Season 6 of “Mad Men” accomplished something that earlier in the show’s life would have seemed impossible: It actually made Pete Campbell, for however brief a time, a sympathetic character.
Yes, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) was made to look the fool by Bob Benson (James Wolk) in the season finale. And yes, his wife, Trudy (Alison Brie), is divorcing him. And yes, he’s still “petty and selfish,” in the words of “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. But Weiner also argues that Pete is capable of learning from his mistakes.
“Pete showed a lot of growth last year,” Weiner says. “Just in his interaction with Bob Benson alone — when Bob was revealed to be similar to Don, as someone who had made up his past, and Pete realized he shouldn’t tangle with him — to me, that’s some of the only growth we’ve ever seen on the show. It didn’t last long, as soon as he thought Bob killed his mother.”
Despite, or maybe partly because of, his seemingly sheltered existence — he’s a product of Manhattan’s upper class — Pete also has what Weiner calls “very good politics,” as was illustrated in “The Flood,” the Season 6 episode that dealt with the Martin Luther King assassination.
“I don’t just mean he’s a liberal or something like that,” Weiner says. “I think Pete is truly in the seat of the underdog, and he hates injustice. … Both in the way he was raised and for personal reasons, always comes down on the right side of these things, on the human side of these things.”
Season 6 ended with Pete saying goodbye to Trudy and their daughter and seemingly on his way to Los Angeles to start up the West Coast branch of SC&P with Ted (Kevin Rahm). Time will tell if a change of scenery encourages Pete to unclench a little more, or if we’ll see more of the “Not great, Bob!” side we’ve known for most of the past six seasons. A change of scenery has been known to do wonders for some people.
“Mad Men” Season 7 premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT Sunday (April 13) on AMC.