The question of how Mad Men would depict the Kennedy assassination (if at all) was finally answered in the The Grown-ups. While I was only two in 1963, from what my parents have related to me over the years, the episode really captured the feel of those few dramatic days in November.
The scene where Don and Betty watch Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television struck a particular cord with me. When my father saw it happen, he called out “They shot him!” to my mother who was in the kitchen (the revese of Don and Betty). According to my mother, the exact quote was “They shot the son-of-a-bitch” (but that’s a minor point).
Pete Campbell’s reaction to the event is quite interesting. By remarking to Trudy such things as “Why even have a trial?” or “Just throw him over to the mob,” Pete seems to empathize with Oswald. In fact, I detected a deliberate effort in The Grown-ups to link Pete Campbell’s story with that of Lee Harvey Oswald.
When Pete is first shown, he’s sleeping on his office couch. Because the heat isn’t working, Pete (whose eyes are closed) is cold and clutches at the front of his overcoat in a posture that mimics Oswald’s from the famous still photo of the shooting. More significantly, his rifle (Meditations in an Emergency) is prominently placed in the background during the exchange with his secretary. Pete angrily points out to her that the hot cocoa she’s brought him is made with water rather than milk. This sort of distinction is echoed later when an anchorman from a real period news clip repeats Oswald’s vehement claims that a Marxist is totally different than a Communist.
Just before Pete has his fateful meeting with Pryce, there’s a shot of a man entering the office wearing a red plaid hunting cap. This man carries packages into the office. On the day of the assassination, Oswald entered the Texas School Book Depository carrying a package that he told co-workers contained “curtain rods.” The man with the red hat can clearly be seen behind Pete as he makes his way to Pryce’s office.
Although Pete and Trudy decide to skip the wedding, many of the other Sterling Cooper staff members attend. From the reception hall’s kitchen, they watch a news report of Oswald being led into the Dallas police station. If one accepts that Pete is a stand-in for Oswald, he certainly couldn’t be in both places at once. Oswald has clearly been smacked around by the police. This is not unlike Pete’s perception of his treatment at the hands of Sterling Cooper management. Among the chatter of wedding guests at their tables can distinctly be heard the comment “He wanted attention, he didn’t fit in.” This ostensibly refers to Oswald but could just as easily apply to Pete.
We last see Pete and Trudy in their apartment. Pete is wearing a turtle neck very similar to the one Duck wore during their brief lunch meeting from The Fog. This suggests that a bitter Pete has decided to join Duck. Also, after a news commentator has declared “Oswald dead,” Trudy suggests that Pete should gather his clients and take them to the new agency. Pete’s potential salvo against Sterling Cooper portends further disruptions in the Mad Men universe.