My man, Pete Campbell

Vincent Karthesier as Pete Campbell in 'Mad Men.'

During Black Friday weekend, I bought season four of Mad Men at Target for $8. Who am I to pass up $29 in savings? Yes, that rhetorical question was necessary.

When I went on break, pity and boredom accumulated, so I naturally marathoned the entire season in two days, though, considering it’s only 13 episodes, there isn’t much to brag about.

So I don’t want to review the entire television season, other than to boldly proclaim that it is probably the best season of Mad Men in the history of Mad Men.

Well, I have a few show-related comments, before I dive into the character on my subject line.

What makes season four work so well is that everything is being torn down and being built from the ground floor. The agency, the characters. Things are actually at stake. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce needs to find clients and keep them. It’s not a cake walk anymore. The characters’ vulnerabilities are showing–even the normally cool, collected Don Draper has his breakdown.

Season four explores its characters and dare I say, gets a little sentimental. These characters are human beings, after all. Sure, they are still complex and they can still be assholes, but life is catching up to them–so perhaps, it’s time to entertain the conscience.

Which brings me to Pete Campbell, the man with the strong conscience. Well, he’s also a douchebag extraordinaire and amateur slimeball, but he has always been the one who seems to have the most, well, feelings. And instead of repressing them, he’s willing to acknowledge them.

Pete is a polarizing character. But love him or hate him, he’s just as complex as the other characters.

Just so we’re clear on where I stand: I love Pete.

Pete has grown from being a kid with sycophantic tendencies, trying to scrape by with his family connections, to someone who is actually kind of a valuable asset to an advertising agency. And, knowing that he chose advertising over his father’s objections, makes him a bit of a rebel who is willing to take some risks and ignore the haters, basically.

After Pete cheats on his wife, Trudy, he comes home and sweats with guilt. He looks in the mirror. He can’t believe what he has just done. That’s the moment I fell in love with the character. Here’s a guy who fell into temptation, but instead of treating sex as sport, he actually feels the deep emotional consequences of his actions, making him quite different from the likes of Don Draper or Roger Sterling. ¬†Doesn’t mean he isn’t destined to make the same mistake again, but what matters in this show packed with morally ambiguous characters is that he realizes. And after the next tryst, the lesson sticks. He knows where his loyalties stand.

So in season four, Pete is a partner in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. He continues to look ahead, in a way that Roger Sterling seems almost incapable of doing. He pretty much protects Don Draper from the government. He drops Clearasil and gets Vicks Chemical in return. He becomes a loyal husband (really hopes this continues into season five) and proud new father.

In the season four finale, Don, Roger, and Pete get Ken Cosgrove in a room to discuss Ken wooing his future father-in-law for an account. In response, Ken says, “I’m not Pete. Sorry about that.” Pete says, “You’re obviously not.” Burned, Cosgrove.

While one can argue that Ken has enough integrity to separate family from business, Pete, on the other hand, doesn’t half-ass dedication. Ken comes off as apathetic and doesn’t care about saving the supposedly dying agency, while Pete is willing to do anything to save it (even sacrificing his own finances, post-baby), not just because he’s a partner, but because he cares about the people he claims to be loyal to.

Season four makes Pete Campbell the son of a bitch to root for. Almost can’t imagine television without him. And seriously, where’s the acclaim for Vincent Kartheiser? Please recognize the brilliance, everyone.


George Lucas, a Hollywood Tragedy

George Lucas on the set of the first Star Wars film.

I’m not even a steadfast Star Wars fan, so there is really no point for me to get all up and arms about George Lucas being a massive disappointment as a director, but sometimes I feel like I take George Lucas’ failure pretty personally.

I didn’t even notice how personally offended I was over the fact that Lucas never fulfilled his true potential until I began casually discussing Star Wars with one of my roommates.

So don’t get me wrong: I love The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, so I totally don’t hate Star Wars. (Note: They are also¬†the two movies in the series that aren’t directed by Lucas, so I’m starting off with a pretty crappy point about Lucas as a director.) While I am not obsessed with them, I do think they are emotionally compelling, entertaining blockbusters that have stood the test of time. Because of these two films, I can respect Star Wars as the culture phenomenon it is. And the impact that the Star Wars franchise has had on the film industry is undoubtedly, also phenomenal. Its existence simply revolutionized and redefined the blockbuster.

Back to my discussion with my roommate.

I told her that Lucas was once a promising, determined filmmaker, according to Peter Biskind’s thoroughly entertaining, most likely exaggerated account in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, who basically, sold his soul out to the Hollywood devil so he can milk as much money as possible from the Star Wars franchise. He abandoned all his creativity and all his supposed dreams so he can continuously barf all over the idea that made him rich in the first place.

I don’t know how much of Biskind’s account is true (so correct me if it’s inaccurate), but Lucas acted as Francis Ford Coppola’s protege throughout the ’70s and apparently, shared the same sentiments as Coppola when it came to filmmaking. Lucas wanted to make personal films, as did Coppola, both inspired by old American movies and the up-and-coming ’60s European filmmakers. Coppola trusted Lucas so much so that, in the case he killed himself on the set of Apocalypse Now, he wanted Lucas to take over.

So while Coppola spends the rest of his filmmaking career challenging himself–anyone who tells you that Coppola’s career ended in the ’70s, clearly hasn’t seen Peggy Sue Got Married, or even notice Coppola’s current experimental phase–Lucas has spent the past three decades of his life brainstorming new ways he can destroy Star Wars when he could be, I don’t know, making those “personal” films he claims he wants to make so badly after Star Wars is all over.

While we can all make the argument that Lucas’ own contributions to the Star Wars franchise as a director are somewhat futile, there is one film that shows Lucas’ potential as a “personal” filmmaker. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: American Graffiti.

American Graffiti exists and its existence pains me. American Graffiti reminds me that George Lucas could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, but didn’t. But it’s all about the what if? What if George Lucas had continued making movies like American Graffiti? Well, he would have a helluva less money, but that wouldn’t matter–he could have been the voice of his generation. The clever, nostalgic sentimentalist who, at the end of the day, can’t really escape reality.

But Lucas probably doesn’t mind reality as it is, it seems. In the ’90s, he started making those ridiculous Star Wars prequels that even obsessive Star Wars fans dismiss, but guess what, he made money. And apparently, that’s all that matters to him. Well, he has enough money for him to buy and maintain an entire ranch, so that’s kind of a lot of money.

So why not use all that money and make another movie that is completely unrelated to Star Wars? At this point, he has all the money and power to make whatever he wants and he can make it with total control, so his filmmaking experience now will be completely different from the studio-versus-director power struggles he experienced early in his career.

You know, despite all my hostility toward Lucas, I really, really want him to make another movie. I want to see him challenge himself creatively and awaken a mentality that was once so present within him–if all those stories about the young Lucas are true.

I mean, I obviously have no control on whether or not Lucas ever makes that “personal” movie he keeps talking about. I just wish he is indeed the idealistic filmmaker he once claimed to be.

However, my roommate just thinks I need to stop taking things so personally.

And by the way, here is a hilarious documentary feature from the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull DVD about how George Lucas basically forced a reluctant Steven Spielberg into making a fourth Indiana Jones movie: