Re-watching Mad Men, S01E04: “New Amsterdam ”
“Even old New York was once New Amsterdam/Why they changed it I can’t say/People just liked it better that way”—“Istanbul,” The Four Lads.
Naturally, it’s impossible to talk about Mad Men (or probably any TV show) without discussing the way the audience’s expectations are constantly overturned. Mad Men hates to pin down its characters. For example, in the first episode, we’re lead to believe Don is swingin’ single only to discover—gasp!—he’s married. Most of the show’s statements about the plasticity of identity are about Don or maybe Peggy, but today it’s all about those Campbells.
In New Amsterdam, we find out there’s more to Pete Campbell than meets the eye. He’s still an old money, sniveling worm, but he’s not just that anymore. And it’s tragic, too, that he must just be in advertising because he loves it. But there’s a lot of pressure to live up to the Dykeman name, but also has to branch off on his own—and it sounds like his financial survival depends on it thanks to his grand-pappy. Sometimes he needs to be Peter Dykeman Campbell to feed regular old Pete Campbell’s ambition, and even though that name does afford him a lot (like not getting hit by the Sterling-Coo door on the way out), he doesn’t seem to like it. That scene at the end when Trudy tells the story of ancestral Dykemans fighting Hessians is almost surreal to listen to, and also to see the old ladies excited to learn where someone who knew Isaac Roosevelt is buried. “Backbone of America” indeed.
And best of all, Pete’s frustration leads him to dare to talk back to Don. Of course, Don doesn’t give a shit about Campbell, Dykeman or not, and we get a great cry face out of it when he opens his can of self-made whoop-ass. But like Bert Cooper’s Swiss watch of New York, Don and Sterling-Cooper need Peter Dykeman Campbell the way that Pete needs both Dykeman and Campbell. Status quo for now, even though no one likes it.
I love the differences between the Pete and Trudy’s respective families—can you imagine what it must have been like for Pete as a kid with all that covered furniture in those big empty rooms, waiting for the same summer every year on Fisher’s Island? No wonder no one told him he’s good with people. Of course, around Trudy’s parents no one could tell either; Trudy practically Draper-izes her parents while Pete is left to polite refusals. I wonder if Trudy’s family is new money; she certainly plays the game well—and knows her society players—but no one’s excited to have a Trudy in the building (I’m not sure we ever know her maiden name, which is a pretty big statement to me). She could be old money and just not as old as the Dykemans—but it seems as though few are.
Speaking of other people’s families, this is that fateful episode where Glenn Bishop establishes himself as the ultimate pre-pubescent creepster. Why does Betty give into his weird demand? It’s interesting to see her interact with the rest of the Bishop family before this, because these moments show Betty as almost unfit for the world of adults. She can gossip with Francine and make nice with Peggy, but she seems shy and uncomfortable around Helen and afraid of Helen’s ex-husband. She seems at ease with Glenn, and even kind of smiles as she cuts off her hair to give to him. And her psychiatry session reinforces this point, that she oversimplifies Helen’s marital situation and makes it about her. “The person taking care of [Glenn] isn’t giving him what he needs,” she says. Who do we really think she’s talking about, hmmm?
Betty’s sympathetic line after hearing the whole story about Helen Bishop’s ugly divorce: “I’ve always loved that house.” Good one, Birdie.
It cracks me up that the Campbell family names include “Skip” and “Bud.”
This hour’s Tao of Draper
“Sterling-Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.”
[Robert] Morse’s Code
“You’re going to need a stronger stomach if you’re going to be back in the kitchen seeing how the sausage is made.”