Tuesday, 5 June 2012

MAD MEN, 5.12 – "Commissions and Fees"


Are you sick of hearing about how wonderful Mad Men is? I just love this show so much it's starting to hurt. "Commissions And Fees" was another sterling piece of beautifully-written drama, with a truly horrifying shock and fabulous character work in-between. It's just such a pleasure to watch a show where the writing, directing and acting are in harmony—although the downside is you realise how the majority of television just never comes close to this benchmark.

The major talking point of this episode will be the tragic demise of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), brought down from the high of SCDP having won the lucrative Jaguar account by Don (Jon Hamm) discovering he embezzled company money to pay personal debts, and forged his signature to do so. The scene where Don was forced to fire Lane was absolutely mortifying, because I don't think many people who wanted to see Lane get caught and pay the price for this moment of madness. Don's reprimand was understandable, and he gave Lane a weekend to concoct a nobler story to explain his "resignation", but it was nevertheless tough to see Lane's punishment exacted so quickly and mercilessly. Perhaps the cruelest moment was how Lane didn't heed Don's words about this being a "new door opening", as he's just not the type of person who finds it easy to start over (as Don himself has many times). It was also unfortunate that Lane's gentlemanly behaviour around Joan (Christina Hendricks) slipped during their last interaction, with a misjudged joke about her wearing an "obscene bikini", meaning those two characters left things on a very awkward moment.

The show demonstrated gallows humour in having Lane first suicide attempt (by asphyxiating himself with fumes from the Jaguar his wife treated him to), fail because of the notoriously unreliable sports car's engine. And that led to that shocking discovery from Joan after the weekend, unable to get into Lane's office because his hanged body was blocking the doorway. This isn't the first time Mad Men's dealt with death on the show, but they haven't killed a major character until now—and Lane's exit was both shocking and depressing. We really knew that character, and he didn't deserve this fate.

The reaction from the other characters was also spot-on; especially Don, knowing that Lane only took his life because of his unforgiving business decision. It was just a terrible, ugly, horrible mess. The sequence where Don, Roger (John Slattery) and Pete (Vincent Karthesier) took it upon themselves to cut Lane's hanged body down before the coroner arrived was, well, very unpleasant. I'll miss Lane, although it was perhaps a wise decision to have his character depart at this juncture, because one did get a feeling he was a holdover from season 2's "British invasion" storyline who was only kept around because, well, if you have Jared Harris as a cast member you want to keep him around for as long as possible.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, of course, but there was definitely an uneasy tone throughout the whole episode. Sally (Kiernan Shipka) was once again rebelling against Betty (January Jones), this time by refusing to accompany her on a family skiing trip, and opting to spend time with her dad and stepmother Megan. A decision that understandably upset her mother, who's still very jealous her daughter seems to prefer the company of the younger, slimmer Megan. But it was a nice subplot, eliciting some odd apprehension when Sally's creepy "boyfriend" Glen (Marten Holden Weiner) dropped in for a visit and took Sally to the Natural History museum.

It's been years since Glen did anything particularly unsettling, to be fair, yet his very presence still make be very anxious about Sally. (Maybe it was the bum-fluff moustache.) Unexpectedly, Glen was surprisingly honest about himself in her company (telling her about how he's bullied at school) and they mutually agreed they see each other more as siblings than potential lovers. And then, in their cards-on-the-table platonic moment, Sally biologically became a woman with her first period—an important moment in a girl's development that saw her run home to her mommy, to the obvious delight of Betty... who couldn't resist a pointed remark about that fact when calling Megan to tell her about Sally's whereabouts ("I just think she needed her mother"). And as much as it's easy to dislike Betty, I don't begrudge her feeling happy and proud that Sally chose her for once. I like seeing Betty and Sally get closer, so maybe they're headed for a breakthrough as mother/daughter.

The only other storyline of note was Don getting angry about the "piddling" affairs of SCDP, perhaps spurred on by the fact he had to fire a Lane over financial matters that wouldn't have arisen if the firm was at the top of its game. They may have won Jaguar, but he'd prefer the all-American Chevy. It's always great when Don gets passionate about something, and seeing him order Roger to get him a meeting with big fish Dow Chemical CEO Ed Baxter (Ray Wise) certainly made you sit up and take notice. Jon Hamm's a fantastic performer, and never more so than in these do-or-die moments. It was a delight to see his passionate, brusque meeting with Ed—with a speech about the circular nature of happiness and a promise to get Ed's company 100% of its market share. Will it work? I'm guessing it will. So does this mean the old Don Draper's back?

What a remarkable episode. A brilliant and shocking farewell for poor Lane, the "stranger in a strange land" who couldn't face the turmoil of a fresh start and professional embarrassment—no matter how kindly it was presented under the circumstances. Don's "elegant exit" for Lane instead turned horrific. The cruel thing is how SCDP appears to be on the up, but getting there has cost them two invaluable people (gifted copywriter Peggy, meticulous accountant Lane), and forced them to win a game-changing account by prostituting Joan the office sweetheart. This isn't the hard-working and righteous company Sterling-Cooper was many years ago. Will the sacrifices and ugly deals be worth it in the end? Can Don live with himself after what's happened with Joan and Lane? Will Joan step into Lane's shoes, giving her a role more befitting a partner in the firm? I can't wait to find out.

Asides

  • Ken (Aaron Staton) is still uneasy about working on the Dow Chemical account, if they get it, because Ed Baxter's his father-in-law, but he nevertheless saw an opportunity and made Roger promise that Pete won't get within sniffing distance of that account. Is Ken about to step up as a major rival for Pete?
  • Megan knows that Lane was fired for embezzling money. I don't think she'd tell anyone, but there's always the chance it could slip out for some reason.
  • Loved the final scene, with Don letting Glen drive himself home in his car. Lane's death will perhaps be a wake up call to him, as the season's spent time focusing on Don's sense of mortality now he's 40. He clearly couldn't abide a youngster like Glen talking to cynically about life, which is a precious gift. I wonder if Don will bounce back stronger than ever with Jaguar and Dow Chemical now.
  • How quickly does the company change its name to Sterling Cooper & Draper?
written by Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton / directed by Chris Manley / 5 June 2012 / Sky Atlantic
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