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Mad Men



Episode 12 - Commissions and Fees

10 June 2012

Credit AMC

This was an odd episode. There was discernible tension throughout but I’m not sure any of it paid off. It was all pretty interesting as ever but the results were mixed.

Lane has been a likable character and it’s sad to see him go. However his suicide didn’t have as much dramatic impact as it could have. The scene where Don fired him was sad, but professional. Don covered every base with him in a way that seemed fair. We already knew Lane had become treasurer of his club and when he arrived home his wife had bought him a Jaguar car.

In a way those details were necessary to show us why he felt he had to kill himself. However it felt like piling on. With his inability to do the deed in his car it seemed like the whole world was kicking Lane in the nuts. The season opened with a reminder of his unhappy marriage and the character has always complained about his lot and stressed his desire to be a success in America. The whole trajectory of his story has been toward failure this year and so his death had an inevitability about it.

Perhaps it was just that Jaguar scene that took something away. When he was working furiously on his sketch pad it still seemed like maybe he had figured a way out. Instead when the hanging came it was gruesome and sad but didn’t do much else. Joan was upset of course and Don was clearly having bad memories of his brother. But beyond that it’s not clear what his death will mean. It won’t look good for the firm but if that’s the only consequence I’m considering it feels like something was missing from the story.

I don’t know exactly why the act of firing Lane suddenly spurred Don back into action. He spent the first part of the season so in love with Meagan that he didn’t seem to care about work. Perhaps now that the honeymoon is over he is searching for happiness at work again. I can imagine him thinking that Lane wouldn’t have had to embezzle if the company were doing much better. His pitch to Dow Chemical was wonderful in its power and conviction. However it also felt a bit desperate. He came across as an angry man who was searching for his own satisfaction as much as theirs.

The fallout from Joan’s prostitution was limited but effective. She shuts Lane down harshly the minute he makes a suggestive comment and Ken is clearly disgusted by it all. Ken’s desire to remove Pete from his father-in-laws business could simply be a reaction to how they landed Jaguar but perhaps Ken realises that Pete only has Pete’s best interests at heart.

The awkward dynamic between Sally and Glenn always makes me think something horrible is about to happen. It hasn’t yet though. Instead Sally’s demands for autonomy and a grown up life get answered by nature and she runs home to Betty. The tension between Meagan and Don grows as he expects her to be his babysitter and lets work dominate his time.

With Lane’s death falling flat and the prospects for SCDP uncertain I didn’t know what to think toward the end of the episode. Then Glenn popped up to spell it out for me: “Everything you wanna do. Everything you think’s gonna make you happy, just turns to crap.” The fact that Glenn is played by Matt Weiner’s son made this seem even more heavy handed than it already was. The ever growing lack of subtlety on Mad Men can look pretty bad in moments like that.

I don’t want to end the review on that note though. The season finale should be pretty interesting and I have no clear understanding of where it is going. This was a flawed episode but it was far from a bad one.



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  • Interesting point, since he was a partner...didn't think of it that way. Though, if he is trying to spare the firm, odd that he'd expose it to a potential PR disaster by hanging himself at the office.

    Posted by jeremy, 08/06/2012 4:49am (8 years ago)

  • Was Lane doing the opposite? Was he making life easier for the firm by resigning rather than dying on the job?

    Posted by The TV Critic, 06/06/2012 6:26pm (8 years ago)

  • Why does Lane leave a boiler-plate resignation letter as his "suicide note"? Was this his way of telling Don that he killed himself specifically because he was fired? If so, that seems oddly impulsive and vindictive. You'd think Lane would have something a bit more "real" to say to the world on his exit.

    I think/hope Glenn's presence in the show is over. It looked like Sallie was finally becoming aware that he's a rather strange fellow. And as she grows up and even starts drinking coffee, she's seeing the world through new eyes.

    And finally, just wanted to say that Mad Men has always used those ceiling-level windows between the offices to great dramatic effect.

    Viewer score: 62 / 100

    Posted by jeremy, 06/06/2012 4:05pm (8 years ago)

  • Excellent stuff. Pity is the right word and your analysis of the emotional detachment of the characters is very interesting.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 06/06/2012 11:11am (8 years ago)

  • Well said re: the Lane plot. I'll add that a major character death was always gong to be tough for Mad Men to pull off because the characters are already so emotionally detached. If they were going to go in this direction it may have been better to "kill off" someone who whose loss would actually really challenged these characters (you know, "On a Very Special Mad Men...A tragedy hits that will change EVERYTHING....FOREVER").

    That Lane was one of the more sympathetic characters made it all very awkward, and, frankly, dreary. Lane was such a sad and pathetic character that there is really no emotion for us to feel other than pity for him. The frustration of this poor, lonely man when the Jaguar wouldn't start was just cruel (had, say, Pete been in the same situation, I could see a bit of very, very dark humor working - just because Pete hasn't been depicted exclusively as innocent and pathetic).

    Even worse, as viewers we were the only one's who had even an inkling of Lane's desperation. His inner world was completely unknown to the other characters, so that we can't process our grief through them or even properly relate to their emotional reactions.

    Had Pete died, for example, it would be interesting to share that mix of emotions with characters who would in different ways reflect our own reactions. This isn't the case with Lane, who to these characters was a co-worker who largely kept his distance, but was generally a nice guy. Because of all this, any response next week is likely to somewhat unfairly reflect more poorly on these characters. If Lane's forgotten they look heartless. If Roger makes a tasteless crack about this poor tortured man or if Harry makes a callous play for his office it will look particularly loathsome.

    "I don’t know exactly why the act of firing Lane suddenly spurred Don back into action."

    I think Don was more spurred on by the comment from the guy in the barbershop talking about the big victory for his "little firm." I think that encounter, plus Bert's later comment to Don about being a baby, the taint on the Jag account, and all the other crap that's been building pushed Don over the edge before the talk with Lane.

    Although, it could be that Don was inspired by his own words to Lane about facing the truth and starting over.

    I agree that Don speech to Dow sounded desperate. But as viewers we know what Don has been through. To a room full of competitive businessmen with personalities similar to Don's such a speech might have roused something dormant in them as well. One thing we know about Don is that his most successful pitches are his most honest ones - from The Carousel to last week's for Jaguar - he was speaking to his own nostalgia, longing or desperation. That honesty is what comes through to others, even if Don himself isn't fully aware of it.

    Viewer score: 63 / 100

    Posted by Huell, 06/06/2012 11:05am (8 years ago)

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