Scenes from Mad Men: Fisticuffs and the adolescence of Pete Campbell
Adolescence is when we begin to figure out who we are and who we want to be. Adulthood really begins when those ideas take (relatively) solid forms, and we spend the rest of our lives reconciling the two ideas, which are by no means mutually exclusive. Don Draper may have gone through some identity crises on the show’s run, but he has a very clear idea of who he wants to be, even if his past or personality won’t always let him. Roger is perfectly content, most of the time, to be a man-child. Joan may have taken a while a while to realize she needed to get rid of that scumbag Greg, but that wasn’t adolescence on her part. She wanted to be a good wife and mother. That was a clearly formed aspect of her personality. She just couldn’t be Greg’s wife.
“Signal 30” showed us, once again, that Pete Cambell is still very much in the figuring out part of his life. In season one, he thought he wanted to be Don Draper, and spent the season trying to pull off a desperate power grab. It backfired, of course, and Don (with help from Bert Cooper) put Campbell in his place. Now he has what he thought he wanted (a loving wife, a baby, a nice house, a job that gives him authority over Roger and Ken) and he’s still unsatisfied. He comes off as rather desperate to have Don over at his house, as if that’s a stamp of approval, and it ends with Don emasculating him via sink repair. At the brothel, he has a prostitute run through a litany of role plays before settling on a downright puerile one (“You’re my king!). When Don, trying his hand at marital monogamy, stays at the brothel bar, chatting the with madam, Pete is downright teary-eyed with disappointment. He even relives high school disappointment again, making small talk with a cute girl in his driver’s ed class before a much more age-appropriate lad stole his thunder (thank God, as I didn’t think Pete could get any scummier than when he forced himself onto the pitiful German au pair).
It leads to the scene where Pete, standing aloft his one perch that makes him powerful and exuding toxic levels of smug douchiness, says one too many a mean word to to Lane Pryce, who challenges him to pugilistic settling of differences. Say what you want about Lane, but he’s a man of action. And when Pete loses this schoolyard battle, in front of his superiors no less, he is left sobbing to Don in the elevator. These were his friends, damn it. And now he has nothing. Yes, it does sound like a Livejournal entry from someone in my generation circa 2002. Pete, like any 15-year-old, still has a lot of figuring out to do.