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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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If Pete is akin to Gaius Baltar, maybe Ken, who eventually gets an eyepatch, is Saul Tigh. HAHA ACTUALLY THEY HAVE NO OTHER QUALITIES IN COMMON BUT OMG, THAT EYEPATCH

This is why we are friends.

BETTY/PETE PARALLELS TO FOREVER, RIGHT?? Can't believe they never interacted or had a tawdry affair. (We were all thinking it.)

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