Mad Men: Will Pete Campbell Die?

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Doodles of nooses, talk of blowing one's brains out, images of car wreck fatalities, mentions of a plane crash and yet another senseless massacre all framed last night's portrait of Pete Campbell's miserable life. We get the picture: He's depressed. But is he desperate enough to take his own life, or that of another? Or is it all just a red herring, setting the stage for a different Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce employee to make that leap out onto Madison Avenue, as the opening credits have suggested for the past five seasons?


The imagery seemed a little heavy-handed, but it's keeping in the theme of this season: There have been numerous hints to some kind of terrible death — or in the very least, danger of it — on the horizon. (Pills, murderous nightmares, historical massacres, riots, war, etc.) But perhaps it's all pointing to something much subtler than that, as it already appears that Pete is dead on the inside.

The episode opens with Pete watching Signal 30, a highway safety film that depicts real life carnage. A staple of driver's ed classes for decades, the lesson it teaches is that driving is serious business and that cars can be deadly weapons. ("Signal 30"—which is also the title of this episode—happens to be police code for "fatality.") He laughs at the over-the-top campiness of the film which leads him to exchange a flirty smile with a pretty young blonde classmate, providing some momentary excitement. Back at home he's restless in the suburbs. Having lived in Manhattan since birth, Pete liked the constant soundtrack of the hustle and bustle of the city. The country was supposed to provide him with peace and quiet, but the silence only amplifies the dripping of the kitchen sink, the sound of which mimics the cloying monotony of his suburban life—and that, too, is becoming too loud to be ignored.

"Saturday night in the suburbs: That's when you really wanna blow your brains out," says Don when he learns he has to go to Pete and Trudy's dinner party in Connecticut. He had suicide on the brain, though, since he was just doodling a noose during the partners' meeting. What's that about? While Don is supposedly much happier in his new life with his new wife this season, there have been some dark undercurrents in his story. Like when he strangled a woman to death in his dream. Or how about the two different historical massacres that have played into the storylines this season? The first murderer, who raped, tortured and killed eight student nurses was Richard Speck. The second (mentioned on last night's episode), who killed 16 people — including his wife and mother — was Charles Whitman. Richard Speck. Charles Whitman. Richard Whitman. Dick Whitman. A few weeks ago when the Speck murders were on the front pages of the papers in the Mad Men universe, Sally asked her step-grandmother why he killed those student nurses. "Probably because he hates his mother," she answered. Dick Whitman was born to a hooker and raised by a stepmother. When he found out, through his half-brother, that she died of stomach cancer her said, "Good." Dick Whitman definitely has unresolved mother issues.

But Don seems content, at least for now. While the SCDP brass were trying to land the Jaguar account by bringing the executive to an upscale brothel, he was the only one who didn't partake in the hookers, which seemed so odd to the madam that she just assumed he was gay. Meanwhile, we learn that Pete's kink is that he likes to be told that he's king. He likes to feel important. He likes to be in the driver's seat, but in reality, he doesn't even have a license.

Later, while sharing a cab ride home, Pete accuses Don of being a nun for not cheating on his wife with hooker. Don essentially says he expects that behavior from Roger because he's "miserable." He didn't think that Pete was. Pete sarcastically answers, "I have it all." Don says that, speaking from the experience of a man who destroyed his marriage with cheating and lies, "You don't get another chance at what you have." In that way, Don's life sort serves as a real life version of the Signal 30 film. Pete got the chance to watch Don's marriage crash and burn. Will he learn anything from it? Will it help him be a more conscientious driver husband?

Lane wasn't happy with the guys' trip to the brothel. It cost them the account when the Jaguar guy's wife found gum in his pubes. Pete, who's been something of a little shit at work — ratting on Ken Cosgrove for moonlighting as a writer, feuding with Roger, insulting Don's wife at dinner — takes a jab Lane by saying that the Jaguar guy thinks he's "a homo." And then one of the weirdest, most formal donnybrooks broke out between Pete and Lane, with Pete getting "the stuffing beat out of him." No one feels sorry for him, since they all wished they could've had a shot at him, too. Joan says as much to Lane, who in a moment of weakness tries to kiss her. While the two have grown close, it seemed more like the writers' way of letting us know that Lane is not gay and thus, the fight was more about Pete being an insolent asshole, instead of some repressed gay nerve being struck. In her artful way, Joan let him know it wasn't appropriate, but that she wouldn't hold it against him.


Leaving the office for lunch, Don holds the elevator for "King" Pete, whose ego is no doubt just as bruised as his face. He tells Don, "I have nothing."

But is his situation really that destitute? Will he actually get that rifle he exchanged the chip 'n dip for and take his rage out on Trudy? Maybe it's just that he has all his ducks in a row, and so he has nothing else to really accomplish, other than acquiring more money and more things. It's an empty existence, and he acknowledges that. It's probably why he doesn't like Ken writing on the side. Pete is probably jealous that it seems to bring meaning, purpose, and happiness to his life. In the end, Ken is working on a new story — under a different pen name — called "The Man with the Miniature Orchestra." It was obviously inspired by Pete and probably his tiny violin, since his success has afforded him the luxury of dwelling on the kinds of problems that don't invoke sympathy from others.


Perhaps we were supposed to walk away from this episode thinking that Pete is the new Don Draper. But his situation is actually much more like Roger's. Both men are from old money and both have had the same trajectory of family life. And both are bothered by Ken's side career as a writer. Roger turned out to be a cliche who threw his first marriage away for the promise of an exciting life with a young secretary. He left one unhappy situation for another and now he's more miserable than ever, at home and in the office. Maybe Roger is the one who will make the leap out the window, and his death, not Don's life, will be Pete's Signal 30.



I don't want Pete to die! No. I love him, and his weird little progressive moments, and I love him and Trudy, and can they please run away and become hippies? I need that to happen. Pete and Trudy and macrame on a commune at the end of the series.