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Mad Men finale post #1: On Peter Campbell, Trudy and Peggy
Hi gang, so the End of an Era-ness of the Mad Men finale compels me to write, but I've been struggling with gathering my thoughts on what I want to say. So I guess I will *hopefully* write multiple posts, but we'll see. Series spoilers, obviously. I think it makes sense to divide by character, so here I'm going to talk a little bit about the ending for Peter Campbell.

There are lots of funny things about where Pete ended up, but probably the funniest is that Pete had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to his perfect dream job. Peter Campbell was ambition personified, and has been frustrated for most of the series run that he will never have Don Draper charisma; whether he’s currently resenting or worshiping Don, he is always frustrated by the recognition that no matter how hard he tries, he can only get so far; his attempts to get ahead send him running in circles. He’s a decent accounts man, but he wants to be a great one, and no amount of effort seems to get him to the exact level he wants. And then, of course, when he gets his dream job, it has basically nothing to do with him: Duck pushes him into a job that Pete gets mostly on the basis of his breeding. Pete is disgusted abstractly by injustice except when it benefits him, and deep down Pete would really rather believe he earned whatever he gets, rather than inheriting it or having it fall in his lap. He can lie to himself with the best of them, but at some point that he doesn’t actually *deserve* what he has is going to come knocking.

In “The Milk and Honey Route,” Pete made the link between career and family; why, he asks his brother, are people always rushing to what they don’t have instead of what they have? He lost Trudy because he kept looking and could never tie himself down, and now he might be losing his cushy, relatively good McCann job, where he’s started doing well already, for what else is out there. And when he stops looking, he…gets the Learjet job, outside the bustle of the city, in a way that does not even burn his current bridges. That’s what not looking gets him! But I think Pete also knows not just that he didn’t initially want this job, but that he didn’t “deserve” it in the traditional sense. Being willing to “settle” at McCann is actually just a trial run for being willing, at long last, to commit fully to Trudy. And that he accepts a gift from on high (or from the other place, it being Duck Phillips who arranges this for him) is a willingness to accept luck. It’s a good job, which Pete didn’t really earn or even look for, so why is this a happy ending? Because, I think, Pete realizes that work is not everything, and so he doesn’t have to sabotage himself in order to pave his own way somewhere. Work can be used in the service of keeping what he has, rather than “earning” something new.

Pete appears in the final montage, as befitting one of the show’s central characters. His one speaking scene is earlier; Pete arrives at Peggy’s office, interrupted briefly by Harry having a final-episode cameo. The scene immediately follows Joan telling Richard, “I want you so badly right now!” The doomed, non-starter Peggy/Pete relationship has been gestured to every now and then throughout the series, in smaller and smaller ways as the memory of their time together grows further apart. Even though Pete is the one who is actually leaving town, it’s Peggy who breaks off their proximate engagement, which basically repeats their dynamic in the first two seasons: Pete is the married man (or, in “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” soon-to-be-wed man), who has an actual reason not to be with Peggy, but in a subtle way it’s Peggy who ultimately makes the choice to shut the relationship down before it gets going, sending their child (and the product of their love) away and telling Pete, a year later, that she could have had him but chose otherwise. Peggy cares about him, but pulls away, and even in their last chance to spend time together she makes work her priority over him.

I rewatched the first few episodes of the show before writing this, and in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” I really do think that the thing that Peggy responds to in Pete is his vulnerability and neediness; she sees in him someone who, like herself, doesn’t really know what they are doing, and wants to be loved. Pete’s desire to be cared for by someone, for real, was somewhat a product of the artificial, near-arranged, business “her dad’s loaded” nature of his initial match with Trudy, which he hadn’t really expected would blossom so soon into genuine (as genuine as it could get for Pete) love. Peggy and Pete both needed to pretend in order to fit in—Peggy making a move on Don because Joan all but told her she’d be fired without it, Pete moving into sexual assault territory at the bachelor party with the woman who joined him because that’s how you impress a woman and your male friends besides—and then together they could briefly be ill-fitting, not pretending, or at least not pretending the way they usually did. But Peggy has found a way to make her career work, and Pete’s marriage unexpectedly became a posthumous success. It’s different now.

But still: Pete gives Peggy a gift, before he leaves. It’s this scene that makes me think Pete might actually be all right in his new life in Kansas, that black-and-white land away from the colour and magic of an Oz.

PEGGY: I just wanted to say that I’m very happy for you. And everyone’s gonna miss you who doesn’t hate you for getting that big job.
PETE: Hell, you’re doing fine. Keep it up, you’ll be a creative director by 1980.
PEGGY: God, that sounds like a long time.
PETE: I’m telling you. It will happen. They just have to get used to the idea. Someday, people are going to brag that they worked with you.
PEGGY: (embarrassed) What am I supposed to say to that?
PETE: I don’t know. No one’s ever said it to me.
PEGGY: (smiles) A thing like that.

Aw. And yet he says it without anger, or sadness. It’s like Pete, while going away, is admitting that Peggy has achieved something, creatively and in her career, that he never has; that try as he might, he will never attain that It factor that Don had and now Peggy has, and he may only be able to fall up the corporate ladder partly because of his connections and luck rather than some kind of inner something that marks him as remarkable. He’s not remarkable, not in that way, and never will be, and he knows that now. And yet, Trudy still loves him, somehow, and that’s what matters; he can be happy with his own frustrating apparent mediocrity and charisma vacuum, while telling Peggy that he sees her. Peggy is thankful, a little ashamed that she can’t quite tell Pete that she admires him the way he does her, but she also means it when she says “everyone” will miss him, and I think regrets that she’s cancelling their last day together, even if rearranging her work schedule would feel a little too much like reopening old…somethings.

His other gift is the cactus which he (re)gifts to Peggy:

PETE: Do you want it? I have a five-year-old.


PETE: I’ll be back. That thing better be alive.

The last shot of the scene has Peggy, somewhat sadly, holding the cactus over her stomach—over her womb. Pete’s “gift” of a tiny life to Peggy serves as a reminder of the life that they made who is out in the world, another reference to the big theme running of abandoned children running through this episode (Stephanie), season (Diana) and series (Don, as both parent and child). Peggy and Pete’s child was a topic in “Time & Life,” when Peggy dealt with children all episode and Pete, seeing Peggy with a child, couldn’t help but go talk to her about the ending of SC&P, and Peggy eventually talked openly to Stan about what had happened and about her ambivalence about that child loosed in the world, to adoption. I think the cactus as a symbol here is appropriately bittersweet. It is prickly, painful, difficult to touch directly…and yet, a cactus is the ultimate symbol of life flourishing with even the smallest amount of nurturance. In entrusting the cactus to single, childless Peggy, I think Pete is entrusting to her a final token of their might-have-been love, a small possibility which has long-gone…and yet there is something in their connection that endures, no matter how little they give to it. It also suggests that maybe wherever their child is, the child will be okay, one of many contradictory messages the final episode (and series has as a whole) about abandoned children. A thing like that. And after he walks out the door, Peggy looks down at his parting gift, and gently laughs. And the scene cuts to Sally Draper, the ultimate cactus thriving from the barest hints of nurturance in an emotional desert.

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I agree with everything in this comment. I think it's possible Pete came to SC looking for a Creative job and instead, got Accounts based on his name. Pete: In fact, I used to carry around a notebook and a pen just to keep track. Direct marketing, I thought of that, turned out it already existed, but I arrived at it independently, and then I come to this place, and you people tell me that I'm good with people, which is strange, because I'd never heard that before.

This quote and Pete's shenanigans makes it appear like Pete intended on being an Idea Man and got forced into Glad Hander. It had to stink. Maybe I've verging on Personal Canon here, but Pete really took a chance befitting an artist. He could have gone to business school at his Ivy League school (I think Dartmouth) or his parents probably would have put him through law school- and got a job that they'd approve of so he could be on Bud's level. Pete had a genuine "artistic" rebellion by going into advertising and he's kept down in his "corporate shill" elegant ghetto within SC. Pete suffers the rebellion disapproval of his parents with the "Wining, dining, whoring? No job for a white man" but with the office obligations to be the most staid, prep school guy who sucks up to businessmen and stays within the confines of Don's creative direction with little change to offer his own input. Because Pete may have "artistic temprement without being an artist" but "the world cannot support that many ballerinas" to borrow from Megan's own story of artistic rebellion v. risk.

I agree that there's little glamor in being an Accounts Man and it doesn't create an artistic/pop culture legacy like Creative. Roger's glamor partly comes from how much he gives no fucks about his job because it's his sterling-gold birthright. Roger seldom seems like a corporate shill...because shilling takes work as much as because of Roger's wit and charisma. However in the rare points where Roger feels his back to wall, he humiliates himself as much and obviously and comes off as small as Pete- see danger points in their relationship with Lucky Strike. With a possible exception of Roger selling SC 2.0 to McCann in S7, because he felt threatened by Cutler's aggressive plans for the agency and designs to destroy Don and small because of Bert Cooper's dismissive remarks about his leadership qualities. However while that's one of Roger's most shiny moments, there is a certain ease to just...selling your business which Pete couldn't do as a junior partner as much as Pete was also on Don's side (though not as Roger) and also actually stood up to Cutler's maneuvering more strongly over the course of S7.

I will say that *I* thought Pete was an empty suit until near the end of S1 with the Sea Corp laxative commercials preempting Kennedy commercials strategy. I remember being super surprised at the ingenuity and feeling that it was perhaps a fluke. I guess I should give him more credit for the "backbone of America" idea which seems cliched now- but was probably clever in 1960. Pete was surprising me with genuine positive points to his character, right at the same rate as Don. IMO, Pete grew a lot past his resentments about being an Account Man and chose, to make the best of his seemingly poor circumstances- being an Account Man, being more beholden to Don, being married to Trudy, being the least favorite son back home.

The other "bright young men" at SC also thought Pete was a particularly slimy empty suit.

Paul: Account management. Where prep schoolers skip arm-in-arm, "Wizard of Oz" style, joined together by their lack of skill and their love of mirrors. Account executives are all good at something, although it's never advertising. Submitted for your approval, one Peter Campbell. A man who recently discovered that the only place for his hand is in your pocket.

Edited at 2015-05-29 12:22 am (UTC)

Yay! Yeah, I agree with this. It is hilarious and pathetic to think of it -- but yes, Pete definitely could have become a lawyer, but wanted to have glamour, and then got stuck in the least glamourous job, disrespected at large. Disrespected by everybody except Trudy! Whose taste Pete almost reflexively distrusts as a result. Doesn't want to be part of a club that would have him as a member, etc.

I agree about Roger. It's worth noting that Roger ends up falling into many of the same traps as Pete -- with Sterling's Gold being one of the biggest ones. Pete only wrote a bad short story; Roger wrote a whole book, which is pretty much regarded as terrible by everyone.

Edited at 2015-05-29 03:24 am (UTC)

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