One question has been asked more than any other on this season of Mad Men: Who is Bob Benson?
As soon as the talkative, eager-to-please Bob (James Wolk) turned up with two cups of coffee in his hands in the Season 6 premiere, fans began speculating about his importance. Was he a government agent infiltrating the firm? Was he the long-lost son of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) from his days in the whorehouse? Or was he the time-traveling spawn of Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) who had come back to 1968 to work alongside his parents?
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As silly as some of the theories became, Pete Campbell was, in fact, a bit of a lynchpin. Bob gravitated toward Pete all season, eventually referring a nurse to help care for Pete's ill mother. During a heated argument about the nurse behaving inappropriately with Pete's mother, Bob subtly came on to Pete. Hoping to find a way to avoid working with Bob, Pete eventually uncovered that Bob's entire backstory is a lie — something Pete has, for now, chosen to ignore after going through a similar situation with Don.
But will Pete really just let it go? And are there even more mysteries to be uncovered about Bob in the Season 6 finale (Sunday at 10/9c, AMC)? TVGuide.com caught up with Kartheiser to find out. Plus: Given all the post-merger tension, will Pete be forced to choose sides?
Pete has been in the middle of the season-long Bob Benson mystery. What did you think of Pete's measured reaction to Bob basically inventing his entire history?
Kartheiser: [Bob] is Don Draper Jr. in some ways, at least that's what it seems to Pete. Here's a guy who's lying about his name, lying about his background, lying about his experience. The last time that Pete found this out and tried to exploit it, it really backfired on him. Not only did he not get what he wanted, but he made himself an enemy of someone of power in the business.
But do you really think Pete's just going to let it go?
Kartheiser: I think this time he says, "I'm going to go slower with this information. I have something on this person [and] they have a fear of me exposing them." Even if that exposure wouldn't bring doom... the fear of the exposure [is] much better than the actual exposure, which might be worth nothing.
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Does he also have a sense of self-preservation? Bob says Pete hired him, so if Pete takes Bob down, couldn't he go down with him?
Kartheiser: That's an interesting way of looking at it. But I also wonder if Pete actually did hire him, [or] if anybody hired him. It's still a mystery, not only for the audience but also to Pete. He doesn't remember hiring this guy. With the way Pete is with men in the office, you would think [with] someone coming into accounts, Pete would remember. There might be a bigger mystery there.
Pete has also perhaps guaranteed Bob's temporary loyalty.
Kartheiser: He feels like he's going to get his own little minion. But I also think he wants him to stay away. He doesn't want him trying to get Pete fired, trying to attack Pete, trying to molest Pete or hit on Pete. He just wants to be left alone.
After Bob first hit on Pete, some suggested Pete might actually be a closeted gay man. Do you think that's possible?
Kartheiser: No. I don't think he is gay. He has been with a lot of women on the show. I don't know what [creator Matthew Weiner] is going to write, but nothing like that has ever been implemented to me. I invite people's speculation and views about it... but I've never played him that way.
But Pete clearly was affected by the encounter. What were you thinking when you played Pete throwing his Raisin Bran?
Kartheiser: Pete is alone. He used to have his wife. Even though he felt a bit estranged from her, he had someone. There's a scene earlier in the season where Bob Benson comes to him and says, "I care about you as a human being, and I want to help you." I think Pete was beginning to think he might have a friend. When it turns out that he's not a friend, but rather what Pete would consider to be a sexual deviant, I think it's just compounded [his loneliness].
Pete can still act impulsively. Earlier this season, he ratted out his father-in-law being at a brothel, which cost Pete his marriage. Why not be more patient then?
Kartheiser: I think he thought that one through, and I think he realized that the work wasn't going to come back. He was just trying to let her dad know that he wouldn't be used like that. Really, it was quite a terrible thing to be caught in the same unfortunate situation, but to be judged harsher than the other person. I think that was just a revenge thing. I don't think he feels like he needs to avenge himself with Bob Benson.
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Do you think he regrets putting the nail in the coffin with Trudy (Alison Brie)?
Kartheiser: [Pauses] I can't tell you that yet.
Does that mean there is some resolution with them in the finale?
Kartheiser: [Pauses] I can't tell you that either.
I'm going to write, "Ominous pause."
Kartheiser: [Laughs] Very good.
Speaking of ominous, Pete's tone with Duck (Mark Moses) was chilling when Pete realized what Bob has done.
Kartheiser: It is ominous. It's scary. I've never met anyone who has made up a past, changed their name and infiltrated a place on false pretense. The idea that you would meet two people like that in the same company is quite scary, and I think Pete has a fear about that sort of thing. Anyone who has that kind of anonymity and who obviously has separated themselves from all blood relations is a bit of live wire.
Pete seems to be the only Sterling Cooper veteran who sees that the other agency is taking over.
Kartheiser: Pete's like, "You're getting pushed out. Don't you see they gave you this name, Sterling, Cooper & Partners, as a complete consolation gift? You guys are so blind, you don't realize that the real business is being taken away from you. You don't care, and you're leaving everyone that's been loyal all these years out to dry." He thinks he's trying to help, and he's shut out again.
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Don tells Pete "Maybe it's time to get out of the business," and Pete goes and smokes Stan's joint. Has he given up?
Kartheiser: He's very beaten down ... [but] I don't think he's actually thinking about changing careers.
Is he going to focus on working his way up with the new partners?
Kartheiser: Absolutely. Since the merger, he has been trying to get in with them, but he also is a loyal guy. He's been loyal to Don through the years. That's a relationship that he feels connected to, and even though he might be playing both sides ... I think he wants to be with Don and Roger because that's where he's always been in the past.
Will that loyalty keep him from moving up with the new guys?
Kartheiser: Well, he's been given Chevy. This is bigger than any other account they have. He's going to go to Detroit, and he's going to start a new life out in Detroit away from his separated wife. This is an opportunity for him to reinvent himself within the new company. So right now, he's going to see what that has to offer.
So, we're going to see some of that vintage Pete Campbell ambition again?
Kartheiser: You'll have to see. The finale is great. Matthew continues to raise it to an even higher level, and people are going to be really surprised by the finale.
More so than in the past?
Kartheiser: Yes, definitely. They'll definitely be shocked.
Mad Men's Season 6 finale airs Sunday at 10/9c on AMC.