I know I already blogged about the latest episode of Mad Men, and I promise this won’t turn into the Mad Men blog for the next several weeks, but I just had to blog when I realized I left out the most important development in the whole episode: the return of Ken Cosgrove.
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate – but only slightly. Aaron Staton’s name has been in the opening credits since the beginning of the season, so I figured he’d be returning at some point. (And we should continue to see more of him, I hope.)
It seems like of all the tertiary characters who didn’t make the leap to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Sal and Paul have the most partisans among fans. The great thing about Mad Men is that all the characters, no matter how important, are well-developed and interesting so that their absence is felt. (I was probably Duck Phillips’ only fan for a long time…until he starting sleeping with Peggy. Eww.) This may disappoint us as fans of a television show, but it is more true to life. Fascinating people come and go from our lives all the time, just as we enter and exit the lives of others.
Still, if I’d had my wish to bring one of the old characters back, it wouldn’t have been Paul or even Sal. No, my heart has always belonged to Ken Cosgrove. I can’t say I thought too much about him one way or the other when I first started watching the show. But in the third season, when they set him up as the perfect foil for Pete’s neurotic over-eagerness, I found that I really liked his character. He seemed to be one of the few characters who was genuine and, more importantly, pretty much satisfied with his existence. His and Pete’s very different reactions to having to compete for the Head of Accounts job said a lot about the character. Pete immediately starts whining about how he deserves the job on his own, and that Ken isn’t as good as he is, and he’s pretty miserable about the whole deal. Ken views it as an opportunity to prove himself. He is happy and doesn’t resent it, which is probably one of the reasons he is ultimately successful in winning the job (no matter how much it doesn’t matter in the end) than Pete is.
In short, I think Ken is great. He is smart, funny, but also a little bit goofy. He seems almost…happy, which is a very strange thing in the Mad Men world.
So when Sunday’s episode started, and I heard Harry & Pete talking about Ken, I was so excited that it looked like I was finally going to have one of my favorite characters back, if only for a scene. Of course, in typical Mad Men fashion, my expectations were upended. There is no greater symbol of the depression that has taken hold of this season of Mad Men than that of a defeated Ken Cosgrove. Sure, Don has been at his lowest this season, but we always knew it was just a matter of time with him. But Ken? Say it isn’t so, show! Say it isn’t so!
Of course, I still loved every second of it. Ken is still his earnest self – I read his comment about the world needing another Campbell to be a genuine one, devoid of any irony or sarcasm. Also, he’s engaged, which will hopefully help him refine some of the rougher parts of his character (though I doubt his wife will be as good for him as Trudy has been for Pete). But this Ken has endured some career setbacks. His stint at McCann seems to have changed him greatly. He was no longer his bubbly, jovial self. We actually saw some cracks in him as he challenged Pete for talking about him behind his back. This is the same Ken Cosgrove that pretty easily shook off Pete sucker punching him. His ego has never seemed so fragile as it did in this episode.
I still love him though, and I’m looking forward to see what is going to happen with him next.