Is There Hope for Pete Campbell?
A conversation with Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
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?
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.