“Piece Of My Heart”, Big Brother And the Holding Company
A Tale Of Two Cities, Season 6 Episode 10
This pick is a bit of a fun lark, but still somehow has a measure of gravitas (perhaps not despite, but because of how dryly silly the situation is). The episode itself is full of interesting parallelism, metaphors and plot developments. But I can’t for the life of me figure out how it fits into the closing tune. Instead let’s focus on the character in that last shot: Pete Campbell.
Pete’s whole character has been an exercise in making the audience feel empathy for someone who is usually an unpleasant scoundrel, and for the most part, the writers succeeded. He is visibly upset and constrained by the expectations of his blue-blood upbringing, the various demands of strait-laced masculinity (including the veneer of success that he obsessively pursues), and his own impetuous immaturity, which makes it difficult to remain a faithful family man.
That last factor makes him a sort of kindred spirit to Betty, who is also trying to grow into the mold the world has set for her while developing as a person. For the most part, Pete follows in his mentor Don’s aimless footsteps, making similar mistakes, but essentially trying to do what is right. Don is hard on him, but they’re also protective of each other when it comes down to it. Roger and Joan loathe him, being as he is an unctuous example of the younger generation.
His relationship with Peggy is thorny and complex, given that they start out the series unwittingly conceiving a child after a one-night stand. The sometimes brutal honesty and understanding they share as contemporaries withstands the entire decade, though they naturally grow apart from each other at work and as people.
Eventually, Pete has a mild redemption arc in the show’s endgame after years of seeming like an obstacle or boor to others. (Notice, however, that he tends to be in the right about social issues, albeit in the most insulting ways possible.) In this episode, he is nearing that sympathetic turning point, having become alienated from his family, bored with romantic affairs, stuck in a rut at his job, and facing his mother’s deterioration into dementia. After years of behaving in a neurotic, stuck-up manner, old-fashioned Peter Campbell cannot take it anymore and smokes a joint to relax, blowing impressive smoke plumes while checking out a nubile young secretary.
This scene is overlaid with the sounds of yet another super-famous Sixties band. Janis Joplin sings a defiant song that seems to reflect all the abuse Pete has taken (and given out, as it’s about a jilted woman) over the course of the show. Meanwhile, Don, Roger and Harry have some misadventures on a California vacation. Roger is assaulted and Don gets so high he almost drowns in a pool. I wanted to tie all the other events of the episode together, but I’ve done that well enough elsewhere. The pressure is on at this point of the story, and sometimes you need to just blow off some steam.