In our new “Mad Men” debate for the week, we are taking on a topic that is controversial mostly in that it revolves around a character being in love who many may not even think is even deserving of it — Pete Campbell. Vincent Kartheiser’s stellar character has redefined what it means to be smarmy on TV, and he’s one of the rare people who you can’t stand and yet can’t turn away from.
On a basic human level, you can sum up the problems with Pete in one simple statement — he married someone he was not in love with. It was pretty clear from the get-go that while Trudy loves his dearly, Pete doesn’t completely feel the same. Why did he marry her then? Maybe it was settling, maybe it was doing what was expected to him. It’s also possible that he’s just bored and so much of a hound that he would go after anyone who is not the person he is married to.
As much of a cheater and a terrible person as Pete has been, there was a moment in season 5 with Alexis Bledel’s Beth that we saw a different side to him. Here was someone that he was at least in pursuit of, and was not necessarily willing to give herself to him the moment he wanted it to happen. She was married, there were complications, and it ended in the most tragic way imaginable just mere minutes after you could say that it really began. Did this humanize Pete in some way to see him actually act affectionate? Sure, but it also made us hate him even more for tricking his real family into believing that he cared deeply for them, when in reality all he is doing is setting them up to have his heart broken.
At this point, it’s so hard to see this character even getting fully redeemed — or finding the version of love that he is really seeking. It doesn’t look as though he is going to leave Trudy, and if he does it probably won’t be until he finds someone else to stay at his New York apartment that he has just been given the green light to lease. We don’t want to see him meet the same end as Lane, but there has to be some comeuppance here for the character, even on a show when nice people do traditionally finish last and guys like Pete come out ahead. Just look at how he played the Joan situation for evidence of this.
Do you think a character who is as weasel-like as Pete is should find some sort of happiness, or is he better off facing the consequences of his actions in season 6 by dwelling in some form of misery? Be sure to check out some of our other “Mad Men” debates, and share your thoughts below.