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Mad Men Recap: “Commissions and Fees” (Season 5, Episode 12)

Posted By Julia Rhodes On June 5, 2012 @ 3:01 pm In Movies & TV,Television | 2 Comments

Well. Did you see that coming? I suppose I did, but it was still a stunner of an episode.

A few weeks ago when Lane forged a check to himself, I wrote [1], “We’ve seen some of our other characters hit rock bottom, but this is Lane Pryce’s miserable rock bottom. Pete and Lane are both phenomenally unhappy, struggling with desires they can’t quite reach – and Lane only continues to dig himself into a thorny pit of lies with everyone around him.”

Tell ‘em, Lane. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

Pete, that total slime, is actually benefiting from everyone else’s misery and getting off on his own grim, ugly advancement. Lane, on the other hand? It’s his tragic story we get in “Fees and Commissions.”

The episode opens on a happy note: Lane has finally been recognized! Though not by the partners of SCDP. He’s asked to be the head of the fiscal control committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. This is a great honor, in response to which Lane humbly murmurs, “I wouldn’t expect any miracles,” with his tiny, tight smile. Shortly thereafter he attends a partners’ meeting (tense as ever, especially with Joan’s dubiously earned partnership the looming elephant in the room) in which he’s the only one who understands the meaning of Jaguar’s request for a fee instead of a commission. This discussion, though, leads Bert Cooper to look through SCDP’s recent finances (why is Bert Cooper doing the snooping, anyway?). Of course he discovers the check Lane wrote to himself, and reprimands Don immediately: “You can’t be the good little boy while the adults run this business!” Don accepts the slap on the wrist without a word, but then turns right around and approaches Lane. When Lane admits his wrong – in his very British way – Don has no choice but to let him resign. “I’ve started over a lot, Lane,” Don tells him. “This is the worst part.” If only the Brit knew the truth of that statement.

“I’ve started over a lot,” indeed. Photo credit AMC/Rob Jaffe.

Lane’s exit is really awful to watch – first he cries, though he struggles to hide it. Then he accepts his fate, but takes it along with, oh, four or five fingers of Canadian Mist in total. He tries to talk to Joan, who shuts him down completely after he lets on he imagines her in “some obscene bikini.” Finally, he goes home to Rebecca and their dark, stuffy apartment (you can very nearly smell the mothballs and sachet through the screen). She’s all dressed up and ready to go out, and leads stumbling, drunk Lane to the garage, where she reveals she’s written a check for a shiny new Jaguar.

He vomits. I probably would too.

Meanwhile, Don goes on the warpath after telling Lane gently he should take the weekend and figure out an exit strategy. He tells Roger to get him some damn meetings already, that he’s tried of this “piddly shit.” The two decide they’re going after Ken’s father-in-law (a reappearance of “Twin Peaks”‘s Ray Wise), the head of Dow Chemicals. Ken, ever faithful to his wife and his “real life,” subtly threatens Roger that he’d hate to mention his displeasure with this development to Cynthia. She would, of course, tell her father doing business with SCDP would be a conflict of interest. Roger, who can’t seem to stop bribing people this season, asks what Ken wants. “I don’t want to be a partner,” Ken says snidely. “I know what goes on.” Since he was in the meeting with Pete and Herb Rennet (I actually just made “ick” face when I thought about him, thanks Weiner), Ken knew from the beginning exactly the depths to which SCDP has stooped. Here he’s gently reminding Roger what he’s capable of; if the whole firm, or god forbid any clients, find out how Joan achieved her partnership, the tower would crumble before it’s even built. Ken does, finally, impose some restrictions: Pete isn’t to be involved in anything. Ever. (More and more I’m convinced Ken Cosgrove is the only decent man on the show.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Don’s too busy setting up meetings and firing employees to let Megan know Sally’s staying for the weekend. Betty calls Don to snark that “it’s your child bride” Sally wants to spend time with. To his credit, Don hardly responds to her childish crap any longer. Sally, fast becoming a teenager, knows exactly how to piss everyone off – and is testing the waters of rebellion. She calls Glen secretly from the Draper household and invites him to come visit while Don’s meeting with Dow and Megan’s at an audition.

Happy happy! Photo credit AMC/Rob Jaffe.

Sally readies herself by curling her lovely blond hair and donning the go-go boots Don vetoed from the American Cancer Society ball. Glen appears with his tiny fuzzy mustache. The two go to the museum and Glen lets on that he’s told his cohort he came into the city to “do it” with Sally. “Okay,” she says, “You can say whatever you want, but I don’t know if I like you that way.” Glen reveals he thinks of her like a little sister. Their interactions are so perfect – they skirt the issue without looking at each other because neither of them really understand what “going steady” and “doing it” mean, but they’re pretending so hard to be adults. When Sally rushes off with a stomachache, Glen is clueless, but the ladies in the audience know exactly what’s up down there.

She’s a woman now, of course. (I’ve never understood this euphemism, and it’s kind of infuriating.) A woman who promptly jumps in a taxi headed back to her mother – the real one. In a rare moment of good parenting, Betty explains to her what’s going on and cuddles with her calmly. Of course, then the ice queen calls Megan to gloat with a tiny, grim smile that Sally “just needed her mother.”

Elsewhere in Midtown, Lane climbs out of bed in the middle of the night, stuffs the Jaguar’s exhaust pipes, and neatly, meticulously sets up his suicide. For all his precautions and compulsive details (these explain his character perhaps better than anything else has this season), the Jaguar – SCDP’s saving grace and Lane’s ultimate downfall – won’t start. Having failed at life, and then at death, he goes to the office, types a boilerplate resignation letter (a final insult to the partners), and hangs himself.

RIP. Photo credit AMC/Ron Jaffe.

When someone close to you commits suicide, all you’re left with is the throbbing, stinging inner regret: what could you have done differently? Don takes it the hardest, of course – he doled out the (kind, really) punishment that made Lane take the final step. Joan also seems deeply affected; their kiss earlier this season and his lewdness toward her in this episode made their recent relationship complex.

Equating Sally’s physical coming-of-age (and evidence of her totally normal emotional immaturity) with Lane’s sudden, self-imposed death is an interesting move on the part of the writers. Sally can’t handle all the things getting her period means, and Lane couldn’t handle what he felt as total emasculation – his failure to provide for his family, the blow to his pride. One character transitions into another stage of life, another shuffles off the mortal coil. It’s a slap in the face.

When Don goes home, Megan’s babysitting Glen, who was totally bewildered when Sally left him in the museum. Don, who by this point really needs to get his mind off things, takes Glen home – and in the process, gives the boy a driving lesson. After a truly awful day, their amiable silence and Don’s ability to make someone happy keep the episode an inch or so away from being a total downer.

What did you think? Were you surprised? How do you feel? And what do you think next week’s finale has in store for us?


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