I was kind of blown away by Mad Men last night. It was a night of Pete Campbell at his worst, and yet it made me realize that he's probably my favorite character. I've always perked up whenever he was in a scene and last night he just made my heart hurt. Going to bed I was like...how can you be so taken with such a nasty, sad little character nobody likes for good reason? Because he's so damn unhappy and inadequate and is cursed to try too hard and get exactly the opposite results because he just can't relax or be himself if he even knows who that self is and he's...

OMG, he's Draco Malfoy.



I know a lot of people have no patience with characters like Pete, poor little rich boy who has so much but says he's got nothing. But for me there's something about this kind of character that just kills me. I think it's the way he wants so badly to be something he thinks he should be able to be, yet it's so clear that he can't. Maybe also that if you've been born so entitled on the surface, any failures must be all you.

I've read a lot of people talking about this ep saying that above all it was satisfying to watch Pete get his ass kicked, but maybe that's why I always end up falling for these characters. Because there are characters I long to see punched in the nose, but it's never this guy—at least not in fiction. It's not the puffed up weasel with VICIOUS WHEN WEAK stamped on his forehead. Over and over last night Pete found himself in situations where he was challenged to "be the man" based on some unwritten code, and each time he failed. Not only failed, but watched someone else do it effortlessly. So when I see a character who's so clearly desperate for validation from other people because he has no respect for himself he's embarrassing himself trying to get it, it doesn't inspire the kind of disgust that makes me want to see him hit. It's more the kind of disgust that makes me feel embarrassed and sorry for him. (Which Don predicted for Pete early on--Pete's now become "that guy" that Don warned him not to be.)

I was looking at the Pottermore info on wand woods yesterday (just went through with a new account) and of course was looking at Hawthorne, which JKR said was perfect for Draco. It talked about how it was the wand for conflicted natures, people going through turmoil, for people who were complex. Years ago Elkins did a great post on HP4GU called "Draco the Nutter" which was about how at his nastiest Draco always seemed to be showing signs of inner conflict and instability. Like maybe he was going mad. She wasn't sure yet if that was intentional, but I think we can see now that it was. Draco at his worst was Draco trying desperately to act the part of the nasty Death Eater and powerful Pureblood wizard that he could never really inhabit and the conflict was tearing him up. By the end of the series Draco seems in a better place simply because he's accepted who he is.

Pete Campbell doesn't seem to have anything to accept yet. He can only see all too clearly what he's not. To list all the ways Pete tries to inhabit a male fantasy:

He starts out taking a driver's ed course--part of this lifelong New Yorker's painfully emasculating move to the suburbs. He creepily hits on a high school senior in the class, and just when you worry it might actually go somewhere a senior boy walks in and shows him that the girl never even recognized him as a potential lover. "Handsome" (the other guy's actual nickname) only has to walk in, all disinterested cool and strong muscles, and Pete's forgotten. He even resorts to mentioning that his family donated land to the Botanical Gardens to impress her--a sure sign that he's desperate. (Also oh yeah, hi Draco!)

Kept awake by a dripping faucet he tries to fix it with a toolbox, only to have it explode at a party and be fixed by a laughing, undershirted Don who informs him that any good effect on it he thought he had was "a coincidence." (Pete had turned the pressure up to high--too bad Don didn't realize that, too, was a metaphor for Pete himself and he might be exploding any minute too.)

Earlier in the evening, the women praise the beauty of the "country" that to Pete is both too quiet and too full of weird sounds, too lonely and too long a commute. Ken and Don, the other men at the table, scoff that it's not "country" at all, since they both grew up on farms. Don makes a casual reference to horseshit that both shocks and impresses the ladies he'll later turn on with by working with his hands, and also references barefoot walks to the outhouse on cold winter's nights. Once Dick Whitman the Rube hid those origins in shame to make it in the city. Now anyone can be a city boy and country skills are magical and sexy.

Emasculated in the suburbs, Pete turns his attention to work, crossing the line from confidence into viciousness in mocking Lane's attempt to prove he can be an account man. Out to dinner with the client, Pete's offer to take the guy to a nice bar is rejected in favor of prostitutes. Pete has to turn to Roger with gritted teeth for help with that.

At the brothel Pete tries to keep up with the guys for once by getting drunk and having sex. He fake-challenges the escort (who earlier tried to flatter him by saying he's "stronger than he looks"--implying he looks weak) by asking if she really thinks it'll be "so easy" to get him off. She runs through the standard male fantasies and gets it in three. The game isn't about finding out what turns Pete on (as it would be with Don) it's a far sadder game of finding Pete's emotional need. She starts by playing the loving wife asking about his day. Then the shy virgin. Then simply tells him "You're my king." Pete's responses to the three are: Nope. Nope. And finally the funniest/saddest "okay." He knows he's not a challenge, even in this. He also knows it's a lie.

Later he squirms under Don's disapproval, betrayed again that Don, who'd made sleeping around such a test of manhood for 4 seasons now has the nerve to go Puritan on him. Or more to the point: to not tell him he did good.

Pete stubbornly clings to the role of account man doing his job well and the next day pushes too hard on it again, mocking Lane, the only other person potentially weaker than he is, for not being man enough to be invited to the brothel, only to again be outmatched when Lane challenges him to a fight. Yet another thing that Pete's never learned how to do. He can't drive a car, he can't fix a sink, he can't plan a night of debauchery, he can't win a fight or take a punch.

His last scene with Don in the elevator he tries to shrug off the Lane incident by asking why they were even having a fight--it's an office and "they're supposed to be friends." If there's one thing Pete's failed to do at the office is to make friends, in large part because of his own personality. Other people make friends in the office, probably effortlessly from his pov. Pete can't.

The ep ends with Pete saying, "I have nothing." This line made some people just plain unsympathetic: Pete's got a beautiful, loving wife, a nice house, an adorable baby, a good job. He just can't appreciate it because he always wants more. I didn't take the line that way. I thought the line had two meanings. Applying it to his life, he's saying that he doesn't feel like he has anything. He's disconnected from it all. One of VK's many great moments in the ep was when his baby woke during a dinner party and was brought downstairs. Pete says, "I can't take any credit for her." It was the best reaction to a line the character got all night--a sweet, humble line from a father giving his wife credit for his daughter's beauty and sweetness. He finally hit the right note with his guests. But VK played it with a kind of confusion too, as if he really felt a disconnect here too. He couldn't even take pride in Tammy, perhaps in part because she's part of the "woman's realm" and Pete's supposed to be the dad.

On another level, I thought what Pete actually meant by saying he had nothing was that he didn't have anything to give. After all, that's what the whole ep was about: Pete looking for things he could do or provide for others, to be adequate and falling short. I think if he was just complaining about his dissatisfaction, the line wouldn't be as despairing. The sob that followed it wasn't frustration, it was desolation imo. There was a line on Six Feet Under that became my favorite that was similar. George Sibley, recovering from a bout of his recurring mental illness, tells Ruth that he's so lucky to have her in his life. He then adds, "Nobody's ever lucky to have me in their life."

In past seasons Pete's been saved from the worst of himself from Trudy, but there's trouble there now. Trudy's at least 50% focused on her baby instead of Pete (let's face it, probably more, she's a baby!). Pete's always been high-maintenance. If she doesn't watch him closely he's liable to do something stupid or destructive or self-destructive or all three. And at the same moment she turns her attention away from Pete and needs him to be okay without her, she (not to sound like I'm blaming her, but this particular thing is due to her wishes) completely destabilizes him by throwing him into the suburbs.

Trudy has had a lot of lines this season that are disturbing just for being so out of touch with Pete's reality. She tells him the house "becomes a home" the minute Pete walks through the door, yet Pete clearly feels like it's anything but a home to him. She encourages Pete to embrace his dissatisfaction at work, calling it fuel for ambition. But Pete's current dissatisfaction clearly can't be cured by ambition and trying to do so when he actually needs to be okay with himself as he is just makes him desperate. Finally, in this ep, she banters with Don that they [she and Don] both know that Pete is "doing just fine" at work, just as we see just how fine Pete isn't doing anywhere.

This is the kind of fictional situation that just always gets me. As undeserving of anything good as Pete is, that just adds to the loneliness. No one sees or cares that he's unhappy because he's always unpleasant and they all think he deserves it. It's a cycle. There is one person who possibly does see it, the ever-observant writer Ken, who ends the episode writing a short story (having only pretended to give up his successful after-hours writing career) seemingly about Pete: ‎

"There were phrases of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that still made Coe cry. He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself. He imagined Beethoven, deaf and soul sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while Death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails. Still, Coe thought, it might’ve been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence, and loneliness. Making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear."


If Ken really did glimpse Pete's desperation as he showed off his new stereo (he didn't so much brag about the technology as use it to force himself to appreciate that out of the city he could play his music more loudly), he didn't use that knowledge to reach out to Pete or ask his wife if she'd noticed. He just transplanted it onto his own character, one he could polish up into something more profound than the guy he wants to see punched in the nose, and used it to further his own career.
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tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)

From: [personal profile] tiferet


That is really interesting. I like Draco because I relate to him--his childhood is freakily like mine, once the fantastical elements are stripped away. I can't stand Pete, but that's probably not because of his personality (like I thought), it's almost certainly because I don't have any tolerance at all for rapists.
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From: [personal profile] salinea


Brilliant post.

Draco and Pete and Theon Greyjoy and Saionji. Poor dears XD
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