Season 1, Episode 4: “New Amsterdam”
This episode veers away from the characters we’ve come to know in the first three episodes—Don, Peggy, and Betty. Now, the story revolves around Pete Campbell. In many ways, Pete is like Don. He feels the pressure working men in the early 1960s felt to provide for their families and to live up to certain societal expectations. We sense that Pete, even though he’s young and newly married, may be ready to crack. He wants to appear in complete control of his life but in this episode, we see his wife, his parents, his wife’s parents, and even Don pulling the strings of Pete’s life.
I could talk about the importance of developing secondary characters but I feel like that will come up enough throughout this series. However, I do like what Todd VanDerWerff says in his recap of this episode for the A.V. Club (I always loved reading episode recaps on A.V. Club while the show aired on AMC). VanDerWerff says this is the first Mad Men episode that feels like a short story: “…‘New Amsterdam’ doesn’t really have much bearing on future events in the series, outside of the fact that the short story show is always more about the slow accumulation of character detail than it is any sort of overwhelming plot momentum.” If your story focuses quite a bit on plot, can you take a step back and stew in a character’s mind for a while? Or if your work already is character-heavy, can you use the example of Pete’s story to find ways to even more richly develop a character?