Occasionally on Mad Men, I am not sure if I’m supposed to like certain characters or not. Betty’s sister-in-law Judy is a good example. Betty sometimes acted as if Judy was manipulative, but I never saw Judy act anything but helpful and sweet, and in a very genuine way. So I don’t know if it there was more going on than met the eye, or if Betty was just being paranoid. (I tend towards the latter.)
Pete Campbell’s father-in-law Tom Vogel is somewhat of an enigma. He can be subtly manipulative–we’ve seen it on a few occasions, most notably in “The Wheel” and “The Mountain King.” In “The Wheel,” it was just some offhand remarks about Pete and Trudy’s need to procreate–except the remarks really weren’t so offhand. He wasn’t shy about insinuating things that he probably shouldn’t have been discussing. (Then again, it’s evident that Trudy is close to her parents, so it’s not so surprising that Tom is sometimes less-than-discreet.)
In “The Mountain King,” Tom calls Pete at work and makes it clear that his account with Sterling Cooper is dependent upon Pete’s willingness to make things right with Trudy. Pete resents the implication, and bravely lets Tom know that he should take his business elsewhere.
Of course, later on the Clearasil account returns to Sterling Cooper (and to Pete), thanks to Trudy’s influence. But by Season 4, it’s obvious that Tom is firmly in Pete’s corner. Tom lets Pete know he wants to see him succeed, and wouldn’t mind seeing Pete leave SCDP for a more successful agency, but he also makes it clear that he’s loyal.
Looking back, I first started liking Tom on his very first episode, Season One’s “New Amsterdam.” As viewers we had already seen how cold and unsupportive Pete’s father was. In a later scene, Pete and Trudy meet up with Tom and Jeanie to apartment-hunt, and Tom makes a striking contrast to Pete’s father. Pete’s father put him down and scoffed at his career in advertising. He also refused to give him any money for a down payment. Tom does something totally opposite. Not only does he want to help with paying for the apartment, but he makes the offer in a way designed to help Pete’s self-esteem. “You’ll be a big shot of your own one day,” he says.
In an interview on AMC’s site, Joe O’Connor, the actor who plays Tom, said he thinks Tom always wanted a son, and looks to Pete as the son he never had. I never really thought about that. It makes perfect sense though.