Pete Campbell dominated “Signal 30,” the fifth episode in Mad Men’s fifth season. Over the course of the hour, Pete attempted to seduce a teenage girl in his drivers’ ed class, hosted a dinner party, failed to fix a plumbing problem, slept with a prostitute, and lost a fistfight.
Slate spoke with actor Vincent Kartheiser by telephone shortly after the episode aired.
Slate: Do you like Pete Campbell at this point?
Vincent Kartheiser: I can sympathize and empathize with some of the things he faces and some of the obstacles he has created for himself.
Slate: Is Joan right that everyone wants to punch him in the face? Is Lane right that he has become a monster?
Kartheiser: I think Joan’s right. A personality type like Pete sometimes has to push people’s buttons, and through the seasons he has done that. I’m not sure if Lane’s right about him being a “grimy little pimp” or that he deserves all the blame for that situation. Pete’s upset at all of them for laughing at him. He felt betrayed.
Slate: He’s a man of ambition, but he seems to get more unhappy the more he achieves. He’s achieved many of his goals—Trudy had the baby, he got a bigger office, he’s dominating Roger—but he seems to get crabbier by the week. Do you understand why he’s so unhappy?
Kartheiser: With success comes a level of sadness. You think, “I’ll reach this goal, and then I’ll feel a sense of completeness, of wholeness. I’ll feel that I have accomplished something. I will see myself as a worthy man.” And it doesn’t really exist.
He also has the weight of this entire agency on his shoulders, and he doesn’t feel like he’s getting any respect for that. I think that a bigger man would handle that better. Pete becomes pouty and kind of aggressive. He tries to show off and make people respect him, and that’s not possible.
Slate: Do you think there’s any hope for Pete? Is he just doomed to being a lonely man and becoming more and more unhappy the older he gets?