TV Recap: Mad Men “Commissions and Fees”

Very well then, Last Things first: I’ve previously stated my non-participation in the Mad Men suicide sweepstakes and am happy to have been proved almost half right. Pete Campbell is still with us, but his proud, fragile doppelganger and sparring partner has joined the choir invisible. What Pryce would we pay?

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

Lane Pryce’s last pleasant memory on Earth is a breakfast with a representative of a trade group called “Four A’s” (American Association of Advertising Agencies?) who invites him to join their “fiscal control committee” – Lane’s expressive ears perk up at this opportunity to tap another pool of money that might deliver him from the consequences of embezzlement and forgery.

Freelance squatters begone! Our patience is hazarded for an airing of the advantages of commissions versus fees; Lane explains with confident hand gestures that suggest it might have some bearing on his ability to siphon cash, but I’m jiggered if I can figure out how. I’ll go with Don: “If the client asked for it, that’s not good.” (The deeper we get into the season, the more we’re sensitive to fleeting nonverbals like Joan’s downcast gaze when Don alludes to her degrading bargain last episode. Ponder also her response when Pete cracks a tiny joke – she’s got even more reason to loathe him than the rest of the assembled, so for whose benefit is this amiable chuckle?)

Through the infinite mercy of Matt Weiner (and the episode’s writers, Aldo and Magnolia Jambutton*), the forged and canceled check arrives at the office in an envelope that Bert Cooper mistakes for his subscription copy of National Review,* and because Don’s signature is on it, he takes it straight to him. Bert’s Randite hauteur interprets it as proof of ill-advised charity toward Lane, and he sneers “you can’t keep being the good little boy.” (Last week Joan called Don “one of the good ones” – this time we’re wondering how good he really is. What behavior would we forgive?)

When Don confronts him, Lane flails for only a moment before coming clean with his thefts and his grievances. I think he expects that Don will let him off the hook and is surprised when Don demands his resignation. Lane says that he chose to forge Don’s signature because he’s the softest touch among the partners – unknowingly hitting the bruise left by Bert’s earlier taunt. Don makes the mistake of thinking Lane is, somewhere deep down, a bit like him and will be able to rebuild his life. But Lane’s dizziness doesn’t spell relief – it’s vertigo. (Or Vertigo, if you’d rather cling to design-homage–based conspiracy theories.) He is not Don Draper, nor was meant to be.

Lane drinks the rest of the day away, and I only realized that his McFate was sealed when he was posed staring out the window at the falling snow –

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

with a tiny statuette of Liberty to show, I suppose, how much his remaining freedom has shrunk: which way to do it? He cannot return – in disgrace – to a country that is not even capable of manufacturing a luxury car upon which one could rely to kill oneself painlessly. And raise your hand if you thought Lane was typing a full confession in his office – well, why would he? He was banking on Don keeping quiet, so that Lane’s family and the rest of his colleagues would remain unaware of his crimes.

Don’s other story this week recalls his self-reinvention from the ashes of Whoreson J. Hardscrabble, whose heart still beats beneath his pack of Lucky Strikes and who is summoned not only by Bert’s senile condescension but also in a barbershop drive-by at the top of the hour. Don’s haircut is attended by Jed Covington, an rival adman who takes a moment in his busy day to burst Don’s post-Jaguar balloon: “a big win for your little agency” has Don seeing a tombstone with Why I’m Quitting Tobacco as his epitaph. Stung by repeated accusations of niceness, he braces Roger for an attack on the only living source of this emasculation: Ed Baxter of Dow Chemical.

And only Roger can get them back to the table with the tyrannosaurs – he and Don really are a terrific team (which is why their estrangement back in the second and third seasons was so upsetting for empathetic viewers). In their meeting with Baxter and his hatchet-faced associates,

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

Don projects his reawakened urge to dominate onto Dow’s complacency – “50% market share in almost everything” is probably a successful formula, but Don puffs himself up big and roars: “what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” The show often gives Don a little “tell” when he’s bluffing or improvising at a presentation, so we know his slick paean to napalm & apple pie was prepared in advance, which just makes it all the more cold-blooded. Never mind getting your first car – he wants to be Godzilla.

And to kill Archie Whitman, it goes without saying – to finally become a man (or a hobo). This is almost too symmetrical a match with the third thread of this episode: Sally Draper gets her ticket punched for Motherhood. This story starts slowly, amid the general carnage, with a boilerplate scene in which Betty makes no effort whatsoever to elevate our opinion of her, Bobby is the only character who’s content to stay a kid for a while longer, and Sally is packed off for the weekend to Manhattan. Don forgets (what with this and that) to alert Megan, which keeps her wrong-footed for the rest of the show. Circumstances pile up – Megan has an audition, Don has his meeting with Dow, Sally is old enough to be on her own for a morning – leading to the return of Glen Bishop in the role of Holden Caulfield, complete with a visit to the Natural History Museum. Contemplating a diorama of bison in the snow, Glen smirks at his own jokes (“Teddy Roosevelt killed them all”) but is now mature enough to talk honestly with Sally about bullying at his school and to admit telling the other boys that he was going to the city to make out with his girlfriend. “I’m not sure that’s the way I like you” is a huge relief to Glen, but further confidences are cut short when Sally has to motor to the Ladies’ room.

Bleeding in a taxicab, Sally flees all the way home to Rye, giving Betty a chance to get over the lowest possible parenting bar known to our species – she clears it with centimeters to spare, managing not to terrify Sally any further. (Sally’s first story in The New Yorker [q.v. by all means] will probably be based on this incident.) Meanwhile, Glen has to wait for an evening train back to school and doesn’t know where else to go but back to the Drapers. (I’ll save you all the six seconds and tell you that “783 Park Ave.” is a fake-out; the building numbers actually jump from 775 on the southeast corner of 73rd St. to 785 on the northeast.) I will be the first to admit (and you will be the second) that I feared Glen would flirt with Megan while they were alone, but he’s past all that now:

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

Don lets Glen pilot his Jaguar MLC and we’re outro. The Lovin’ Spoonful plays in Glen’s head, I guess, not on the radio; that song was not any kind of Top 40 hit.

Someone had to find Lane’s swinging corpse, and it looks like Joan’s drawn the short straw, but she’s spared the full sight because he’s blocking the door – she’s sufficiently horrified just to see the reactions of Pete and Harry and Kenny when they peer over the transom. Roger and Don get the news when they return from their Dow meeting – Roger is concerned mostly about Joan, but Don’s inner farm boy is outraged when he finds that they’re just waiting for the coroner to “cut him down and take him away.” He’s going to put that tractor out of its misery if it harelips the Governor, leading to a scene that no doubt left many viewers waving bye-bye from the boat.

Upon consideration, the court will allow it. Mad Men is worthy of our affection because it deals with the timeless, universal stuff, not just history text chapter headings; decent people may disagree about whether the show has strayed into sensationalism, but it’s never flinched from extremes of human experience. Lane’s cratered, gray face is not much different than it was in life, when it was rarely happy – hindsight tells us they hanged the right man. Unlike last week’s episode, I wouldn’t offer this one to a newbie and expect them to get on board – it’s most salient attribute is atypical of the show – but I found I rated it a bit higher after a second viewing, which isn’t always the case. Mad Men is certainly having a vigorous middle age and I have high hopes for the Season 5 graduation next week.

* Not really.

Mad Men, Episode 5:12 “Commissions and Fees”: A


Allan Ferguson was born recently near Disneyland and has lived up and down the great state of California for all the years since. He is currently in La Mesa near San Diego where he practices graphic design and recreational atheism. He can be reached evenings and weekends at fergusonarf@yahoo.com and apparently on the YouTube, somehow or other.