Mad Men Watch: Domesticity and its Discontents

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) - Mad Men - Season 5, Episode 5

Man Men’s evolution from the early 1960s innocence to the darker days of the mid-’60s has run on a parallel track with the development of Pete Campbell. Pete made his first appearance as a 26-year-old junior executive at Sterling Cooper in the pilot episode. He’s the child of privilege — an old money Manhattan kid with a Deerfield/Dartmouth pedigree — who tried to blackmail Don (unsuccessfully) into making him head of accounts.

Then a funny thing happened early in the second season after Pete’s father died when American Airlines Flight plummeted into the Jamaica Bay marshland. Pete realized his father had squandered much of a vast fortune on “oysters, travel and club memberships,” leaving him and his brother virtually nothing. In that episode, Pete Campbell turned a corner from a sniveling brat into a hard-edged ad man when he tried to help the firm land the American Airlines account even before his father’s funeral.

(LIST: Top 10 Things We Miss About the Mad Men Era)

The Pete Campbell we saw in last night’s episode has swung around to the other side of life’s carousel. Now patently unhappy with his tranquil domesticity in the Connecticut suburbs, Pete’s wandering eye, seeking new thrills at every turn, led the blogosphere to ask: Is Pete Campbell the new Don Draper? Given that last week Don strangled his demons, the comparison is apt.

Only Pete Campbell’s life is sadder than Don’s ever was. Last night’s episode started with Pete sitting through Driver’s Ed in a high school (being from Manhattan, he never learned to drive) and putting the moves on a blonde teenager. Pete’s slide happens to coincide with Lane Pryce having a bit of a crisis of his own. After bonding with fellow expat Brits over the World Cup, Lane makes friends with Jaguar’s head of public relations. When he suggests he can help land the account, Campbell tells Lane his use to the firm ended a long time ago. Jared Harris has always played Pryce with a sweet fish-out-of-water vulnerability mixed with a supreme competence in business management. When we see him try (with modest success) dip his toe in the account services side of the firm, we rooted for him to succeed.

After Lane prepped the would-be client, Don, Roger and Pete arrange a dinner to seal the deal with Jaguar, and when Lane’s fellow Brit only wants to have a Madison Avenue night on the town, it looks like a done deal. They take him to a brothel where Pete’s prostitute cycles through three different fantasies before settling on one he likes (Pete may be unsatisfied in his marriage, but he’s also a picky bastard). Don, who realizes he’s happy in his marriage, abstains and actually lectures Campbell not to give up all that he has.

At the partner’s meeting the next day, it all unravels. Lane’s friend from Jaguar went home to his wife with “chewing gum on his pubis,” (which can only be a terrible thing for so many reasons). To defend his dignity, Lane challenges Pete. “I know that cooler heads should prevail. But am I the only one who wants to see this?” Roger Sterling asks. Yes we do, and thus ensues the most awkward fistfight we’ve seen in a while. Lane prevails, but nobody wins. Matthew Weiner said the episode is about the difficult nature of business friendships: “I think it’s the saddest episode we’ve ever had,” he said.

History tells us: Mad Men has always done a superb job of tangentially touching historical events and using them to drive stories — from the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon Presidential campaign in the first season to the Chicago nursing student murders last week. Last night featured the 1966 World Cup, where England defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final. When Lane tells his fellow partners “England won the World Cup,” Roger replies, “Cup of what?”

(MORE: Mad Men’s Return: Surprise!)

Saturday night in the suburbs: If anyone came out on top this episode, it was Don. He shows up at the suburban dinner party wearing what must be the world’s greatest sports coat (blue and white plaid), then expertly fixes the sink when it erupts. He gets a glimpse of his life from a few years ago, but decides he’s pretty happy with his young second wife and hip Manhattan apartment.

Ludwig Van’s 9th: The best subplot from last night’s episode was a peek at Ken Cosgrove’s literary hobby. It turns out he’s been writing science fiction short stories under the pen name Ben Hargrove. But when Roger finds out one of his top account men is busying himself with writing he tells him to cut it out. “Ben Hargrove is dead,” Ken tells Peggy. But the episode ends with Ken taking up the pen under the new pseudonym Dave Algonquin, imagining what Beethoven felt like as he was writing the 9th Symphony. We ended with thoroughly depressing shots of Campbell back in driver’s ed, his young co-ed taken by a stud her own age. It seems the dripping faucet will likely continue.

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