AMC’s Mad Men: Episode 512 “Commisions and Fees”

The other shoe finally dropped. That is the inevitable matter of Lane Pryce’s embezzlement came to the attention of one Donald Draper this week, and though the initial confrontation played out as one might expect, the conclusion was shocking. Bert Cooper, thinking Don was trying to assuage Lane’s constant griping about the bonus, brings the canceled check to his attention which leads Don to bring Lane in for proper questioning. The true tragedy of Lane’s transgression is that if pride didn’t get the better of him, and he simply went to Don to borrow the money that he didn’t even wind up stealing everything would have been fine. Through embezzlement and forgery however he has lost the trust of SCDP’s lead man and Don will have nothing other than his resignation and in fact thinks he is doing Lane a favor by giving him a clean new start, and the opportunity to resign without any black marks on his resume. Unfortunately, as is often the case when you get embedded in a nest  of deceit, Lane can’t come clean with his wife who has made matter even worse by purchasing a new Jaguar as a reward to her husband “who never treats himself”. Here is where the brilliance of Mad Men‘s writing comes in. The Jaguar is the perfect symbol for all of Lane’s problems. It is not only a literal symbol of the firm’s success with the client he failed with despite his best efforts, but is also symbolic of the nouveau riche who can afford an impractical luxury car like Jaguar, and the lie he is representing to his wife. If it wasn’t abundantly clear that AMC would never get Jaguar as one of their advertising clients, last night’s episode sealed the deal. In a moment of true black comedy we find Lane trying to kill himself by using the Jaguar to asphyxiate himself, but the car is such a lemon that he can’t even get it to start up and do the job.

It’s too early in the Mad Men era for a Nixon reference, but if Lane Pryce had an exit speech I think it might be somewhat similar to tricky Dick’s exit; “You won’t have {Lane Pryce} to kick around anymore gentlemen, because this is my last {episode}”. Lane’s suicide is the second Mad Men death when characters face off against Don’s tough love and you’ve got to imagine this is going to weigh heavily on Don’s conscience, and it will be interesting to see what happens when word eventually slips out about the true circumstances of Lane’s “resignation”. I’m not sure if this was the case of Jared Harris getting to big for the show or not, but either way it was an expertly crafted character arc, and despite it all you didn’t want to believe that Lane had killed himself until you literally saw the bloated corpse that Don and company cut down from the ceiling.

The other big developments of the week revolved around Don lighting a fire under his own ass and Sally Draper becoming a woman. Don isn’t happy with the direction that SCDP has taken on and wants bigger fish to fry. As he says, “I don’t want Jaguar I want Chevy!” which leads Roger to set up a meeting with Ken Cosgrove’s father-in-law, the Devil incarnate, aka Ray Wise aka the chairman of Dow Chemical. Ken has long been against SCDP getting involved in his family business, but he concedes on two main factors. That he has been “dragged” on board, and that in no way can Pete Campbell be involved in their business, chalking up Cosgrove as yet another of Pete’s inter-office enemies. We won’t find out until next week whether or not his tactics were sound but Don’s approach to winning Dow Chemical was to literally yell at them and berate them for being happy with 50% market success, and it’s as much of a speech for himself and SCDP as it is for the client.

Roger, for his part, is happy to see the feisty old Don Draper as his LSD induced free thinking has begun to fade. We also get to experience another typical Don and Megan squabble when Don forgets to inform her that Betty is dropping Sally off at the apartment:

  • Don: (Demeaning comment)
  • Megan: (Bitchy response)
  • Don: (Some serious shit happened)
  • Megan: (Let’s kiss and make up)

That’s pretty much how Don and Megan interaction go these days as she feels defensive and marginalized, and he feels defensive and overly stressed. It’s always hard to tell what’s going to happen in the Mad Men teasers, but it seems like there might be some new wedge between Don and Megan coming and you wonder if the loss of Lane might push Don back into his self-destructive ways.

Meanwhile we get a fun little aside with Sally and her weirdzo boyfriend Glen this week as when she realizes she will have the apartment to herself Sally convinces Glen to come to the big city for a visit on the sly. These two characters both have been subject to creepy sexual undertones over seasons past so it was a relief that when Glen arrives at Sally’s apartment his greatest desire is to go to the Museum of Natural History.

There we are treated to the awkwardly sweet interactions of Glen’s dry jokes about the exhibits, and the exploration of what their relationship actually is. All of this is interrupted when Sally, feeling ill, makes a startling discovery in the bathroom and then freaks out and takes a cab back to the suburbs and her mom, leaving Glen in the lurch. This whole sequence is yet another fine example of the quality of writing in this show as the awkwardness of youth is naturally captured. Having Glen be as concerned over completing his book report as he is about finding Sally just feels so natural to their ages. Sally freaking out and providing her mother with another bitch chip to play against Megan also feels very natural as despite young Sally’s mistrust of Betty when important things happen it’s still her mother’s arms in which she seeks comfort.

Next week, regrettably is the season finale of Mad Men, and it should be a good one. In the past two weeks of what is normally a pretty even keeled show as far as dramatic changes are concerned they have had Peggy Olson leave SCDP and Lane Pryce kill himself. What kind of bombshell did they leave for the last week?

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