Mad Men, 5.12 “Commissions and Fees”
“Commissions and Fees,” the penultimate episode of a deceptively placid season, begins with Don in a barber’s chair. Another ad man (mad man?) walks in and congratulates him on winning the Jaguar account. He says, “that’s a big win for your little agency.” These little characters hardly know that their small talk quickly becomes the focus of the show. In this episode, we see Don get hungry, Lane run out of steam, and Sally cross the avenue.
In a season that suggests we all have a price printed on our forehead, it’s impossible to exclude the bookkeeper. A few weeks back, Lane embezzled funds from SCDP in order to pay backed taxes to Her majesty. The entire season hasn’t been kind to him. He is clearly unstable romantically, making passes at Joan and having a bizarre interaction with the woman on the photograph. After last week’s charade, there has been some backlash in the critical community about characters acting out of character — most of it centered around the disbelief that everyone has a price (or at least having a price so quickly). It is interesting, then, to be given Lane, a man who is less concerned with money than with honor.
After Don discovers the embezzlement, he offers to let Lane write his own resignation. Some have construed Don’s response as uncharacteristically principled. Really, the offer is incredibly kind. The company bookkeeper embezzled money from his own books and forged a partner’s signature. He had to be fired. He couldn’t be trusted. There is no way that Don could have known where the events would lead. Don has found finesse in starting over — it’s an art. To Lane, it’s unthinkable. It’s shame. He could care less about the money. It’s about honor.As a result, Lane commits a type of harakiri. Hanging himself from a rope in the middle of the night. In a cruel cruel joke, this all happens after failing to commit suicide in his new Jaguar. I was questioning the process until the heartbreaking moment when Lane snaps his glasses in half. That was proof enough that he was really ready to go. He knew that he just didn’t need them anymore and that he hated them his whole life.
Some may be disturbed by the scene where he is discovered, but it was treated with ease and concern for character. Pete, Ken, and Harry’s reactions are all revealing — not to mention Don, who frantically helps to cut him down, hugging his body to hold him up while Pete cuts the rope.
Lane’s suicide neatly (and more than a little strangely) coiled around to meet the beginning of another cycle. Sally has been walking the line of womanhood all season long. We are given the climax of that character’s arc in “Commissions and Fees”. Yet again, she is entranced by the romantic glow of adulthood while out with Megan. Did she not learn anything at the Codfish Ball? (That said, there was a beautiful moment when Sally orders coffee so as to appear grown up — dumping a long stream of sugar into it.) She reacts by enticing our real favorite Weiner, Glen Bishop (played by Matt Weiner’s son), to meet her for a day on the town.
Wearing the boots and makeup that her father denied before the Ball, she takes Glen to the natural history museum. As they stand looking at diorama’s, all of families of animals, we are reminded that they both come from broken homes. It’s not unexpected, then, that they softly share their problems, sort of. Glen speaks about being bullied and reveals how he lied about “doing it” with Sally. Sally doesn’t care, of course. All of these words are still dreams to her — vague images that will transform her into Megan. Alas, and very conveniently for Weiner&co, Sally runs away to the bathroom, discovering that she had gotten her first period. She runs away to her mom, which was an incredibly earnest end to that story as well as Betty’s. Betty has had a truncated role this season, but there is clear anxiety over her role in Sally’s life, competing with Megan’s trappings. Their unity over a simple matter of biological necessity seems right. They are brought together by the natural force that allows motherhood. We all understand the relevance of mothers in this show and last night’s “Sally Plot” was particularly well-crafted to subtly (as subtle as Mad Men can be) touch on some less-articulated motifs.
Finally, we come back to Don who, after going to the barber, is so hungry for business. Complacency is his worst enemy and he cannot understand the concept of settling. It can’t be unusual for us to see his impulsivity. “What is happiness? It’s the moment before you need more happiness.” Well said, Don. I think you just found your own mantra.
His obsession for freshness and passion is balanced by the final image of the show — allowing Glen to drive himself back to school and appreciate the simplest moments of happiness. While Mad Men has, to some, become too “obvious” or “packaged” this season, this final scene resonates as the kind of oblique, but earnest storytelling that made the show popular. The episode dealt with death, life cycles, happiness, and need. The writers seem to be reminding us that the moments of true happiness are simple joys rooted in the freshness of childhood. In that way, are they also affirming Don’s impulsivity? He asks Glen, “if you could do anything right now, what would it be?” Either way, they are allowed to be in a moment where happiness isn’t a moment before you need more — it’s a moment where you can forget.
- I predicted that we would not see Peggy this week. Will we see her next week or will they make us hang on for our dear lives?
- “Do you want something to eat?” “If you don’t mind”
- “You’ll tell them the next thing will be better. Because it always is.”
- The green car recalls Joan’s robe and some other potent uses of green this season.
- Don couldn’t stop looking at Lane’s corpse. This is not the first person close to Don who has hung himself. Recall Adam.