An Ode To Pete Campbell: Everyone Loves An Underdog In Tennis Whites

pete campbellPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
It's not easy being Pete Campbell. Nor is it popular to love him. But, I do. I love his haughtiness, his perfect side-eye, and his smarm. I love that, in a show where people hold it all in, he always seems to lose it in a frantic bid to get his. But, most of all, I love it when he wears leisurewear. Or, rather, everything it represents — that prep-school affectation, a mix of privilege and desperation, that allows him to own lines like "a thing like that," "Christ on a cracker," and "NOT great, Bob." Yes, Peter Dyckman Campbell is, as his father-in-law says, "some kind of high WASP."
Now, I'm not going to deny that he's one of Mad Men's most flawed characters (and that's really saying something). He weasels his way through life, putting himself before his wife and his daughter. He's a cheater, a liar, and a master manipulator, but I can't help but feel for him. Despite his illustrious middle name, Pete has had to earn his way (with the exception of a few early assists). It could've been very easy to follow his family's money trail, but instead he chose a profession his parents neither approved of nor respected. And, he's good at advertising. He sees into the future in a way that few at SC&P do, and his commitment to clients is, well, let's just say unwavering.
But, despite, proving himself as an account man, again and again, Pete is the show's punching bag (literally at one point) and its beta male. His burden is to be Don Draper's foil — a non-creative with a receding hairline who couldn't figure out how to cheat on his wife without being caught. And, whereas Don makes his demons look like an ad for a troubled childhood, Pete makes his own look like a PSA. So, is it really a surprise that he's been nursing a platonic crush on the creative director since day one? When the two meet up in a Los Angeles diner during the season 7 premiere, Pete is beaming, just excited to bask in whatever's left of Don's glow.
It's there that we meet California Pete. It's a new Pete. A happier Pete. A tan Pete. He embodies everything that's good about his former self, the one who adores New York in a way we don't see other Mad Men characters adoring. But, now he's learning to love the "vibrations" of the West Coast. Dressed in madras pants and a polo with a sweater tied around his neck, Pete seems more relaxed and confident than ever, wrapping his arms around a startled Draper in a big long hug. And, that's the thing about Pete. He just wants to be liked. And, you kind of have to love him for that.

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