This review contains spoilers.
5.12 Commissions and Fees
Contrary to Don’s advice, Lane’s was anything but an elegant exit. Traumatic, grotesque, expected even, but elegant? No. Season five’s penultimate episode was a punch to the gut that left me and doubtless the rest of Mad Men’s audience winded long after that Lovin Spoonful song had played out over the end credits.
Last season, the death of Ida Blankenship was given a poetic epitaph by Burt Cooper, but its aftermath – her blanket-covered body being farcically wheeled away in the background of a client meeting – was played for laughs. The harrowing scene in which Lane’s body was cut down by Pete, Roger and Don was anything but.
The reveal was deftly handled, from the jammed door to using the boys’ reactions to confirm Joan’s fears, to the jarringly empty corridors that greeted Don and Roger’s ebullient return from Dow Chemical. The grisly realisation that all the bustle of that morning had gone on while Lane’s corpse was hanging weightily on the other side of a wall was dark even for Mad Men, and, in hindsight, made the episode’s many musings on happiness and dissatisfaction all the more poignant.
There was a beautiful momentary relief in Commissions and Fees when Lane’s first suicide attempt seemed only a set-up to the grimmest of jokes at the expense of Jaguar’s notorious unreliability rather than a precursor to the event itself. Fitting as it would have been for Lane to drift away inside the tomb of another British import struggling to establish itself in the US, he was thwarted, and so did what so many of Mad Men’s characters do when at a loss; he went back to the office.
Lane’s body being discovered at work lent it much more impact than if the event had happened off-screen, tucked away in an apartment or hotel room. Along with his pride, SCDP was part of what killed Lane, his partnership causing a chain of events that led to a temporary financial crisis and his regrettably permanent solution. The suicide is part of the fabric of those offices now, and it’s difficult to see how things will be the same again.
Leaving a boilerplate resignation letter in lieu of a suicide note was a stroke of cruelty not wholly out of character for Lane. He personified the specific twistedness of old-fashioned British reserve – a polite, genteel shell painted over a raging froth of resentment and hurt – and that lifetime of repression came with the ensuing volatility. Lane’s final words to Don and his fellow partners were a fuck you, dressed up in the passive aggressive (and incredibly British) language of doing things by the letter.
Another equally cynical thought occurs: that perhaps by resigning, as tantalisingly referenced in a conversation Pete had with a fellow commuter some episodes before, would Lane be depriving the company of the life insurance pay-out owing to them in the event of a partner’s suicide? It’s the kind of detail Lane would know about, and another warped way to win some small battle against the company and the people he blames for beating him down.
The Mad Men death most recalled by Lane’s suicide is Adam Whitman’s. Dick’s half-brother chose the same way out as Lane in season one, after a similarly fraught encounter with Don, involving a similar amount of cash. A show with less faith in its audience would have signalled the parallels between those deaths – and Don’s feelings of guilt about both – more explicitly, but instead writers Andre and Maria Jacquemetton respectfully gave us Don’s silence he sped along the snowy night, having granted creepy Glen his ultimate wish.
Before the Lane revelations this week, Don was back on his preferred theme: happiness. The line of the episode has to be his wonderfully bleak “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness” speech to Dow, inspired in part by his frustration with the compromised Jaguar victory everyone else was busy celebrating.
In Commissions and Fees, Don was sounding like his old self again (and for newcomers to the show, that’s never a good thing), dissatisfied, frustrated, impulsive and “tired of living in this delusion that we’re going somewhere”. There’s only one episode of this season left, and with the writers gradually winding Don up like a clockwork toy over the past few weeks, I’m anxious to find out where they’re planning to send him rattling off to for the finale. Without Peggy to lean on, things could turn very bad, very quickly for Don Draper.
Sally’s visit was a rite-of-passage extravaganza. She experienced her first girly-chat over coffee, her first Manhattan liaison with creepy Glen, and her first period all in one weekend. Kiernan Shipka was as good as ever given more responsibility on screen, and for once Marten Weiner’s awkward delivery was a fitting match for the tone of the pair’s tentative Museum of Natural History date.
Sally’s eventual need for Betty, with whom she’d earlier locked horns and dismissed as a “phoney” (channelling Holden Caulfield already Sal?), came as a surprise to us all, not least her mother. Betty’s puffed-up pride at Sally choosing her over Megan was so typical of her character, malicious yet vulnerable, and revealing that Betty needs Sally’s love more even than her daughter needs her mother’s.
Speaking of Don’s “child-bride” (does Betty ever know snark), will the would-be thesp come to regret her kindness to Glen in future? Someone should tell her that creepy leopards rarely change their spots…
Following on from last week, did anyone else feel a little betrayed when Joan laughed at Pete’s joke? On the surface at least, Joan appears to have made her peace with the events of The Other Woman, planning a tropical holiday and getting back to the usual routine. Did her curt dismissal of poor Lane after his indiscreet remark about her bouncing around in an obscene bikini show increased sensitivity? Probably not. When it comes to choosing which version of history to live with, to paraphrase one of Mad Men’s best ever lines, it will likely shock Joan how much it never happened. It’s just deeply sad that the same now can’t be said for Lane.