look at it, say it a few times. It's kind of awful. (My apologies to any Trudys who may be reading this.)
I loved Trudy's aggressive insistence that Don come to her dinner party, and the fact that she triumphed. It proves that she's kind of scary (which is always good) and that Don is starting to change (which I'm starting to not actually mind).
With Betty, Don never fraternized with co-workers in a domestic setting, except for a few awkward times, like when Roger visited (alone), got wasted and tried to seduce Betty. Oh, Rodge!
We also learn that spoiled-baby Pete, tiring of the train, has decided to get his driver's license. Only problem is, he's distracted during his classes by a sweet young thing with swingy Gidget-esque hair. Pete's unhappy, struck with a case of permanent dissatisfaction, a river that flows (or rather, drips, drips, drips) through the rest of the episode.
I think from Season 1, this should have been obvious. What kind of guy cheats on his new bride promptly after their honeymoon? Well, that's Pete for ya.
I've found that even though Pete and Don have similarities (something that is touched on later in the episode), it's how they deal with these characteristics that sets them apart. I'll talk more about that later though.
Right now, I just want to focus on the cute matching pink top and hair bow sported by Pete's high school obsession. Her husky voice and strawberry-blonde hair reminded me a bit of Scarlett Johansson when she was a teenager. Anyone else see it?
Moving along, we're invited to Pete and Trudy's dinner party, along with the (unwillingly on Don's part) Drapers and the perfectly charming Cosgroves. It's all very cute, with Trudy making sure nothing too awkward happens (such a good hostess, and again in a giant skirt!)
Again, Don's willingness to attend the party to please Megan should be noted. It's apparent that he really loves her, and I don't want to hate him anymore for his new lighter, airier mood. Don was so unhappy for so long, and who am I to become a cranky viewer when a middle-aged (for the times) man starts to actually enjoy his life?
And while many of you found Megan to be awkward at the dinner party with the Heinz folks, I think she warmed up in this episode and really showed that she can be charming and lovely. I like her, sue me.
Back to Trudy the Super-Hostess, how wonderful was her reaction to Cynthia's (*cough*Alex Mack*cough*) retelling of Ken's story about the murderous robot? Perhaps the thought going through Trudy's head is, "Oh no, I'm MARRIED to that murderous robot!"?
The party concludes with Don undermining Pete's manhood and fixing the faucet that he so wonderfully screwed up, and an appearance from the Campbells' surprisingly blonde baby. Don thinks the baby is cute, Megan is turned on by Don's testosterone boost, and they attempt to mix up a baby in the privacy of their car. Dinner parties, man!
Later, Pete continues to sink further into unhappiness. The combination of feeling undervalued at work and knowing for the last year that Peggy had his son and gave it away is making his blood boil. Pete will always be seen as a boy. He has to fight day in, day out to prove his strengths to everyone and it's wearing down on him. It's no wonder he is so fascinated by the teenage girl in his driver's ed. class, and it's also no wonder she's so comfortable with him.
On the surface, Pete is non-threatening and boyish. However, what lies underneath is so miserable and dark that it just adds a whole other tone of creepiness to his fascination with this girl.
When a jock from her biology class joins up in driver's ed, it's amazing to watch Pete crumble. The camera, seemingly Pete's eyes, focuses in on the biceps of the Peter-Facinelli-circa-"Can't-Hardly-Wait"-esque "Handsome" kid, and the creepiness level goes up another notch. I love it though, because it's just another layer the creators of MAD MEN have given us.
The past two episodes focused largely on how hard it was to be a woman in the 60s, and just a woman in general, whereas this episode is all about what it means to be a man and the frustrations that come with trying to live up to those expectations. I'm not a man (obviously) and I never will be (at least I think so), and I also don't really like Pete (I kind of hate him), but this episode does a good job of trying to make a case for him.
Maybe I'm wrong in trying to take pity on Pete, but the man is an empty shell who just can't get no satisfaction (maybe he should have accompanied Don to the Stones show?).
Later on, Pete's misery is laid out bare. In a sorry attempt to wine and dine the Jaguar exec, the boys take the Brit to a brothel. Pete, convinced he's just "doing his job," ends up in a boudoir with a blonde and the scene that plays out is quintessential Pete.
When she performs a few fantasies for Pete to pick from, he is initially cold and disinterested until she claims that he's her "King." This is what Pete goes for, because this is all Pete wants in life. Pete wants to be on top, admired and recognized for his work, and probably like a King, wants an heir.
I might be going a little far here, but the fact that Peggy got rid of Pete's son, and he's stuck in the suburbs with a daughter, could be adding to his unhappiness. Biologically and by whatever silly standards society has set out for us, isn't a man's male heir his most important "gift" to society?
The fact that Pete has a male "heir" out there with no knowledge of his real father has to add insult to the injury he already feels. Left with a crying (female) baby, doting but not-overtly-sexual wife, and an incessantly dripping faucet keeping him up at night are just about the worst possible things you could imagine for someone like Pete.
In the cab ride home, Don and Pete's roles are starting to reverse. Pete, who has all along presented an image of a perfect life, is crumbling. Don, a man who has spent the last five years on an alcohol-fueled sexual walkabout, trying to keep his black hole of secrets at bay, is finally starting to ... normalize.
For years the show has relied on Don's weaknesses to bring him back to his cad-like ways, but perhaps the biggest bombshell they can drop on us is a happy Don that isn't a mere honeymoon phase. Pete drunkenly accosts Don for his newfound morality but Don responds that if he'd been with Megan all along, none of this would have happened. And honestly? I believe him.
Later on we find out that the night of debauchery has cost everyone a chance at a comp'ed Jaguar. It turns out the fancy car-exec came home with gum stuck to his nether regions and his infuriated wife forced him to sever all ties with those horrible, immoral SCDP types. Yikes.
Lane is outraged, as this was his chance to really make a name for himself with the agency (his name is on the sign and yet he still feels a need to prove himself. Jeez, again with the emasculated male complex).
Lane decides to handle the situation like a gentleman and challenges Pete to ... a duel. Yeah, they make like boxing kangaroos and as Don draws the curtains, they beat the crap out of each other. It's really quite wonderful and it makes up for the past 4 seasons of Pete's sniveling, mostly-unpunished douchebaggery.
Even though Lane "wins" the fight, he's still left feeling useless and seeks out comfort in the form of a kiss from Joan. Really though, I don't blame him. Anyone who gets into a fist fight deserves some comfort from that wonderful gal, and it just makes me glad she's back in the office.
The whole exchange between them afterwards, with Joan smoothing over his embarrassment with her mother-meets-nurse form of professionalism just made me love both of them more.
The second-to-last scene in this episode, with Pete whining on the elevator, actually made me feel bad for him.
"I thought we were supposed to be friends" Pete says to Don, and it's sad because it's sincere. It made me wonder too, if Pete actually has any "friends" outside of the office. Maybe his desperation to connect with the girl in driver's ed wasn't purely sexual but might have been something he needed simply on a human level. Does Pete have anyone he can actually open up to and be himself with?
Peggy, perhaps, but their close encounters are few and far between considering their past. Pete is lonely, and like many of the others last week, he's on the verge of something big, something bad.
Last week we thought it was Don who was ready to crack, but now it seems things are shifting. What do you think is next for Pete? Do you think that shotgun is going to make its way back into the house? Damn, MAD MEN, you're pretty dark this season ...