Monday, December 10, 2012

Mad Men: New Amsterdam (1.4)

Being perfectly blunt, it's a difficult job to make you feel something for a character born into wealth and notoriety; grandeur and success handed to them on a silver platter and the family name opening doors that would ordinarily stay firmly closed. But this is the very first episode to portray Pete Campbell as something of a tragic figure, just as reliant on his parentage as he is eager to strike out on his own. It's very much about his own insecurities as a worker, a husband, a son and as a man, each one nowhere near as strong and reliable as he would like.

Pete's wife Trudy is eager to move to the city, having fallen in love with a palatial apartment at the heart of Manhattan. But it's a little out of their price range. Pete reluctantly asks for support from his parents, both celebrities in New York's social circles, but is rejected due to their disappointment in him as a son. It should tell you how fancy these people are that a well-paid job in advertising is treated with such disdain. Determined to take it in his stride, Pete suggests purchasing someplace smaller, only for Trudy's parents to step in with money of their own. It's an emasculating move, not only because he's supposed to be the breadwinner, but also humiliating in regards to his relationship with his parents, particularly as Trudy's folks keep using his name to open doors of their own.

It's no better at work. Eager to step up to the plate and impress his co-workers, he privately schmoozes a steel magnate and successfully wins his favor with his own pitch -- but it lands him in hot water with Don, who is so offended that some punk went over his head that he fires him on the spot. Which is fine, until Bertram Cooper steps in and reminds Don how important Pete's connections are. Even then, we realize that his hiring was never based on any particular talent. Sure, he's got the goods, but nothing especially showy or spectacular. Even when he thinks he's out on his own in the world, it's really his family still pulling the strings, whether they know about it or not.

With Pete, you once again get that running theme of people drifting through life, never entirely happy with how things are turning out. Despite all that outward success (the marriage, the wealth, the gorgeous Manhattan view), he's still feeling lost and unappreciated, despite so often doing things that would ordinarily be praised.

It's a similar feeling with Betty, even if she's nowhere near as self-aware when it comes to her own unhappiness. Here she babysits Helen's son Glen; a quiet, lonely and sort of sinister young boy who reveals a creepy fascination in her. These scenes are uncomfortable, but it's easy to see why Betty would give in to him in her own way, flattered by the attention and not recognizing how it's probably inappropriate to give him a lock of her hair. It's also interesting to see how her mind is processing things, or at least how she decides to articulate them. To her, Helen is obviously jealous of Betty's success as a wife and mother, despite Helen appearing entirely comfortable with how her life has turned out... incomplete as it may seem to the outside voyeur. And Glen, in Betty's mind, is a poor soul crying out for some kind of care and attention. The entire story is a little transparent, even at this point -- working as a metaphor for Betty's own childlike naivety and the dissatisfaction in her marriage, but it's such a gorgeously photographed and intriguing subplot that you can forgive some of the more overt elements.

New Amsterdam continues the show's ability to spread the wealth around, this week focusing more on characters that haven't been entirely explored as of yet. Pete, easily dismissed early on as a smooth-talking jackass, gains a variety of different levels here, while Betty continues to be absorbing in her anxious lack of direction. B+


- I loved the conversation about generational change between Don and Roger, and their mutual belief that every generation believes the kids snapping at their heels are somehow worse than them.

- Christopher Allport, the actor playing Pete's father, died in an avalanche a couple of years ago, which is almost cartoonish in how horrifying it is. It's like one of those fake internet rumors about famous actors falling off a mountain in New Zealand. You don't imagine things like that actually happen.

- More about JFK, Helen working for the campaign and gifting Betty with some brochures. She's still undecided about the election, despite acknowledging that he's attractive. Heh.


Don: You do your job. Take him sailing, get him in a bathing suit. Leave the ideas to me.
Pete: I have ideas.
Don: I'm sure you do, Sterling Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.

Pete: Direct marketing? I thought of that! Turned out it already existed, but I arrived at it independently!

Tom Vogel: You boys? You've got it made. Martini lunches, gorgeous women parading through -- in my next life, I'm coming back as an ad man.

Betty: Honestly, I think she's jealous of me. I've seen it before, I was in a sorority.

Bertram: There's a Pete Campbell at every agency out there.
Don: Well let's get one of the other ones.

Guest stars
Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper); John Slattery (Roger Sterling)
Writer Lisa Albert Director Tim Hunter

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