Monday, January 6, 2014

Another Great Pete Campbell Moment

I've been re-watching Season Six of Madmen, yet another fine season that improves with repeated viewings- its been an amazing run for Madmen, due to end after this new upcoming season. Admittedly the last several seasons started slowly and even for me, disappointingly- to where I wondered if they might be losing their touch -but the show always picked up steam by the third or fourth episode with nary less than an, at the very least, interesting episode for the rest of each season. And with the large share of episodes of the last two or three seasons turning out to be some of the finest TV I've ever seen. This may sound like meager praise, but there's a lot of great writing going on in television these days, more so than film.

I've mentioned before how I find Pete Campbell to be one of the most interesting characters on the show, and this is in no small part due to the amazing job Vincent Kartheiser does in bringing nuance to his portrayal of Pete, very subtle shadings, that are there in the writing to a degree I'm sure, but would be lost on a lesser actor- things that make Pete frustrating, detestable, sympathetic, laughable and even at times endearing. Kartheiser achieves a lot of this subtlety with nonverbal bits of business; body language- especially posture and facial expressions, things that were almost certainly NOT written in the script but that create a real depth to the character.

In the Season Six episode, A Tale of Two Cities, Pete has another great moment of coping or rather not coping with the lack of respect accorded him by his co-workers and more importantly his superiors, who continually swat him away like a bothersome child, still treating him like the spoiled rich kid who was given a job as a favor, despite over the years having proven himself to be one of the few at the firm that continually pulls his weight and keeps his eye on the ball as far as business is concerned. In this episode Pete suffers the indignity of having new business snatched from under him by Joan (it was actually hers to begin with but she upended protocol and cut him out) and then failing miserably at his attempts to get her duly reprimanded for her actions- when he goes to Don for help, he tells him flat, if you don't like the business get out! Pete has yet again been made to feel small, unappreciated, lesser and like he's not playing by the same rule book as everybody else or is not privy to the real inside dope.

And so he wanders dejectedly into the creative lounge, stops, smells something, and then sees Stan smoking a joint and figures fuck it, grabs the joint from him, sits down and takes a long deep pull while watching a miniskirt go by and then exhales long and slow with an inscrutable expression- he's having  a moment, yet again Pete's having to get with a new program, a new way of handling things, seems like everyone is always moving the markers on poor old Pete, just when the thinks he has things figured. This scene makes me feel a myriad of things, some contradictory, most of which I don't have language or ability to express, which is why I find it so damn well written and acted and frankly moving.

The musical accompaniment for this Pete moment is Janis Joplin's version of "Piece of My Heart"- I'm not a big Janis Joplin fan, but this is an undeniably transcendent performance, and its also another deft Madmen pairing of image and and song that together conveys perfectly the mood of the character as well as tying in nicely with other themes running through the episode, most explicitly Joan having to reach out and grab hers in order to get a leg up in a male dominated work place. The scene of course works best when seen in context of the whole episode, but here's the clip, which frustratingly cuts a little too early, right when they cut to black and then have the credits ride over that verse that gives you chills "Didn't I make you feel, like youuu were the only man"- so I've also included Joplin's whole take of the song so you can sort of simulate this effect - pause the 2nd video at 23 seconds in and then hit it right after the first video ends. Or better yet buy Season Six or rent disc four and watch the whole thing. I've also included the original recording by Erma Franklin (Aretha's older sister) for historical interest and cause its damn fine!


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