Mad Men - Episode 12 - Commissions and Fees
'Mad Men' operates within several worlds. It takes the unique perspective of the 1960s for its background, its setting is in the glory days of advertising, and makes it all the more glamourous by placing its protagonists in the epicenter of that: the Time Life building in New York City.
But the most important world that permeates the entirety of the show and bleeds so strongly through this episode is America. This time, this place, that job and these people are American. Americans that are informed by a cultural identity where they are (up until the end of Vietnam) constantly victorious, always hungry for more, and in constant devotion to capitalism. I’m sure this aspect is somewhat more obvious to international viewers of the show, but its a distinctly American trait to live it. And its a life philosophy that Lane Pryce will never be a part of.
Throughout this season people have speculated that the Reaper was coming for either Pete or Roger, but the bleak outlook for Lane was staring us in the face the whole time. Don was pissed, as he rightfully should have been at what Lane had done. “Don Draper” is a name Dick Whitman has spent half of his life preserving and protecting and Lane stole it to cover up his own dark secrets. That twisted irony aside, Lane had a point to reject Don’s ‘scorched earth’ resignation ultimatum.
"Do you know how the rest of us live?" Don has lived and breathed the self made man since Papa Whitman got a kick in the face and it has brought him enormous wealth, privilege, and influence. Lane is the other side of that coin. Born into old, British money, he desperately wants to jump ship and do things the ‘new’ way. But the American Dream won’t have him, Old Money rejects him for his dissent and he’s stuck floundering in an abyss. Don tells him to tell his wife "the next thing will be better", but really, how could it be? By the constraints of television drama, Lane takes his only option, his last option. And should Don blame himself? Lane’s certainly stuck him with it with that suicide note/resignation letter, which I think was a particularly callous move, but Don is the epitome of the Dream. The Dream keeps rolling on and it leaves some people in its dust.
For those that roll on with the Dream, things can be pretty good. There was a careful piece of closure inserted into Joan’s scene where she discusses taking a vacation. Sunshine, making future plans, hope. Joan has made peace with the events of last week and although the transition is rocky (Scarlett’s poor handling of the partner’s meeting), she’s moving on to greener pastures; be it Bermuda or Hawaii. On a side note, I’d like to bring up Scarlett’s recurring appearance. It’s very similar to the way they placed Megan in the show last season. Little appearances here and there, more and more often in scenes of significance. It might be a red herring, but then again, the girl who’s effectively taking over for Joan has got to be important.
There were quite a few important girls (and women) this week. If you need me to explain the symbolism of Sally’s storyline, please go away and take a high school English class. What I will note is how she operates this episode as a child and an adult, largely to serve her own purposes. With Megan and Red-Head Friend (really need to find out her name…) she wants coffee, knows about pubes and has a boyfriend and all of a sudden the two women are interested in what she has to say. Betty, on the other hand, was having none of her “I can stay home by myself” business but melted when Sally fell into her arms, tears streaming down her face and all a bloom in new womanhood. Sally’s no dummy, maybe all that TV did teach her something…
"Commissions and Fees" saw a revitalization in Don. He told Ed Baxter he doesn’t want 50%, he wants all 100. But what happens when you rev up the engines all the way? Things get loud and hot, things could get a little messy if you’re not careful, if you stuck the hosepipe in the window and the ignition did start this time. Don assuredly sets the wheel straight for Glenn as they drive into the night, but its still a boy behind the wheel of a machine he doesn’t fully understand. Anyone could get hurt.