Mad Men, Season 5

Why Is Pete So Successful?
Talking television.
May 8 2012 12:23 PM

Mad Men, Season 5

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

How do we know Pete's actually good at his job?

Mad Men (Season 5)
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Howard Dawes (Jeff Clarke)

Michael Yarish/AMC.

I couldn’t agree more, John, that Pete’s dissatisfaction with success feels like a trope that’s a bit unearned. Come to think of it, I don’t know that Pete’s success feels especially earned either. The head of Head demanded that Pete personally handle his account, and Pete himself marvels at the idea that a client might make such a request without ever having met him. But has SCDP’s only junior partner really developed that kind of reputation? And if he has—what precisely is it based on?

One of Mad Men’s persistent weaknesses is a tendency to tell us that people thrive at their chosen vocation, rather than show us. I’m inclined to cut the writers some slack when it comes to the creative characters—it’s no mean feat to dream up brilliant pitches every week, and for me, anyway, nothing has ever come close to Don’s carousel pitch (which, I can’t lie, still sends me out of the room sobbing like Harry Crane). But accounts is a different matter. The show has always dramatized flattery and manipulation; witness the Heinz maneuver last week. Sure, Pete has moments of squinty charm, like his brief exchange with Megan’s dad. But I still don’t feel like we’ve seen him really excel at his job.

But maybe Roger is lying about the circumstances of the ski account, and telling the truth when he insists he’s happy to hand off clients. Roger is fine company over martinis and oysters, but he may be genuinely disinterested in the sober handholding of “some schmoe from Lutherville” that follows. I wouldn’t put it past Roger to play on Pete’s ambition and sense of self-importance and fob off on him some of the non-recreational aspects of the job. Wouldn’t that be a delightful reversal: Pete, the arch flatterer, disarmed by his own arsenal of tricks.

Advertisement

One other thing to mention, before I dash off to acting class: What is going on with Ginsberg? When he was introduced at the beginning of the season, I thought he would emerge as a first- or at least second-string character. The visitation of his father and the suggestion that he and Peggy might share a deeper connection someday both seemed to augur a more amplified presence for the plaid-clad, somewhat intemperate jokester. But Ginsberg increasingly feels like part of the furniture—not as boorishly predictable as Stan, to be sure, but a bit player who will deliver a few good quips to punctuate the storylines of others, then retreat into the background. Julia, what did you make of his violent reaction to the Beatles substitute, “September in the Rain” by the Wedgewoods? “Turn it off,” he says. “It’s stabbing me in the fucking heart!” That fucking is muted—this is basic cable, after all—and Don doesn’t express offense so much as confusion that Ginsberg would deploy an F-bomb. But it’s not the first time we’ve seen him spontaneously flip his top. Remember his reaction to the salacious interest that his colleagues showed for the Speck murders in “Mystery Date.” Is Ginsberg just hot blooded?  Do these explosions say something more? Or am I struggling to read major-character nuance into a minor-character role?

Don’t worry, there’s a million bands that sound like that.

Patrick

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.