Sunday, June 3, 2012


Mad Men, Season Five, Episode Twelve, "Commissions and Fees"

Another terribly sad episode tonight. There have been several references to suicide during this season, including "Lady Lazarus" and Pete's mention of his life insurance policy clause in the midst of his seeming depression; while I'm not surprised about Lane, it was disturbing to watch his demise unfold. Lane Pryce was a character who almost always did what he was supposed to do. He endured life under his father's boot (literally, in one episode last season), left England for America when the old firm demanded, put up much of his own money when invited to form SCDP, gave up his American lover and rejoined his unhappy marriage at his father's demand, paid his taxes to England, and tonight wrote a resignation letter when told by Don to resign--then promptly did what he apparently saw to be the honorable action when he'd been exposed for acting dishonorably. Dutifully donning the mantle of traditional husband and father, he saw to the finances and never confided in his wife about their money problems. Their lack of parity and communication led her to be so deceived as to believe he was flush in both cash and success so that she decided to celebrate by purchasing him a Jaguar, both symbol of his firm moving up in the world and the reason why his Christmas bonus plan to cover his taxes didn't fly. In a bitter bit of ironic, black humor, this Jaguar won't start when he has rigged it with rubber tubing in the exhaust pipe. His second passive/agressive, symbolic choice of location is in his office--behind the door, where so much underhanded and unethical happenings occur in the firm.

But, this show is strewn with men who were treated cruelly by their fathers (Don and, to a lesser extent, Pete) or mistreated by others in different settings when young. After Glenn reveals to Sally that he is being bullied by older students at school, she tells him, "Henry got picked on when he was little. Now he runs the city." We don't know of any abuses that Roger endured, but both he and Don survived the hell of war. Almost all of them are scarred in one way or another. But, while Lane turns all of that into duty and onto himself, others turn it outward. Tonight we saw Don do that with relish. He decides, after his encounter with Lane, that he needs to take a new direction. Does this come from seeing Lane beg and deciding he needs to be more agressive with the businesses that looked down on him for the letter? From reminding himself--along with Lane--that he'd already "started over a lot" and needed to do so again? I don't know, but he heads into Roger's office, pours himself a drink, and announces, "I don't like what we're doing. . . I'm tired of this piddly shit." He's not happy with Jaguar; he wants Chevy. And he's no longer going to put up with any fallout from the letter. He demands that Roger get him a meeting with Ed Baxter of Dow Chemical and is even willing to fire Ken Cosgrove if Ken gets in the way of them acquiring his father-in-law's business. In a most un-Lane-like way, Don assertively argues the reasons Dow should dump its current ad firm to give its business to his, demonstrating his understanding of what advertising is all about: success and happiness ("even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary; you get hungry even thought you've just eaten"; and "What is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness.") He even offers a slogan to sell the Dow product that young people are protesting outside the offices--Napalm: "When our boys are fighting and they need it, when America needs it, Dow makes it"--masking a don't-give-a-shit-about-the-effects profiteering attitude as Lane Pryce-type devotion to duty. Whatever happens to him, I can't imagine Don Draper ever committing suicide. But, when his partner does, he is the one person who insists, "You can't leave him [hanging there] like that" and goes--with Pete and Roger--into his office, faces the horribly distorted face of the corpse, removes it from the door, and gently lies Lane's body on the couch.

The only positive counter to all of this is Sally's and Betty's interactions after Sally has her first period. I don't know how many times Sally has professed her hatred for her mother this season, but when she feels embarrassed about beginning to mentstruate while at the museum with Glenn, it is to her mother she runs (or takes a cab, running up a $25 fare for Henry to pay). It was touching to see her throw herself into her mother's arms, and Betty--for all of her horrible parenting skills at most times--handles this so well. Like Lane, Betty is someone who has lived her life the way others expect, but here she doesn't push that on to her daughter. Lying on the bed with Sally, she tells her, "There's a lot of responsibilities, but that's what being a woman is." But, she doesn't--as would be common in 1967--tell her that marriage and children are definitely her future. Instead, she tells Sally, "It means everything is ready for a baby when you want one." When YOU want one (not IF--but, again, it is 1967). Sally has choices in Betty's eyes. That's a big step forward. Glen too. When Don gets into the elevator with his former neighbor's son, he listens to a statement that could have come from Lane, who is weighing so heavily on Don's mind: "Why does everything turn out crappy? Everything you want to do, everything you think is going to make you happy turns to crap." "You're too young to talk that way," Don responds, but then asks him what he would do if he could do anything--he wonders what Glen would CHOOSE. Interestingly, instead of responding with some large life/career choice, Glen goes for what would make him happy in the moment: he drives Don's car. The young people are driving forward. We can hope. That's what this otherwise too sad episode has to offer to stave off despair.

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