Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mad Men: Commissions and Fees (5.12)

It had been clear for a while that the other shoe was going to drop. There's been a sense of doom lingering all over the show this season, from Pete's depression to Lane's fraud to Don's new marriage to Joan's indecent proposal. Even if everybody is acting so content on the surface, beneath it all lies so much hurt and pain. So it was no surprise that somebody finally snapped. Commissions and Fees sign-posted its ending from the very start, but remained a traumatic and gut-wrenching experience. This was death that was raw and ugly. It was the final result of a spiral of desperation, a character surrounded by folks in denial, and one last act of almost passive-aggression that can't help but leave a bitter taste in your mouth. But lord was it affecting.

I liked Lane a lot, even if his actions with Joan cooled my feelings a little last week. He was always a man driven in the instant, not somebody who plans ahead and methodically calculates his existence. It's why he wound up in so much financial trouble, as well as why he took money from the company, and why he would end his life in the most public manner possible. This was a man who wanted to hurt others during his exit, or at least that's what I took from the episode. Like most stories on this show, the pain eventually trickled round to Don, and he's left with that lingering guilt over his own actions, actions that were entirely justified. This was the very worst type of suicide, in which you're driven to killing yourself not only to alleviate your own pain, but in order to spite somebody else.

Of course, this is another example of surface upset versus inner trauma. Lane wanted to hurt Don because of his actions during the previous day, but was completely in the dark about Don's personal identification with suicide itself. It instantly brings back memories of his brother's suicide back in season one, which is why I loved his compassion towards Lane's body. Just the thought of somebody still hanging there long after they'd been found is horrible enough, but Don's decision to cut him down and grant him some dignity in death was particularly moving. Gosh. Lane screamed at Don earlier in the episode that he had no idea how "the rest of us live", but God does Don know pain. He may have access to money and lives in a fantastical apartment, but nobody knows hurt quite like Don.

Away from the misery, I adored Sally's subplot this week. There's always been this creepy undercurrent to Glen, and I was relieved that the show has begun writing him as a sort-of clueless teenager who genuinely likes her. The story unfolded so well, with Sally getting all dressed up for him, only for the date itself to be a little underwhelming, followed by Sally's period, which spoiled the whole thing.

But it actually morphed into a real game-changer for Sally and her mother. It was the first time we've seen Betty be compassionate in a long time, and she showed genuine tenderness towards her daughter. I also loved the message that, even while she's constantly saying how terrible she is, Sally does need her mother, and there's nothing quite like a parent when you need unconditional support. Again, surface versus the underneath. Here are two people who outwardly can't seem to stand each other, but always have each other's backs in the end. I may be wrong, but it felt like this was the last time we'll seen them this year, and it was a strong way to close their season five story.

If there's one thing that prevented this episode from being another classic, it was that returning sense of transparency to some of the storytelling. Mad Men has always been a show in which symbolism and pretension are constantly fighting each other, and unfortunately Commissions and Fees sometimes fell too heavy on the latter. Like the lingering shot of the pouring sugar, or the clumsy metaphor of Lane potentially killing himself in the Jaguar. I also felt like that last elevator scene between Don and Glen featured dialogue that could have so easily been implied, not explicitly stated. Metaphor is a dangerous knife-edge at the best of times, and the on-the-nose quality of some of this week sort of dented my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

But, again, the show lingers in the memory long after the credits roll. Jared Harris was insanely powerful here, and in that initial scene with Don expressed so much resentment and desperation. He was effectively exploding from the inside out, and conveyed all that pent-up pain as well as the sorrow he felt. I wrote earlier this season that Lane was something of a stranger in a strange land, and the statement still rings true. He's exhibited those fish-out-of-water tendencies all the way through his tenure on the show, and it made sense that he'd be so quick to end it all. He was the classic archetype of stiff Britishness -- mask the pain, keep your head down. Only it all spiraled into inevitable tragedy. A-


- 'Hemisphere Club' is the sexiest bar name in the world.

- The blackest of comedy: The car won't start, and he has to use his just-broken glasses to try and repair it. He even drops his keys as he opens the door of the office that he hangs himself in. Poor Lane.

- I really loved how innocent Sally and Glen were. Right down to that great moment where she asked him what he thought of her dad's apartment, and instead of complimenting it Glen casually mentions that he has a friend who lives in an even bigger place. Aww. They're just kids, you know?

- She's still so awful, but I loved Betty's abject glee in getting one over on Megan. That phone-call at the end was full of passive-aggression and casual sniping. Don't ever change, Bets.

- Great shot of Lane leaving Don's office. It felt unusually specific at the time and, soon after, you click things together and realize that that would be the very last time Don would see him alive.

- Christina Hendricks is always spectacular, but her face after she realized what had happened to Lane was absolutely heartbreaking. She just completely broke. The whole scene was chilling, especially having to look over the top of the office to spy inside.

- I really hope Elisabeth Moss' absence didn't mean something. I don't think I could handle it if she's reduced to January Jones-level screentime. And I'm not sure if the show could survive through that, either.

- Joan herself seems perfectly happy in her new position, but there's still that atmosphere about it, like Ken's comment, or Don's look of concern. Denial? What will soon inspire a crushing fall?

- I haven't discussed the power play subplot, but I loved seeing Don on fire again, and found Ken's demands both ingratiating and pretty hilarious.


Don: Take the weekend. Think of an elegant exit.

Roger: She's a twenty-five year-old coat-check girl from Long Island. Or Rhode Island. She'd never had room service before. It's too easy.

Roger: What would it take for you to do nothing? Some kind of partnership? Assuming it works out?
Ken: No, I don't want to be a partner. I've seen what's involved.

Writers Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton Director Christopher Manley

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