Mad Men 5.12 “Commissions and Fees” Reveiw

Mad MenThis is one of those episodes of Mad Men that when it ends it leaves you with a soul crushing feeling and after last week’s indecent proposal it seemed like it would be a hard one to top in this department; as I sit here staring at my notes and this computer screen it certainly feels like they have done just that.

Oh, Lane (Jared Harris) we all knew that taking that money was a terrible idea and like Don (Jon Hamm) we asked why he didn’t ask for some help and went for the worst possible option. The reason of course is pride and Lane claims that he chose Don’s signature to forge as he has always been the fairest. Hence why Lane is so surprised that Don insists that he tender his resignation; the trust has gone and this is the best option for all involved in Don’s mind. The implication of this is that Lane would lose his visa and lose the country he loves and feels at home in. This season has been telegraphing the idea that someone would end their life by the seasons end with nods to clauses in insurance, Sylvia Plath poetry for an episode title and an empty elevator shaft but in the moment that it happened it was still shocking and devastating.

Starting with an attempt in the newly purchased Jaguar by Lane’s wife; the car that we have been told time and time again has trouble starting, does indeed prevent Lane from killing himself in this way. What seems like a salvation moment that could give a renewed sense of existence sadly isn’t that and when we don’t see Lane leave the office and hear that his office door is locked it suggested that there is a tragic scene on the other side. The glass panels at the top of the office walls come into play as Joan can’t open Lane’s door and whereas before these have been used for comic effect there was nothing funny about Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) reaction.

While the Lane’s body is left where it is (it is a crime scene after all) when Don finds out what has happened and that he is still hanging there, Don insists on cutting Lane down and giving him the dignity he was attempting earlier. This moment is one of the most shocking that the show has produced as the camera does not shy away from Lane’s body. For Don, this moment is going to relate back to another suicide by hanging that he holds himself responsible for and that is his half-brother Adam who killed himself back in season one. When Don made his full confession to Betty (January Jones) about who he really is and the subject of Adam and his suicide came up this is where Don truly broke down. Even though Lane’s death is not Don’s fault, there could be a huge feeling of guilt from Don and it is unclear how this moment will affect Don’s motivations in the finale next week.

Prior to this discovery this episode marked a return for Don’s ambition; when he gave his Coach Taylor-like Jaguar speech to the staff that was for their benefit, now it feels like he believes they can strive for better but will this moment with Lane be a big setback? We also get a big Don pitch that is selling the firm beyond that letter and instead of going in nice; Don goes in aggressive prompting Roger to say “I’ll buy you a drink if you can wipe that blood off your mouth.” This is the Don Draper that the company needs to get those big dreams to turn into a reality and to show that they are anything but complacent; 50 % isn’t good enough, it’s the whole market that they want. The pitch turns into a semi-philosophical debate about “What is happiness?” and essentially advertising is always playing with this idea.

Pete has really been the epitome of this question of ‘having it all’ and still feeling empty this year but it is Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) who gets to ask the on the nose question of “Why does everything turn out crappy?” Yes this moment might be a bit too obvious after what we have witnessed in this episode but it shows the world weariness that can occur during adolescents when things don’t seem like they will get better. This day out in the city for Glen was meant to be an escape from the bullying he has been enduring at school, but instead he gets left alone in the city. This is also the least creepy that Glen has seemed and even though he suggested to his tormentors at school that he was going to the city to sleep with Sally (Kiernan Shipka) it was a relief when he said that he sees her as a sister type.

mad menThis is a big episode in terms of the continuing growing up of Sally Draper as she gets her first period while out with Glen. In this moment she panics and flees to her mother and while Sally has been professing her hatred of Betty all season, this is the one place she thinks to go in the moment. We also see Betty getting to be a good mother in this moment, though as it is Betty she has to sour it slightly by being less than subtle with her dig at Megan (Jessica Paré). Despite this, it did remind me why I have liked Betty in the past. This moment of womanhood also explain Sally’s ‘fresh’ behavior, though these brat like tendencies have been present all season.

Other Observations

-While Ken (Aaron Staton) doesn’t want to be a partner he also doesn’t want Pete anywhere near his father-in-law’s big business. Ken doesn’t seem all that competitive; is this just so Pete doesn’t infect this relationship with his weasel-like manner?

-Pete is getting high praise outside of SCDP, much to the annoyance of everyone. Can Pete redeem himself after his role in the Joan (Christina Hendricks) business? Now that Lane is dead does this mean that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will become Sterling Cooper Draper Campbell?

-Joan has slipped nicely into her role of partner, with Scarlett taking her position as note taker (and refreshment getter) at the partners meetings. Don still references the voting incident from last week though, revealing a lingering resentment for what occurred to get that account. Joan is understandably emotional about Lane’s suicide, especially as their last conversation started warm and ended with Lane insulting her by suggesting that on holiday Joan would be ‘bouncing around in an obscene bikini.”

-There was no mention of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) this week, though none of the creative team aside from Don featured either.

-Despite being annoyed with being lumbered with Sally, Megan acts like a good wife and step-mother by taking Sally out, even if Megan’s friend brings up inappropriate topics (like do the collars and cuffs match?). Megan also welcomes Glen Bishop instead of sending him out into the street; what would Betty make of all of this?

-Currently Megan is the only one that knows about Lane and the check, with Cooper (Robert Morse) knowing a limited amount; will Don keep Lane’s secret?

-Lane mentions to Don that $7500 doesn’t mean anything to Don and this harks back to when Betty told Don that he ‘doesn’t understand money.’ Even though Don has all the money now to loan out he still doesn’t get the values and pride that comes attached to these kind of financial transactions.

-The moment where Lane tries to fix his Jaguar with just half of his glasses is such a tragic image that shows how broken he is.

Last week’s episode produced some of the best writing that I have seen about this show regarding whether Joan’s actions were honest to her character (here are James Poniewozik and Emily Nussbaum’s take on the matter) and it looks like this episode will produce some fierce debate about Lane and his actions. Lane has been a problematic character this season in terms of how his story has fit into the whole; the season premiere had him fantasying over a women whose photo he found in another man’s wallet, he had the big punch up with Pete and then didn’t really appear again until his tax problem. Like Joan agreeing to prostitute herself for the company did we get to Lane’s suicide too quick? Or is this something that has been simmering all season? In terms of a suicide on the show then yes it feels like a season long theme, but I’m still not entirely sure about Lane being the one to do it (I figured it might be Jane, my boyfriend was opting for Megan).

Even though it still doesn’t sit completely right, this doesn’t mean that Jared Harris doesn’t sell the desperation and sadness that Lane was obviously feeling; from the moment where Don caught him in the lie to his final scene. This was a knockout performance and even though there was meant to be some macabre humor in his failed attempt with the Jaguar it was hard to muster even the wryest of smiles because of how broken Lane looked. Harris was a great addition to the cast in season 3 and it will be sad to see him go in this permanent manner.

This suicide is going to change the dynamic of the company and these characters and once again I can’t predict where next week’s finale will take us. This was another excellent episode and this season has been strong, even if some of the characters actions have been problematic and there has been a overt ‘theme of the week’ feeling.

What did you think? Did Lane’s actions seem true to his character? Where does this leave the firm now? Any predictions for the finale? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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