Don runs off to party with Euro-trash, has yet another extramarital fling, although this time the sex actually seems to be fun for both parties---the woman is none too subtly named Joy---and is inspired to look up an old friend who happens to be the real Don Draper's widow, and with her encouragement begins to shed his old false identity to become...well, nobody. Yet again. Is he doomed to be nobody? Stay tuned. But meanwhile...
Pete's stuck back at their hotel.
Now I missed this the first time I watched---Pete isn't stuck there just because Don's left him to attend the convention they came out to California for. He's stuck there because he has no way of getting away on his own. This is Southern California, LA is just a great big highway, and Pete can't drive.
I didn't catch it, but one of my readers did and it perplexed her enough to write me to ask about it. Not that I've set up shop as an expert on All Things Mad Men, but I've written enough about it that I should be able to answer questions like this. Judith wrote:
I've just finished watching Season 2.
In "Jet Set", Pete Cambell says that he can't drive.
In "Meditations in an Emergency", he says it again to Don, yet he and Trudy own a car.
Why can't Pete Cambell drive? It doesn't seem to be a queston of he doesn't.
This is getting embarrassing. I missed it again. Or I don't remember the scene in Meditations in an Emergency. (I'm going to watch it again before Season 3's premiere on Sunday. Stay tuned here. Oh, and btw. Major spoilers in all the recaps on the Mad Men website.) But an answer to Judith's question occurred to me immediately, and the same answer occurred to Nancy Nall, another Mad Man madwoman, when I ran it by her.
He grew up in New York City.
There are still twentysomething New Yorkers today who've never learned to drive, because they haven't needed to. This was even more common back in Pete Campbell's day. Add to this the fact that he grew up rich, which means taxis and limos and chauffeurs, and you've got the answer to Judith's question.
But! This is Mad Men, the most fictional show on television. I mean that the writers think more like fiction writers than like television writers and each episode is a short story that can be "read," or else what have I been doing here? Everything on the show---props, lines of dialogue, images, gestures, entire characters---have to be weighed for their symbolic loading. It might be that neither Judith nor I nor Nance remembers Pete's lack of a driver's license having been established before or it might be that it's something the writers came up with for the one episode for dramatic reasons---Pete can't escape from the convention, so he's forced to attend and do Don's job and that will have repercussions back at Sterling Cooper in some future episode. But once the idea was introduced it became thematically and symbolically important immediately.
Don's leaving Pete stuck there like that increases Pete's ongoing feelings of isolation, frustration, resentment, and abandonment. Since the first episode Pete has expected, practically demanded, that Don should take him under his wing. Pete sees himself as the next Don Draper and he can't understand why Don doesn't see it too and like and admire him for it. He doesn't know that Don would be instinctively hostile to another version of himself because he'd assume that this Draper double was also leading a double-life, that he was also a fraud. So Don's hostility has been baffling to Pete. Don's running off on him exacerbates the wounds Don has already inflicted on his pride, but it does more than that. It reminds him of somebody else who should have been proud of him but inexplicably wasn't, who should have been supportive but wasn't, who should have stuck around but who abandoned him, emotionally, at first, accidentally, in the end.
Pete's father's death leaves Pete and the family broke and helpless.
In case it wasn't clear before this episode, The Jet Set drives home the fact that Pete has always seen Don as a surrogate big brother or even a father and it's turning out that Don is just as unreliable as his real father and brother.
In Don's company, Pete has always been the kid looking up to his hero and getting kicked for it. Unable to drive himself around, Pete is literally in the position of a little kid dependent on a grown-up to get him from here to there.
But this is the central dilemma of Pete's life. Everywhere he goes Pete is in the position of the kid. At Sterling Cooper he is tolerated, and promoted, because he is somebody important's son. At home, where he thinks he ought to be treated as the man of the house, he's diminished by his wife's devotion to her parents. Trudy, who is the stronger-willed spouse, defines their home life and she has arranged things so that theirs is on its way to being a recapitulation of her parents' and a subset of it, and as long as she remains the dutiful daughter, that is, their child, Pete remains a child in his own home too.
Add to this his dependence on Trudy to drive him places---places he doesn't necessarily want to go---which makes her a mother-figure, and Pete's in the symbolic position of being a child to a child.
Pete's dilemma is that as much as he wants to break free of this role and make the other adults around him see him and treat him as an adult, he knows that his success, at work and at home, is due to his being somebody's little boy. He gets clients because they know his family. His biggest account is a gift from his father-in-law---actually, it's a bribe. The idea is to coerce Pete into giving Trudy a baby and her parents a grandchild, which Pete fears is just another way to keep him trapped at home. And he's dependent on this treatment. He wants to break free but he's afraid he wouldn't survive if he did. He's a twenty-six year old man living out a twelve year old boy's fantasies of escape and nightmares of abandonment.
That explains his exchanging a wedding present for a rifle, the dream gift of every red-blooded American boy in the days when westerns dominated television and the movies. We're not meant not to notice that Pete is pretty much the age Ralphie from A Christmas Story would be in 1960.
"You'll shoot your eye out, Pete."
Victor Kartheiser has been growing, slowly, into his role as Pete. I used to think he was the most egregiously miscast of all the show's stars. I wrote in a post called All the mad men and all the mad women are the sons and daughters of Jimmy Gatz that Pete was kind of a Jay Gatsby in reverse, an ambitious young man born to the wealth and status Gatsby dreamed of who himself dreamed of being as "authentic" a striver and go-getter as the Jimmy Gatz who turned himself into the Great Gatsby, and it's probably because of that Gatsby connection that I've got it stuck in my head that Pete Campbell should look like Jay Gatsby, who, of course, looks like a young Robert Redford.
I thought it would have been better if an actor who looked like a very young Redford had been cast, someone who looked like he could age into a Don Draper, someone who looked more like what Pete's pretending to be and attempting to become by pretending, someone who looked like he could have been a star athlete in school, even if he wasn't, someone who looked like a man who could make blonde models and prim secretaries and other unlikely women swoon, even though he's afraid of them, someone who looked like a young hero who'd be kept around and given the benefit of the doubt because he looks like what you need him to be or think he should be with those athletic good looks, even when he's failing to do the job and live up to expectations.
There ought to be a reason besides self-delusion why when Pete looks in the mirror he expects to see Don Draper looking back, why when he goes into a meeting he's initially confident that potential clients and other mad men will respond to him the way the do to Don, why he can count on being as lucky with women as Don.
Kartheiser has never looked like that sort of young man to me. He has never looked like a young man to me at all. He's not boyishly good-looking. He's boy-ish. In fact, dressed up in a suit and with his hair combed and neatly parted he looks like a specific boy I used to know, me, in my eighth grade graduation suit.
But maybe that's been the right look for him all along, or more likely, maybe the writers have realized what they have to work with and have started writing Pete to take advantage of Kartheiser's looks and strengths.
So, to get back to answering Judith's question, the simpler answer is probably the right one. Pete doesn't drive because he never needed to get his license. But it makes sense thematically and dramatically that he doesn't. Pete is still a little boy, frustrated by his dependence on the grown-ups but afraid he doesn't have what it takes to be independent. He wants to be an adult but his circumstances have kept him tied down and stunted his emotional growth.
And in this he has something in common with a number of the other main characters---Betty Draper, Peggy, Trudy, and even, maybe especially, Don are defined and confined by their relationships to their parents. Trudy and Peggy are overly-dutiful daughters. Betty's entire sense of self is based on her self-critical comparisons to her idealized memories of her mother. And Don's life is a son's progress---if one can progress by running away. He "killed" Dick Whitman in order to escape from being the child of his depressed stepmother and abusive "uncle's" house. But he's been escaping toward as much as from, looking for the home he lost when first his mother and then his father died. That's apparently what he intended to create for Don Draper. There are lots of reasons why Don Draper's home has not been a comforting place for him, why he's constantly trying to run away. In the home he's looking for he would be the child not the father. And so it's not surprising in the last few episodes of Season 2 we see him relatively at peace in the house of the widow of the real Don Draper. Although they are close to the same age and she looks like she could be Betty Draper's sister, Don and Anna act more like mother and (grown) son than like contemporaries and equals.
Season 3 of Man Men premieres this coming Sunday, August 16, at 10 PM Eastern, 9 Central and as a way of passing the time and building excitement we here at Mannion, Mannion, Mannion and Smoot of Madison Ave. have been Madmenizing ourselves like mad. I'll be posting the results of our efforts all the rest of the week and through the weekend. Madmenize yourself and I'll add you to the collection. But to start us off, here's thirteen year old Oliver Mannion's version of the 1960s version of his 30 year old self, with dialog written by Oliver himself:
Don Draper: Oliver, why are you wearing tennis clothes?
Oliver Mannion: It's Saturday, Don. I usually don't work on Saturday.
Don Draper: So what's with the hat then?
Oliver Mannion: I'm at the office. I still have to look professional.