It finally happened, you guys! The Mad Men character who’s such a sniveling little prig that there’s an entire tumblr dedicated to his bitch face finally got what was coming to him in the form of a long deserved beating last night. And it came via mild mannered Englishman Lane Pryce, which he probably wasn’t expecting. The reactions of the people in the office most likely mirrored those of most viewers, i.e. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, myself.” But Matthew Weiner rarely lets anything be that un-complicated, so he spent much of the episode building up the various ways Pete Campbell does and does not deserve anyone’s sympathy.
On the “does not” side are the various ways Pete seems to be turning into the old (pre-Megan) Don Draper. Trapped in a soul-crushing suburban existence with a boring wife and baby and a leaky faucet he’s not man enough to know how to fix, he’s turned to philandering to try and get his groove back and/or feel in control again. But unlike Don, he doesn’t pull it off with much style, paying a hooker to do what Don used to charm women into doing with a mere flick of his cigarette and creeping on an uninterested high school girl in driver’s ed class. Without Don’s sex appeal or insane back story to lull the viewer into liking him anyway, Pete just looks like a colossal dick, and his smug, entitled attitude at work doesn’t help, either.
Then again, Pete is clearly miserable. He’s bored to the point where his only pleasure in life is making co-workers feel shitty about themselves, and emasculated to the point where he has to pay a hooker to make him feel macho and dominant. (Do you see how inextricably our sympathy for Pete is linked to our hatred for him? I can’t even get through a sentence about how we’re supposed to feel bad for him without ending on another damning piece of evidence.) Did anyone else think he was going to beat up his hooker when he said “I bet you think this is going to be easy”? He didn’t, but it wouldn’t have been too out of character if he had. Is there a scary-sounding German word for “pity combined with loathing”? Because that’s what I feel for Pete right now.
The biggest pity-loathing moment, of course, comes when Pete joins Don in the elevator and breaks down and cries like a little boy, saying “I have nothing” even as he’s all like “YOU THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME DON DRAPER?” To someone who grew up Dick Whitman, Pete appears to have everything: house, wife, baby, job, etc. But he doesn’t have any friends, as his pathetic proclamation of “we’re supposed to be friends” would attest (Don would never confuse work friends with real friends), and at that moment, his first-world problems feel real. It seems like Pete’s going to need to spend some time on a therapist’s couch before he realizes his life is pretty great (or that if he decides it’s not, he has the power to change it) and he should stop acting like such a disdainful little wretch all the time. Either that, or he’s just going to lose his shit and jump out a window. Who knows with this show?