Mad Men, Season 7, Part 1

Mad Men: I Like Pete Better as a Smarmy Prick
Talking television.
May 19 2014 4:11 PM

Mad Men, Season 7, Part 1

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Has any show depicted the psychological terrain of the office as well as Mad Men?

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Vincent Kartheiser, Jon Hamm, and Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men.

Courtesy of AMC

Willa, Seth:

This was my favorite episode of the season so far. A reminder—even in this dwindling Mad Men moment—of just how good the show can be. The episode atomized our characters, offering many successive shots of people alone (in bed, on the phone, on planes, eating bananas), creating a sense of mounting desolation. When a few finally gravitated toward one another—first Peggy and Don over the work, then Roger and Joan over thwarting Crane, and finally the trio at Burger Chef, wiping ketchup off little Petey’s face—I felt the same release Peggy’s new tagline sought to deliver. A sense that however ragtag these groupings, the people in them were somehow in the right place.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

In fact, the episode was downright sentimental about the love and respect colleagues can have for one another—a direct contradiction of Peggy’s observation last week that the feelings you develop for the people you work with are “not real.” You’re right, Willa, that it was discomfiting to see Peggy so unsure of herself. I thought of Jill Abramson, too, and wondered whether Peggy should bring more bravado—more pushiness!—to her role. But it was also a relief to see her being so emotionally honest with Don, since she’s been tamping herself down all season. Sure, you’ve got to believe in yourself. But it’s much easier to do that when someone else believes in you, too. And it’s not weak to reach out to those who can make you feel strong. What’s more, what she wants is not Don’s approval. What they both want, what they both always strive for (somewhat comically!), is emotional honesty in advertising. To both Peggy and Don, a pitch doesn’t feel done unless it crystallizes the moment. It’s not that Peggy is joyful when Don likes her new line. For both of them, it’s joyful when Peggy gets the line right.

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I could talk forever about Mad Men’s unprecedented acuity in depicting the psychological terrain of the workplace. But since you insist, Willa, I’ll talk about Pete. Poor Pete. He looks ridiculous with that tan. I think you’re right, Seth, that he’ll never let himself be happy. Here, his yearning for the family he’s lost (little Tammy, cowering at the sight of him) blinds him to the delights of the new “family” he’s built (mile-high assignations and all). I think we’re supposed to read him as having undiagnosed depression—that was the subtext of the Alexis Bledel season, right?—but I don’t ever feel we’re far enough inside Pete’s experience for his storylines to really resonate. I enjoy him more as the smarmy prick, urging Peggy to “choose” to have Don give the presentation, than as the mopey brooder. Perhaps he’ll have more time to get evil now that he’s not having such good sex.

Speaking of which: Several Web write-ups today have offered the history of I Am Curious (Yellow), with most describing it, as Vulture did, as “the film that Don and Megan went to see off-screen in last night’s episode.” But I found Don evasive on that point. When Peggy says “of course Megan would want to see a dirty movie,” Don changes the subject fast. (“Wanna work?”) I assumed that he lied about seeing the movie—it’s his idea of what his new “family” would do for fun, when what his wife is really doing is moving out of his house lock, stock, and fondue pot while pretending not to. Megan also doesn’t want Don to come visit her in L.A.—she proposes a rendezvous in neutral territory—which makes me think she’s hiding something or someone in the Hollywood Hills. (Maybe she is Charles Manson!)

America needs engineers,

Julia

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