Mad Men’s sixth season was a disastrous one for Pete Campbell, Sterling Cooper & Partners’ charmingly smarmy advertising-accounts executive—which made it a great one for Vincent Kartheiser, who plays him. In the span of 13 episodes, Pete got thrown out of the house by his wife, Trudy, for cheating; ran into his father-in-law at a brothel, costing SC&P the $9 million Vicks Chemical account; got banished to the firm’s nascent Los Angeles office; and tangled with a sociopathic co-worker, Bob Benson, who stole the Chevy account from him and may have played a role in the murder of Pete’s mother.
Pete has never been easy to like, but Kartheiser’s exasperated reactions to every setback have launched a thousand gifs and transformed a once-loathsome character into an oddly endearing one. All of which seems to have only inflamed Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s sadistic tendencies: “When you put him in positions to be wronged,” Weiner says, “you know you’re gonna get a full Jack Lemmon kind of frustration and anger that’s very physical, very funny.” Like the time, also last season, when, during an argument with his nemesis, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Pete fell on his ass down a flight of stairs. “It was amazing,” says Weiner. “That was one of the payoffs to spending all that money building that staircase. We knew he would just be apoplectic.”