Mad Men: The Pryce of "Commissions and Fees"
Where to start with last night's Mad Men?
Since we assume you watched too, instead of a straight recap we're discussing the parts of "Commissions and Fees" we found most interesting. Be sure to join in in the comments!
Where the buck stops
What can you say about Lane Pryce's death?
That it was foreshadowed (everything about his character this season has been tinged with tragedy, starting with that weird wallet situation in the season premiere; even Lane's one true moment of triumph this season—his KO of Pete Campbell—seemed freighted with extra meaning). That it was inevitable (as soon as he forged Don Draper's name on that fateful check, you knew it would come back to bite him). And, of course, that it was heartbreaking.
And that it was Don Draper's fault, maybe? There's probably a decent argument to be made that Lane's own sense of duty and rightness, along with his guilty conscience and perpetual sense of being undervalued by his colleagues—recall that the tax debt that started this whole downward spiral was caused by his liquidation of assets to fund the company after they lost the Lucky Strike account—would have done him in somewhere down the line. But there's no question that Don is feeling the burden of responsibility for the man on the business end of the noose; when the partners cut Lane down from his door, it's Don who literally struggles under the weight of Lane's lifeless, livid body, staggering with it to the office couch.
We've known that Don's no stranger to this burden since season one, when his half-brother, the broken, lost Adam Whitman, reappeared in his life. Don feared having his non-Draper past exposed in the present and made sure Adam knew he was unwelcome; this ended with Adam hanging himself, and Don pushing down his regret and self-blame—in his world, Adam didn't, couldn't exist, after all. With Lane, Don can't compartmentalize quite so neatly. It may be that no one at SCDP (well, SCD now) will ever know that it was Don who requested the boilerplate resignation that served as Lane's suicide note, given how this show brushes away its many loose ends. But, unlike Adam, Lane will remain a presence in those white halls, and it will be interesting to see how Don wrestles with his own guilt and sense of responsibility. The end of the episode, where Don can't face another person's hopelessly bleak outlook (Glen: "Everything you think's going to make you happy just turns to crap.") is a rare case of him wanting to use his own perceived failings to better someone else's life—though clearly, he doesn't know the perpetually maudlin Glen at all. But, more likely is that we'll see more vintage Don Draper, channeling his secrets into angry, confrontational challenges—or, as he calls them, "pitches"—of the kind he lobbed this episode at Dow Corning. The furtive, guilty Don Draper, as we know, is the most successful Don Draper, but what that will mean for everybody else is still unclear.
Are you there, Betty? It's me, Sally.
Responsibility and passing the buck show up as themes elsewhere in this episode, as Betty palms off her ingrate daughter on Don and his "child bride" for a long weekend so that she and Henry can wear the hell out of some bulky Nordic ski sweaters and rented boots. But Don forgets to fill Megan in on the plan, so when Sally shows up at the Park Avenue crib Megan's majorly pissed at Don for assuming she has nothing better to do than babysit.
She's pissed largely because she does have a sense of responsibility, one that (unlike Betty's) gets in the way of pretending Sally doesn't exist, and so Megan totes Sally along to the movies and coffee, offering her a thrilling bit of access to Grownup-land. But when Sally, granted a day of hooky by Don and Megan's conflicting work and audition schedules, has her date with Glen interrupted by the arrival of her first period, it's Betty that she turns to, cabbing it home to Rye and into her mother's startled arms. And Megan, once again, is left with unintended responsibility, this time in the form of awkward Glen looming in her doorway and just as confused by Sally's disappearance. "I've already lost one kid today," she tells him firmly, refusing to let him loiter around Grand Central until his train back to boarding school arrives. And, as for Betty, it turns out that this bit of responsibility is one that, after her initial surprise, she seems well suited to, hooking Sally up with a hot-water bottle and some snuggles in a scene that gives Mad Men's most-hated woman some (almost) lovable humanity.
As Pete so thoughtfully exposited earlier in the season, SCD's life-insurance policy covers suicide, so can we expect to see more of the grieving Mrs. Pryce? And can we expect Joanie to take on Lane's job and get her name on the agency door? Sterling Cooper Draper Harris has a nice ring to it—but I'm sure she'll request a different office.
For the umpteenth episode this season, Ken Cosgrove is the most likable schemer at the agency, and his tete-a-tete with Roger Sterling about the potential Dow Corning account was an awesome little set piece. Ken doesn't want to be a partner—"I've seen what's involved"—but his insistence that Pete Campbell not be allowed anywhere near the account should Don happen to close the deal is confirmation that nice, agreeable Ken is just as fed up with Smarmy McBitchface as the rest of us. Plus, Roger's back in pre-psychedelic form (Don: "What happened to your enlightenment?" Roger: "I don't know. Wore off."), which can only mean sharky, snarky goodness for next week's season finale.
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU, PETE CAMPBELL!
Ahem. This week's episode plodded along; very little happened on-screen, but a lot of danger lurked behind all the not-happenings. Who wasn't worried about extremely poorly supervised Sally this episode, especially when Glen mentioned his Hotchkiss bragging about all the doing-it he was soon to be having? Don, with much lower stakes, faced a do-or-die moment with Ed Baxter and Dow Corning Inc., a moment following his tension-filled confrontation with Lane (following a season of dissatisfaction and a lack of purpose) in which we didn't know if he'd fail or succeed. And Lane, who was so obviously the sacrificial lamb (for all of us bloodthirsty Mad Men watchers who heard tell of a death this season) that his suicide almost seemed like a fake out. Throughout it all, blood—both mention and sight of it—was everywhere.
Let's kick it off with Don. Our antihero, who seemingly developed a moral compass as he talked to Lane (or, possibly, when he talked to Joan last week), has been struggling at work for episodes. He's been uninspired and desperate, to the point of sabotage, in addition to feeling dismayed by the actions of his fellow partners. When given the opportunity and encouragement from Roger, Don enters a meeting with Dow Corning and holds back exactly zero punches. He attacks in his classic Draper manner, simultaneously insulting and tempting the client. In an era where Peggy was chastised for criticizing a client's choices, Don tells Ed Baxter & friends what it is they want, despite protestations, and walks out. Roger suggests drinks, asking that Don first wipe the blood from his mouth. Don's thirst for an opportunity to be challenged and exert independence and control may have forged a new business relationship for SCD..., or it may not.
Meanwhile Sally, manipulative young thing that she is, successfully annoys her way out of a skiing trip with the Francis clan and into an unsupervised Draper apartment. From there, coffee is had, boys are invited over, evocative Codfish Ball go-go boots are worn, and jokes of how Sally should try getting served alcohol are made. Obviously signs of her burgeoning womanhood were present before her stained underwear. However, post-bathroom panic, Sally hops a cab back to the Francis mansion and into the arms of a hesitant but haughty Betty. Sally receives the typical speech about becoming a woman, but she also is reeled back into a relationship with Betty that she had run away from a mere 50 minutes earlier. In an episode that marked a developmental milestone for Sally and evoked so many instances of her maturing (both in the sense of aging and disillusionment), her blood sent her back into the role of a child in an incredibly controlled relationship.
And LANE! LANE! For as much buildup as there was to Lane's suicide, and for blood as there was in previous scenes, I expected things to get a bit messier. However, Lane's essentially bloodless death (two different attempts at such, in fact) refocused things on Don. Upon hearing why exactly the office was emptied out, Don immediately felt a sense of guilt from punishing possibly the only Mad Men character to ever face the consequences of his wrongdoings. If Don didn't already see the blood on his hands from having failed to saved Lane, in all senses, he certainly did once the resignation letter was found in our favorite Brit's office. Whether a symbol of Lane's urge to tie up all loose ends and behave properly or not, leaving it behind in the office where he killed himself seems like a clear message to Don about his role in Lane's undoing. However, since this episode is at least in part a set up for next week's finale, what is Don going to do? His bloodthirsty work mentality channeled a Don from years past, but what changes will we see now that we know how guilty he feels?
Interestingly enough, we the viewers see no sign of Peggy's leaving (left other than the fact that she didn't show up in the episode, but neither did most of the creative staff). It was practically like last week never happened. EXCEPT that Ken Cosgrove, in a moment that secured his place in my heart, denied Roger's offer of SCDP partner sighting his having saw how the sausage of Joan's partnership was made. I'm still hungry for some reactions from the rest of the office in terms of Peggy's departure, but in light of this week's events, I doubt we'll hear office gossip on anything but Lane's own farewell.
The Pursuit of Crappiness
Oh Lane. If only he hadn't been so proper and British! As Don said in their fateful final meeting, he himself has started over plenty of times and it's worked out (kind of). What he didn't consider, though, is that Lane Pryce is no Dick Whitman. While some people in the Mad Men universe are capable of hitting rock bottom and starting over (Don, Peggy) some aren't (Lane, Adam Whitman). The shame of asking for help and admitting that he's broke and jobless was too much for Lane, and besides—he started over once already, when said goodbye to Mother England and hung that Mets pennant in his office. The thought of doing it yet again was too much for the new Treasurer of the American Association of Advertising Agencies to take.
In an episode soaked in foreshadowing and, ultimately, grief, many characters still managed to define happiness for themselves. Not surprisingly, this turned out to be a major downer. "What is happiness?" Don asks and then answers his own question: "It's the moment before you need more happiness." If we've learned anything from this roller coaster of a season so far, it's that success and happiness don't mix.
For Don, he's either happy at home or successful at work, never both. Look at how his relationship with Megan has changed since she left the office. Instead of sharing everything with his wife (including workday nip slips), he's now jetting off to Hotchkiss with his creepy old neighbor just to avoid telling her what's going on. While their marriage slowly morphs into everything Don hated about being married to Betty (and vice versa), Don revs up his pitch engine and goes for the jugular at work. When he was happy, he didn't care about success. Now that he's miserable again, he's willing to get blood on his hands if it means putting his agency on the map.
For Sally, who sought happiness in the world of adulthood, "success" (or in this case, "becoming a woman") also comes at the expense of happiness. In a bizarrely Wes Andersonian turn (everything about Glen Bishop feels Rushmore-y to me, which in turn feels anachronistic even though I know it shouldn't because Wes Anderson is inspired by the period that Glen actually exists in), Sally's rendezvous with Glen starts as a foray into adulthood and ends with her running home to her mother. She wanted something, she got it, and then she found out that she was happier before. She really is a Draper after all.
Max Fischer, is that you?
Of course we can't talk happiness and success without mentioning our beloved Lane Pryce. In order for SCD(RI)P to succeed in the ad world, they had to sacrifice the happiness, and the life, of Lane. While Don could have forgiven Lane and let him pay back the money he embezzled (and we wanted him to!), it was clear that this new cutthroat Napalm-extolling agency needed a take-no-prisoners mission statement to go along with it. That meant sacking Lane, and, because Mad Men is an amazing show in part because its writers are willing to make "agonizing decisions" and Lane was too damned proud for his own good, it meant Lane had to kill himself too.
Farewell, Lane Pryce. We'll miss your proper British waistcoats, your love of drunk moviegoing, your wry observations, and your willingness to punch Pete Campbell in the face.
The song playing at the end of "Commissions and Fees" (while Glen drives Don's car in another Wes Anderson wet dream) was "Butchie's Tune" by the Lovin' Spoonful. In typical Mad Men fashion, the lyrics are heart-wrenchingly appropriate.
Please don't stick around to see when I'm feeling low
Don't pass the cards to me to deal the crushing blow
I'll even close the door so you won't see me go
When I'm leaving, gone today
I'm on my way
Notable Historical/Cultural References: Wild Wild West, Alfie, Blow Up, Fistful of Dollars
Inappropriate Office Behavior: We just can't.
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