This week’s recap is going to be a little different because last night’s episode was a little different. Instead of spreading our attentions out to the veritable universe of characters that Matthew Weiner has created for us, last night’s Mad Men was about just one Mad Man: Pete Campbell. To his great detriment.
For once in his life, the entire world actually did revolve around Pete, but in the exact opposite way as he’s always dreamed. Remember that prediction I made a few weeks ago about how maybe this season’s ultimate point is the redemption of Pete Campbell? Yeah, turns out I was wrong. So wrong.
We started out with Pete in driving school, finally and begrudgingly giving himself over to the realities of his dull suburban life and snickering at videos of car crashes (which has to be the Petest thing that Pete has ever done) in the back of a darkened classroom full of the youth he’s quickly losing. He wasn’t even wearing his blue suit, which should tell you where the Pete Campbell Mental State was at. There was a comely 17-year-old in his class who actually deigned to make eye contact with him, though, so all was not lost. Yet! Later, all will most definitely be lost. Pete then went home and fixed a leaky faucet while Trudy laid in bed, but he did not do a particularly good job in either a literal or metaphorical sense.
While that was going on, we revisited Lane Pryce, who is British, did you realize? He is so very British that he and his wife were headed out to a pub to watch England win the 1966 World Cup in the wee hours of the morning with a bunch of other British people who were hooting and hollering and pretending to be hooligans instead of overseas executives. Speaking of which: one of Lane’s (or more accurately, Lane’s wife’s) new expat friends is an executive at Jag-yoo-AHH, and they need a new ad firm, which means that Lane got a little giddy at the prospect of playing Account Man instead of his regular role of Nebulous Financial Dude.
At work the next day, Lane revealed his intentions of wooing Jag-yoo-AHH and that he’d be wining and dining this time around, at which point Roger sat him down and gave him some serious advice on how to rope in a client while letting him think it’s all his idea. For the first time this season, Roger got to show some proficiency in something besides carrying fat wads of cash around in his pockets, and it was a nice reminder of the Roger from seasons past who was more complex than the line-slinging petulant child he’s become.
The Jag-yoo-AHH exec wasn’t the only person being wooed that day, though. Trudy and Pete, through their patented mix of subterfuge and persistence that means that actually perfect for each other despite Pete’s suburban ennui, had managed to con Don and Megan into coming over to their house for dinner the coming weekend. Don, we know, doesn’t like to socialize with the commoners at work (unless they’re lusty secretaries, natch, but even those days are behind him), but Trudy outsmarted even him and the party was scheduled before Don even knew he had agreed. Rest assured, this will be the only Pete Campbell win of the episode, evidenced clearly by the fact that we then watched him awkwardly and unsuccessfully hit on a teenager in driver’s ed.
We have to deal now with the somewhat out-of-place Ken Cosgrove plot from this episode. Ken, if you remember from several seasons ago, is an accomplished author in addition to being a reasonably competent account man. After an awkward run-in at a diner with Peggy, he explained that he’s moved on to science fiction and is having his stories published regularly under the pen name of Ben Hargrove (creative, huh?). He might even get his very own book of short stories published!
Despite being peripheral, the Cosgrove detail is essential to know before we move on to the party at Pete’s house, where Ken and his wife (Cynthia, whose name neither Megan nor I could remember at the evening’s outset) were also guests along with Megan and Don. And, I mean, HOLY DINNER JACKETS. We now know why it took Mad Men nearly a year and a half to come back, and as it turns out, it’s not because Matthew Weiner is a raging narcissist. Instead, 17 months is how long it took costume designer Janie Bryant to source every loud plaid blazer from every vintage store in the entire country so that each male character could wear a different one in each episode. If you were watching in HD, you probably went cross-eyed during the dinner party.
If you did, well, you didn’t miss all that much. It was a gathering in the vein of Don’s birthday – people who don’t have anything in common other than their shared place of employment trying to make small talk with each other when suddenly denied the comforting context of work. Mostly they just all talked about Ken’s hidden writing career (which gave Pete the opportunity to tattle to Roger later, because Pete is Pete and that’s the kind of stuff he does) and the fact that he and Cynthia live in Jackson Heights because her rich parents are kind of stingy.
When things got too awkward and boring to bear, the ladies all went into the kitchen to get dessert and the sink that Pete had “fixed” earlier in the episode promptly exploded in Trudy’s face. The men all rushed in to help, but it was Don who stole the show by whipping off his shirt and beating the faucet into submission with his bare hands while Pete was still fumbling with a box full of tools we all know he doesn’t know how to use. You are so much man, Don Draper. He then let Megan drive them home, just to remind us all how much more he likes her than he ever liked Betty.
Because we (and Pete) needed yet another reminder of the pronounced, embarrassing lack of Campbell virility in this show, we next joined Pete at his driving class, still trying to make that 17-year-old think he’s manly and important and impressive. Pete is none of those things, though, which was underlined by a dude named Handsome Hanson, who strolled into class a little bit late with a tan and big bulging arms and a sweater that just wouldn’t quit. Pete probably wouldn’t appreciate us noting how long his gaze lingered on Handsome’s rippling muscles (Pete seems like a strictly No Homo kind of dude), but consider it noted.
Naturally, Handsome thought Pete was the instructor because he was both old and wearing a suit, and it wasn’t even the famous Peter Dyckman Campbell Blue Power Suit, making the scene all the more humiliating. You could almost hear the sad trombone playing in the background as Pete almost literally faded into the scenery. The blonde chick surely never thought of him again, if she ever had to begin with. (She hadn’t.)
How did Pete making himself feel better? Going to town on a hooker, of course! Ya see, that Jag-yoo-AHH exec from earlier in the episode didn’t sign on the dotted line during Lane’s dinner, mostly because he thinks Lane is boring/maybe a homo and he wanted the full New York ad agency treatment. He got it at dinner that night with Don, Roger and Pete, after which they visited a…house of ill-repute, I believe is the prudent term.
While Pete was in the other room making the hooker guess his sexual flavor (as it turns out, being called a king is what turns his crank), Roger and the exec were also with their ladies of choice and Don was in the living room, sitting at the bar with a cocktail, waiting for everyone to get off and zip up so that he could go home. That’s right: Don Draper in a brothel, merely biding his time until he could leave. The same man who used to pay a woman to slap him on the regular. Don can’t stop being Don entirely, though; the madam is so taken with him after only a moment’s interaction that she comps all of his drinks, even though he wasn’t actually a paying customer.
Naturally, Pete took Don’s lack of hooker-schtupping as a personal rebuke to his own choices, and they got into a little snit on the way home in a cab. Apparently Don didn’t realize that Pete’s miserable with his perfect wife and their perfect suburban home and their perfect infant, but really, he should have – didn’t Don have all that stuff himself and he ended up hating it? Didn’t he dump the perfect wife and move back to the city, only to take up with his secretary? I know Don’s wearing rose-colored glasses right now, but it’s not a huge leap to think that the same things that made him into a drinking, smoking, womanizing grouch (albeit a sexy one) would have the same effect on other people, particularly a lifelong malcontent like Pete.
At the office the next day, things were good until they were not. Lane got word that the Jaguar business had been lost, at which point he stormed into the partners meeting to be super British and actually call Pete a Grimy Little Pimp and tell everyone that the exec’s wife found out because the hooker left chewing gum in his pubes. CHEWING GUM IN HIS PUBES, LADIES. Pete got super insolent and defensive and told Lane he was basically useless, at which point Lane took off his jacket, challenged Pete to a fight and promptly knocked him the fuck out. (Really, there’s no other way to say that.) GIF, of course:
And, I mean, I don’t think I can actually describe how utterly gleeful I felt while watching Lane and Pete swing on each other, but it was something akin to the glee that Roger and Don seemed to be feeling on the other side of the conference table. Even Don, who’s newly mature and level-headed, simply got up and closed the curtains so that no one else could see what they were about to watch instead of breaking up the fight or urging those two grown-ass men not to hit each other. As Cosgrove said afterward, it’s actually kind of amazing that it took 4.3 seasons for someone to punch Pete Campbell in the face. Lord knows he’s earned it a few times over.
I’ve always had a certain amount of affection for Lane, who seems more thoughtful and open-minded and less evil than his coworkers, but he’s also always seemed a little bit desperate to find a way to reach outside of his boring British expat life. The Black Bunny, the phone dalliance with the tenured hooker from a couple of weeks ago, the refusal to return to London – Lane doesn’t complain and he doesn’t pout, but he’s also not exactly happy. Socking Pete Campbell in the eye might not have cured that, but between that and kissing Joan squarely on the mouth (she handled it like a seasoned pro of spontaneous kiss-receiving), Lane suddenly seemed like the king of his castle, not to mention the envy of every male fan that Mad Men has.
While Lane was making ill-advised moves on Joan, Pete Campbell was slamming a glass of scotch and giving up on life for the day, and maybe forever. He ended up in the elevator with Don at lunch time, moaning that he actually had nothing and then nearly bursting into tears. As the show faded out, we saw him sitting in a darkened classroom, supposedly watching more highway movies but actually watching the teenage object of his affection get fingerbanged by Handsome Hanson out of the corner of his eye. Pete Campbell, it would seem, did not have a very good Sunday evening. The rest of us sure did, though.
- Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” arranged as a dark, funereal dirge was perhaps the greatest Mad Men credits song choice ever made. THE IRONY, Y’ALL.
- Ken Cosgrove might be the only truly and totally likable male character on the entire show. I couldn’t figure out where to stick the rest of his plot in the recap since it had so little to do with the huge Pete plot, but Roger told him to stop writing and he said he would, but he’s actually going to continue under yet another pen name. Irrepressible Ken Cosgrove!
- Is Pete the actual falling man in the opening credits? I thought we had decided it was Roger?
- I’m still holding out hope that Lane/Joan will happen, although I’m grudgingly aware that last night’s episode and how the kiss played out will make it unlikely.
- I’m not entirely sure why the University of Texas sniper was mentioned so many times in this episode; it didn’t bind itself to the show’s narrative like the Chicago nurse killings did last week.
- GRIMY LITTLE PIMP! It bore repeating.
- I’m maybe a tad surprised that Pete didn’t rape that teenager from driver’s ed. I mean, au pair, am I right? And someone mentioned that Pete still has that rifle he bought?