A member of the firm commits suicide, as Don recaptures his hunger for success, and Sally experiences a major milestone

By Adam B. Vary
Updated June 04, 2012 at 11:57 AM EDT
Advertisement
Jordin Althaus/AMC

Mad Men

S5 E11
type
  • TV Show
network
  • AMC

Holy crap holy crap holy crap. Mad Men has a history of the penultimate episodes of the season being The One You Absolutely Do Not Want To Miss. (Season 4’s had The Letter; season 3’s had the J.F.K. assassination; season 2’s had Joan’s rape; season 1’s had the full reveal of how Dick Whitman became Don Draper.) But after last week’s humdinger of an episode, I hadn’t the first clue how Peggy quitting, Joan sleeping her way to a partnership, and Don landing the Jaguar account could possibly be topped.

This is how: Lane Pryce’s limp, lifeless body hanging from his office door, his head drooped like a rag doll, purple and black from rot and lividity. Just because we could all see this coming like a passenger train toward a collapsed bridge didn’t make its impact any less devastating, or its approach any less filled with sickening dread. Lane was just about as far from a well-adjusted character as one could get on this show — at least Pete isn’t burdened with a crushing sense of honor or duty. But Jared Harris always imbued the SCDP money minder with a boyish charm, a sense of a man stumbling into his own mistakes and then stumbling even further — irrevocably so, as it turned out. I will most certainly miss him.

Lane’s final hours on this Earth started off so well, too. The 4As — i.e. the American Association of Advertising Agencies — was so impressed with how Lane had kept SDCP afloat after losing Lucky Strike that they invited him to head their fiscal control committee. “To those of us at the 4As, everything about you is American,” said the organization rep. Sweeter words could have scarcely graced Lane’s ears, since he’d be damned if he received that kind of respect at his own firm. After droning on about the difference between commissions and fees — hey, whatcha know, that’s the episode’s title, “Commissions and Fees” — he was met with the customary blank stares and snark from Roger.

But wouldn’t you know it, for the first time, someone was paying attention. Investigating Jaguar’s proposal of paying SDCP through straight fees instead of a 15 percent commission, Bert did something at the office, and combed through the books. There he found Lane’s canceled $7,500 check to himself, with Don’s signature.

Bert confronted Don, and Don confronted Lane. For a man so consumed with worry about being treated honorably — a man who would ultimately take his own life rather than live with what he believed to be a permanent stain of disgrace — Lane’s reaction betrayed his craven need for self-preservation above all other things. When Don placed the check in front of him, Lane buckled; you could almost see the color drain from his face. He tried to convince Don that Don had forgotten signing the check: “We all sign a lot of things.” Don wouldn’t budge: “Is this the only one?” Lane feigned outrage: “I won’t sit here and bear this interrogation.” Don pushed back: “You want a professional to do it?”

NEXT PAGE: Lane comes clean

Don poured Lane a drink, and laid it out: “I’m giving you a chance to come clean. Is this the only one?” Lane, looking utterly lost, opened his confession by taking the drink and downing it. But he didn’t apologize; he made excuses. It was “a 13-day loan,” he cried, which he assumed at the time was against their bonuses. “And then you wanted the money for Joan,” he added, scowling at the only man who didn’t want the money for Joan. “And I’m the one who’s committed the crime?” Don asked Lane if he was gambling, prompting Lane to give the first clear explanation for why he was in such dire financial straits in the first place: He’d owed the U.K. back taxes on the portfolio he liquidated in order to keep the firm afloat after Lucky Strike pulled out. It’s odd that the show backed into why Lane was in this predicament in the first place, though I did appreciate that it was stodgy and self-sacrificing to a fault — vintage Lane Pryce.

Don asked the question that’s been on our minds since Lane first forged Don’s signature: “If you needed [the money] so badly, why didn’t you ask?” Lane’s incredulous answer — “Why suffer the humiliation for a 13-day loan?!” — revealed the theme of the episode in stark terms. Adults suffer humiliations big and small every day, in order to get what they want. Don knows that better than most, and he understood in that instant that Lane didn’t know it at all. “I’m going to need your resignation,” he told Lane, with finality and not a small amount of sadness.

It was the slap in the face Lane needed, just several weeks (months? years?) too late. Lane began furiously backpedaling. He was truly sorry. The company is in fine shape. He’s set to make good by Easter, even if that meant sacrificing his son’s boarding school education. But it was cold comfort to Don. Lane had embezzled from the company, and forged Don’s signature. Trust had been broken, and there was no mending it. Lane had to resign.

Faced with a sudden end to his career, Lane abandoned remorse and fell instead into an acid pool of self-pity. “I’ve never been compensated for my contributions to this company,” he said, actually stomping his foot. He wasn’t wrong; he had first brought Jaguar to SCDP’s attention; he had been instrumental in divesting the partners from Putnam, Powell and Lowe; he had kept the company afloat in its early years of swimming in red ink. But that didn’t justify stealing the company’s money, even if being caught meant losing his visa and going home in disgrace. Oh, Lane. If you wanted compensation so badly, why didn’t you just ask for it?

NEXT PAGE: The final days of Lane Pryce

As Lane left Don’s office, clutching his glass of whiskey, a part of me hoped he would rally to the occasion, that all those hints about suicide dropped this season would be classic misdirection. That hope lasted but for a few moments, until Lane sauntered into Joan’s office. They’d been each other’s confidants all season, but rather than unburdening himself to her, he made the crude pass he’d always secretly yearned to make instead, after Joan said brightly that she was fantasizing taking a vacation to an exotic tropical locale. “Can you imagine me locked in a hotel room with a baby and my mother?” she said with a chuckle, the sting of how she was able to plan a vacation already a fading memory. That is, until Lane, his lips pulled tight with anger, reminded her. “I suppose you’d rather I imagine you bouncing in the sand in some obscene bikini.” Alienating close friends — definitely not rallying to the occasion.

Several drinks later, Lane stumbled home, only to get smacked in the face with his wife’s unyielding pride and admiration for his new position at the 4As and his company’s winning pitch to Jaguar. I can barely bring myself to write about Lane’s scenes with Rebecca, they were so unbearably sad. She was so supportive and loving and clueless, so unaware that her actions were inflaming an already unhealable wound in her husband. “I’m tired of you refusing to recognize the successes when they come,” she told her husband at his lowest possible moment, before handing him the keys to his brand new Jaguar XK-E. “You never spend on yourself,” she said. “It’s always about my travel or Nigel’s schooling. I told the salesman you were a partner at the car’s advertising agency and he gave me a very fair price.” Lane was so overwhelmed, he vomited right there in the garage.

By this point, it was no shock at all that Lane kept Rebecca in the dark about his troubles. He placated her with gratitude for the gift, fobbing off his lack of interest in driving it on taking care of “errands I’ve let go.” By errands, I think he meant he was, as they say, putting his affairs in order. That night, Lane, dressed in an impeccable suit, walked down to his new Jaguar, ran a hose from his exhaust to the window, downed a bottle of spirits, snapped his glasses in half (I audibly moaned at that moment), put the keys in the ignition, pressed the start button, and… nothing. “They’re lemons,” Bert had said weeks earlier of Jaguars. “They never start.” Poor Lane could not even kill himself in the way of his choosing.

So instead, he went back to the office in the dead of night, typed up a letter to his partners, and hung himself on his office door. It was some 12 hours before he was discovered, after Joan struggled to open his office door, and got a whiff of a pungent smell. She went into Pete’s office and asked him to check via the windows atop the shared wall. Ken and Harry checked too, and their ashen faces said it all. Lane Pryce was dead.

NEXT PAGE: Sally Draper does not like to ski

If Lane permanently fled from the oppressive responsibilities of adulthood, Sally charged forward with the full steam of a child desperate to take them on. Which is to say, she was being a real brat. She got snotty about wearing someone else’s ski boots on Betty and Henry’s long weekend winter vacation. “I would’ve rather gone to school and come home and found you all gone,” she said to Betty, twisting the knife further by noting Megan and Don took her to Disneyland, “where it’s warm.”

It’s not like Betty was setting a good example of how to act in confrontational situations. “You want to spend the weekend…with her,” she spat right back at her daughter. “Because she lets you do whatever you want.” Sally reaped what her mother sowed, with the biting retort, “She lets me eat whatever I want!”

Having lost the Draper/Francis Women Mean Girl Pageant of 1967, Betty dumped her daughter onto Don for the weekend with the lovely preamble, “It’s your child bride she wants to spend time with.” Since Don’s day was wrapped up with Lane’s financial malfeasance, he forgot to tell Megan that Sally was coming over. And Megan once again demonstrated why she’s among the least childish adults on this show. First, she declined to rise to Sally’s studied off-hand comment about Don failing to call. Then Megan softly rebuked Sally for saying, of her mother, “I hate her so much — she’s such a phony.” That doesn’t mean Megan wasn’t prepared to have it out with Don the moment he stepped in the door. How dare he presume she could just drop everything she’s doing to take care of his daughter? But the moment Don revealed he had to fire Lane, she clammed right up, and focused instead on making sure her husband ate dinner, and ate it with his daughter.

By Sunday, Don was immersed in his Dow research (more on that later), and declined to go out with Megan and Sally for the day. “He’s got a big meeting tomorrow,” said Sally. “He’ll be miserable.” So Don wasn’t around to squelch all the big-girl talk at the cafe with Megan and her sassy, conference-table-crawling bestie Julie. “So I don’t understand,” Sally asked of Julia, “do you like David or Carter?”

“Well, Carter likes me,” said Julia, pivoting to Megan. “Do you know what he said to me? I can’t believe I didn’t tell you this. He asked me if I was a redhead everywhere.” Megan was aghast, gesturing to Sally. “No, it’s okay, I have a boyfriend,” said Sally, as if the mere fact of it meant she comprehended what Julia was talking about. (My read is, she didn’t.) Megan brightened. How long has Sally had a boyfriend? “A while, but I don’t know if he likes me that way.” Megan explained that a boyfriend is “a person that makes you feel special, a person that knows you,” and as Sally poured mounds of sugar into her oh-so-adult cup of coffee, I shuddered, realizing that Glen was both of those things for her.

NEXT PAGE: Glen and Sally’s first real date

My alarm at Sally’s tango with adulthood compounded after she invited Glen to the city to spend her free Monday morning with her. It was no small task — he’d have to sneak off campus, bike to the train station, and take the two-hour early morning train. But Sally was waiting for him, her hair in a chic flip, wearing the makeup and white go-go boots her father had vetoed the previous fall. For his part, Glen had worn a tie too short for his torso, and declined to shave his faint mustache so he’d have an air of maturity. “You don’t look that different,” he told her. “You do,” she told him.

Their subsequent jaunt to the American Museum of Natural History was an exquisite portrait of teenagers tripping through the discovery of how to be adults, like people feeling their way through a darkened room they’ve only seen lit from afar, not sure where or when they’re knocking over something fragile with a stray elbow. Standing before a tableau of stuffed animals arranged in approximation of nature, Glen confessed that to get the school bullies off his back, he’d told them he was coming to the city to “do it” with Sally. “You can say whatever you want,” replied a startled-but-not-offended Sally. “But I, uh, I’m not sure that’s the way I like you.” Just as I breathed a deep sigh of relief that this episode wasn’t about to go that direction, Sally excused herself, complaining of an upset stomach. I wondered if she may have appendicitis or something, but I should have known better. In an episode all about making that great leap onto a new plateau of maturity, when Sally got to the bathroom, she discovered her underwear was stained with blood.

Yeah, I don’t know if I’m going to recover from that particular shot anytime soon.

Sally, in a panic, jumped into a cab, took it all the way back home to Rye, and raced into her parent’s bathroom. It turns out, Sally does still need her mother. She tearfully explained that she’d gotten her first period, and then embraced her mother with such force that it took Betty by surprise. Well, some would say that. Others would say that the Betty-bot 19xx had not calculated needing to enact feelings of maternal love.

Betty’s catty circuits were functioning just fine though. She rang up Megan — who was dealing with a panicked and embarrassed Glen — to let her know Sally had found her way home, and why. “I just think she needed her mother,” said Betty, relishing the moment. Once Betty got that out of her system, however, she did support her daughter in the way Sally needed, gently reassuring Sally that her period meant everything was working as it should be. “It means everything is ready for a baby, when you want one,” she said, lying next to Sally on their bed. “And maybe you’ll have a beautiful girl, and you can tell her all this.” It was the sweetest, kindest thing Betty has done for Sally in five seasons. Lawd help me, but I got a wee bit misty watching this mother and daughter curled up with each other, content together for the first time in years.

NEXT PAGE: Don reclaims his fight

Don, however, does not do contentment. His ears were ringing from the backhanded compliment delivered from a rival ad exec at the barber shop, who called landing Jaguar “a big win for your little agency.” He was still steaming from being outvoted in absentia on Joan’s partnership, sniping about it in the partners’ meeting. And then he had to deal with the ugly business of confronting Lane about his embezzlement after Bert confronted him with Lane’s canceled check. Don chose discretion to protect Lane’s honor, but he still had to weather this withering rejoinder from Bert: “You know, you can’t keep being the good little boy while the adults run this business.”

As it happens, Don did what seemed at the time to be the most adult thing possible: He immediately addressed the issue with Lane, firmly and directly, upon learning about the check. (I loved Don’s deep sigh before throwing back a gulp of whiskey, as he felt the weight of what he knew he had to do landing hard on his shoulders.) Just a few years before, Don had found himself on the other end of a confrontation about a far bigger deception, and he’d come out of it a (seemingly) better man with a (definitely) better wife. So Don thought he was doing Lane a favor by confronting him in private and not involving the rest of the company, not knowing that keeping this bottled up was the worst thing possible for Lane at that moment. “I feel a bit light headed,” Lane said. “That’s relief,” Don replied. “I’ve started over a lot, Lane. This is the worst part.”

But the sum total of all he’d weathered over the previous few months — losing Megan (at the office), fighting with Ginsberg, fighting for Jaguar, losing Peggy, firing Lane — had all added up to Don feeling like his work, his life, was amounting to very little. He marched into Roger’s office, who was fresh from a call with a coat check girl from Long Island (“or Rhode Island?”), and asked him, “Why do we do this?” Roger, bless him, had a quick answer: “For the sex. But it’s always disappointing. For me, anyway.” Don was in no mood, though. “I don’t like what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m tired of this piddly s—-. I’m tired of living in this delusion that we’re going somewhere when we can’t even give Christmas bonuses.” He didn’t want the second-rate Jaguar and Mohawk Airlines. He wanted Chevy and American Airlines.

So what was stopping them from pursuing it? asked Roger, forcing Don to make a confession of his own: Ed Baxter, the Dow bigwig, had told him all the triple-A companies had soured on him the moment they saw his Dear John letter to the tobacco industry. (Seems Don was also susceptible to guarding his pride from his own failings.) Roger was flabbergasted: “Jesus, Don, you used to love ‘no.’ ‘No’ used to make you hard.” Besides, Don just beat out two big firms for Jaguar. He could afford to strut.

Roger’s pep talk worked. Don realized if he was going to go after an 800-pound gorilla, why not the one beating its chest and charging him? Get a meeting with Ed Baxter, he told Roger, who pointed out that Kenny Cosgrove made things tricky with Dow; Ed Baxter was his father-in-law. But Don’s dander was up, and there was no turning back. “Then fire him,” Don said, leading to a terrific scene between Roger and Kenny in which Mad Men‘s most milquetoast character demanded his seat at the big boys’ table, threatening to squelch SCDP’s chances with Dow by speaking ill of it to his wife if he wasn’t put on the account — and Pete banned from it — should they land it. (My favorite part of Kenny growing a pair was how much he still knows himself: “I don’t want to be a partner. I’ve seen what’s involved.”)

NEXT PAGE: Don gives the business to Dow

On the elevator ride down from his Friday night drinks with Kenny, Roger informed Don of the meeting, including the fact that it would be that following Monday morning. Don panicked; just 48 hours to prepare? “I think that’s up to you,” replied Roger. “I like that guy I saw today,” he added, speaking as much for the audience as himself. “I missed him.”

That Monday, Don was ready. “You should keep your cool,” Roger counseled as they waited outside. “But if he baits you, I want you to punch him in the balls.” Don shot Roger a quizzical look. “What happened to your enlightenment?” Roger shrugged. “I don’t know. Wore off.” Emmy voters, I give you John Slattery.

After an hour-and-45-minute wait — see what I mean about adults suffering humiliation every day to get what they want? — Don stepped into his meeting with Ed Baxter and Dow’s heads of marketing and household products. (So that’s why they cast the indomitable Ray Wise in this role.) Ed wasted no time in bringing up The Letter, but while Roger was quick to defend it, Don didn’t want to waste his time talking about it for another second. He was there to talk about Dow’s business — and, in turn, talk about himself.

All Dow’s current ad firm has to do is run the same work they’d always run, maintaining Dow’s 50 percent market share, using the billings to fund the work that’s actually new and exciting. Dow’s product line is diverse — Don rattled off a list of them with practiced nonchalance — because, he said, “even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary. You get hungry even though you’ve just eaten.” Boom.

One Dow exec perked up his head. “Tell me about napalm,” he said, issuing a challenge to put a polish on the Dow product currently vilified by the anti-war movement. Don did not blink. “Napalm was invented in 1942,” he said. “The government put it in flame throwers against the Nazis; impact bombs against the Japanese. It was all over Korea. I was there. And now it’s in Vietnam. But the important thing is when our boys are fighting and they need it, when America needs it, Dow makes it. And it works.” Pow.

Ed cleared his throat, trying to derail Don’s momentum. “It doesn’t change the fact that we’re happy with our agency.” Again, Don pounced. “Are you?” he said, as if the claim was an affront. “You’re happy with 50 percent? You’re on top and you don’t have enough. You’re happy because you’re successful — for now. But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness. I won’t settle for 50 percent of anything. I want 100 percent. You’re happy with your agency? You’re not happy with anything. You don’t want most of it. You want all of it. And I won’t stop until you get all of it.” And with that, Don stood. Meeting over. Ka-blam!

Roger, as usual, capped the moment off with the perfect turn of phrase. “I’ll buy you a drink, if you wipe the blood off your mouth.”

NEXT PAGE: Don and Roger come back to a nearly empty office

Will Don’s firm land Dow? I doubt it. I think this was all about the full resurrection of the old Don Draper, the angry and hungry Don Draper, the Don perpetually dissatisfied with his life. It’s that Don who came back drunk with Roger from their ripsnorter of a meeting to an empty office, and Bert, Joan, and Pete waiting for them in the employee lounge. “Lane hanged himself in his office,” said Bert, ever plainspoken. “What the hell happened?” asked Roger. “Who knows?” said Bert. But, of course, Don did know. He folded up onto the arm of the nearest sofa, his head drooped deep into his hand, and he likely would have stayed that way if Pete hadn’t said they were waiting for the coroner to cut down Lane’s body and take him away.

“He’s still in there?” asked Don, already on his way to Lane’s office. Roger and Pete followed, Pete explaining the coroner said not to disturb the body since it was technically a crime scene. (Let me just pause to note that Pete was as kind and thoughtful as Pete could possibly be. It won’t last, I know, but it was nice not to loathe him for once.) Don, though, was undeterred, desperate to afford the man he’d helped drive to suicide a shred of dignity. He pushed his way into Lane’s office with Roger and Pete, and for a beat, the three just watched him swing there, their faces slack with disbelief.

Yeah, I definitely know I’m not going to recover from that particular shot anytime soon.

Finally, Pete grabbed some scissors, as Don and Roger held Lane’s body up long enough to cut him down. It was awful. They laid him on his couch, and as the guilt began to creep over Don’s face, Roger picked up the envelope that had fallen from his pocket, addressed to “My fellow partners.” And inside? “It’s a resignation letter,” said Roger. Don’s face collapsed. “It’s boilerplate.”

After his own good day that became a very, very bad one, Don returned home to a scene he least expected: his daughter gone, and Glen, who he barely remembered, in her place, drinking orange soda with Megan. (That wily Glen, always sweet on the Draper wives.) Glen knew enough to make for a hasty exit, but when Megan protested that he’d be waiting in Grand Central until 7 p.m., Don offered to drive him home — anything to get his mind off his day.

On the elevator ride down, Glen — bullied at school, and rejected by his girlfriend right after a sensitive confession — spelled out one of the episode’s main themes. “Why does everything turn out crappy?” he asked of the father of his girlfriend and the ex-husband of his first love. “Everything you want to do, everything you think’s going to make you happy, just turns to crap.” Faced with so much hard sorrow and disappointment in his own life, Don was not about to let this very young man start out into the fullness of his life already holding tight to such despair. “If you could do anything,” he asked Glen, “what would you do?”

Glen’s answer was perfect for a young teenage boy: Drive a car. We left one of the bleakest episodes in Man Men history on a note of whimsy, with Glen at the wheel of Don’s car, Don’s steadying hand guiding him, while “Butchie’s Tune” by The Lovin’ Spoonful (one of Glen’s favorite bands) played us out.

What did you make of “Commissions and Fees”? Do you think Don did the right thing by forcing Lane to resign, or should he given him another chance? Will Joan now step into his place as the financial head of the company? And was anyone else really unnerved by how no one even mentioned that Peggy wasn’t around anymore?

Episode Recaps

Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama
type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 7
rating
status
  • In Season
network
  • AMC
stream service

Comments