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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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It's weird that my mind went there, but I'm thinking of the episode of Seinfeld where George dated "the female Jerry," and wondered if maybe what he really wanted was everything he got from his friendship with Jerry, but also to have sex with him/her. I think that there is some understated element of that to Don/Megan and especially Peggy/Ted. However, without the gender element and the presumptive heterosexuality of the leads, it's ambiguous why a Don/Peggy hookup would be taboo; the age/position difference is present in both Don/Megan and Ted/Peggy. It's worth noting that Peggy's anger over the ending of her and Ted gets piled onto Don -- and some of that is Peggy just placing all her Ted-anger onto a local, and convenient, target, so that she doesn't have to fume with Ted-anger all the time, but a lot of it really is that she is personally angry at Don, whom she ultimately has stronger feelings about than she does Ted. The frustration that Peggy feels at the merger and being sent back to being under Don's wing, and then having Ted taken from her "by Don" (partially by Don), does have to do with a confusing nexus of emotions about her feelings for Don, desire to escape from Don's mentorship, the similarity of Ted and Don in terms of position in relation to her and so on. Even in the finale, Peggy/Don and Peggy's romantic life are tied together, since it's Peggy/Don which pushes her to calling Stan back and sets the proper emotional tenor for her to be open to his declaration, which, more on that when/if I write about Peggy, ha.

I do think a case can be made that a lot of Peggy's attraction to Ted *was* that she missed Don. Maybe Pete, too. And I think that romantic/sexual attachment can sometimes come out to force connection when it is a different kind of connection that is desired all the more, especially in this show. However, I don't think that Peggy is primarily attracted to Don romantically/sexually. And I think that elements of Peggy in Don/Megan are fairly small -- except insofar as Don's initial attempt to make Megan a copywriter *does* seem to be Don trying to make Megan a little more into Peggy briefly. They are very attracted to each other -- but it stays platonic, I think, because they sort of recognize that there is something else that binds them together, which is very specifically nonromantic. The mentor/protegee aspect of things does come to dominate, and I think that after a few years it would feel incestuous to be together.

One of the things of interest in the ~Don as white knight~ story that the first episode is that, when we find out that Don is married, his Midge affair and budding thing with Rachel mark him as a womanizer of a different sort. One moment that stands out is Don "apologizing" for Pete's fraternity house behaviour, and Pete giving his "what gives?" face in response. In "New Amsterdam," Pete sees Don lay on the charm with Rachel, and indicates that he's heard about it but never seen it up close. So part of the frustration of Pete is that Don criticizes his womanizing, but it's really apparently only because Don is a level higher. And indeed, Pete's frat house sexism is disgusting and Don is right to call him out on it -- but he loses much of the high ground given that Don loves-and-leaves and seems to have a trail of broken hearts in his wake. It becomes something like Oppenheimer chastising a trigger-happy army private (well, maybe not that extreme, but you know what I mean hopefully) -- Don is right about Pete's crassness, but he knows this partly because he's graduated to a higher level of sophistication in the same "art."

I LOVE the Seinfeld reference. I've been reading about MM way more than I ever had in the last week. I came across this Abigail Nussbaum discussing MM and Breaking Bad that I believe you referenced but said it had spoilers when I was mid-way through BB. I encountered a great comment below comparing MM's "It will shock you how much this never happened" ethos with Seinfeld's "no hugging, no leaning" unsentimentality. The comment had some stuff wrong with it- but I'm really seeing a MM and Seinfeld connection in the hard-headed practicality about the need to observe basic rules in etiquette and life-operation even if it doesn't yield some Enlightenment Cosmic Cookie.

I will didactically note the age difference between Don and Peggy, in some ways, is actually a more striking, powerful taboo because big-age-differences between Peggy/Ted and Don/Megan are part and parcel of why those ships were colossal failures that pretty much solely created unhappiness and bitterness for a lot of people. Yup, it's not a taboo because 1960s Mad Men DO seek out younger women but the record indicates it should be a taboo. Betty/Henry is the only good representative of big-age-differences out of four main May-December ships (adding in Roger/Jane). And as much I think Betty and Henry found happiness with each other, that kind of relationship was rapidly becoming a dinosaur in the late '60s.

I do agree with your analysis about Peggy's issues with Don in S6 vis a vis her relationship with Ted. I also agree that Don was first slept with Megan after she expressed an interest in copywriting and the how the business works- and Don really pushed Megan to be a copywriter to make her more like Peggy. The show slightly alludes to how Megan is a poor substitute for Peggy. Peggy knew that Don would hate a surprise birthday party; Megan disregarded Peggy's subtle warnings and threw the party. But then again, Megan regained Don's interest by turning the fight over the surprise party into dom/sub role-play and the after-glow into Little Girl Lost "I just wanted to make you happy." And Don WAS into the Zou Bisou Bisou song. Which again, hammers the other way, that's there's a sexual dynamic in Don/Peggy that's lacking.

And yup, in the finale, there's a clear line between the Peggy/Don call and Peggy getting her "end-game" romance. However, on Don's side, Don made three phone calls in the series finale to the most important women in his life. (Stephanie was there in person to recall Anna Draper- even though Stephanie is no substitute and pointedly says that she's not his family and runs off.) However, you could argue that Don called his *real* ex-wife of legitimate lasting importance (i.e. not Megan) and his daughter. But then, Don called Peggy to continue the confusion. Is Peggy Don's "work wife" or his protege-bordering-on-daughter? Peggy is kind of in the middle. I do the connection between Sally and Peggy is stronger- since Don called Betty to complain about her custody plans while Don's been calling Sally to keep in touch and called Peggy to say goodbye.

On the Don v. Pete on womanizing, S1 Pete *aggressively* flirts with women who don't seem to want his attention but are required to stand there and take it because it's the work place (Hildy, Peggy according to Don's perceptions in Smoke Gets...) or they're sitting at Pete's table (the Auotmat girl in Smoke Gets...). IMO, that's Don's main issue with how Pete treated Peggy. Early in the series, by contrast, Don operated that he may be cheating, but every woman who he flirted and had sex with clearly wanted it because they were hot for him and certainly not that women felt they couldn't leave and just had to take the touching and comments or they'd lose their job or be in danger. And there's big truth to that.

However but then, Don went to Rachel upset about Roger's heart attack and then, put the moves on her. Rachel was in a tough spot where while she genuinely wanted to sleep with Don, she also genuinely made a firm commitment to not sleep with a married non-Jew who she likes but doesn't fully trust. Those instincts were close but the tie-breaker that pushed Rachel was that she didn't want to be mean and throw Don out. It's grayer in Don's case as opposed as quite black in Pete's case- but bottom line, Don benefited here and other times in the series because a woman didn't feel she could say no to sex with him because he's the boss (Allison) and she's already been bought and paid for even though she and he didn't know that when she accepted the money (Diana) or Don's reputation is aided because Faye turned down Don's overly forward aggressive-COMPANY-Christmas-party come on to Faye (who is outside counsel paid by SCDP) until Don could come back with a better proposal for a real relationship.

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