Mad Speculation – Pete Campbell
It doesn’t take too much guessing to predict what will become of Pete Campbell in the waning days of Mad Men. Don outlined Pete’s fate for us in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” [1.1] when he told the 26 year old accounts man that he should not “malign the reputation of a girl from the steno pool on her first day.” If he ignored Don’s advice and decided to chase and discard good girls like Peggy the consequences would be bleak: “You’ll die in that corner office a midlevel executive with a little bit a hair who women go home with out of pity…because no one will like you.” That sounds about right.
Students who take my Mad Men course quickly come to despise Pete Campbell for his odious behavior toward everyone in his life. I once read that no one does petulance better than Vincent Kartheiser. The actor projects an image of childish arrogance whether he’s playing Angel’s angry teenage son Connor or the pajama-wearing cartoon-watching Pete Campbell.
Campbell yearns for Don and Roger’s approval yet feels shorted even when he receives it. He cheated on his tolerant wife Trudy until he finally succeeded in alienating her when his philandering got a little too close to home. He exhibits only a passing interest in his daughter Tammy. When his California Girl Bonnie Whiteside sees New York Pete’s true colors she cringes in disgust.
Pete’s relationship with Peggy has always been fraught with competition and high emotional stakes. His declaration of love for her in “Meditations in an Emergency” [2.13] and her devastating rejoinder, “I had your baby and I gave it away” made audiences almost feel sorry for Pete. Rather than accept Peggy’s admission as an opportunity for growth, he continues to try to undermine her at work. The two reach a quasi-détente in “The Strategy” [7.6] when their dinner with Don at Burger Chef portrays them as a comfortable yet dysfunctional family.
Despite Matthew Weiner’s decision to place Pete and Peggy together in a promo picture, I do not believe that she will walk off into the sunset with him. Weiner knows that Peggy deserves much better than Pete. There is always a chance that Pete will have the courage to move to California and find true happiness with Bonnie, but I am putting my money on that lonely corner office.