‘Mad Men’ Season 5, Episode 12: ‘Commissions and Fees’

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Jared Harris Vincent Kartheiser Christina Hendricks Mad Men Commissions and Fees Mad Men Season 5, Episode 12: Commissions and Fees

(This recap contains SPOILERS for the episode ‘Commissions and Fees.’ If you have yet to see the episode, stop reading now)

In its focus on the topic of generational shift, Mad Men has concentrated the season’s efforts largely on the optimism of youth, and the unflagging desire of the young to seek out and obtain their place in the world. Megan (Jessica Paré) and Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) have certainly been the poster children for this notion, as they’ve found a modicum of success relatively early in one form or another. But one question spans the generational gap, and that is: What of the many who put themselves out there and find only setback and disillusionment? At what point is it too soon to become jaded, and when does failure ever justify throwing in the towel?

Mad Men has always been a program about those success-driven people for whom the word “no” is not a viable option; failure doesn’t come easy to them, and when it hits, it hits hard. We’ve seen it time and time again, as Don (Jon Hamm) has found himself faced with a situation of imminent rejection that he somehow manages to transform into triumph – one where he is not only the victor, but the object of worship, as well. This season has been a bit of a change, though. Don has drifted away from his pursuit of success, seemingly content with what he’s achieved. He has drifted away from where he is most comfortable: The driver’s seat. And after losing Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) to a rival agency, Don is beginning to once more see the light.

So as Don readies himself to truly start over – not the kind of hangdog pursuit of Jaguar that led his partners to pimp out Joan (Christina Hendricks), but the steely resolve of a man who knows how to get what he wants – his determination for renewal is met by the abject failure of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). And to think, after the events of ‘Signal 30,’ many voiced concern that the emotionally troubled party would be Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) – especially after he was met with a particularly humbling beating – it turns out Lane was the closest to the edge.

Having taken out a line of credit to cover his tax problems, and then masking it as a surplus to be used for Christmas bonuses, Lane’s deception was ultimately short-lived. When confronted by Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) about a canceled check he’d apparently signed, Don plays it cool, despite being castigated again by Cooper. He affords Lane the opportunity to come clean, and when Lane does, is obligated to demand his resignation. Lane’s response, a mixture of forced regret and righteous indignation, combined with his rather unfocused demeanor since the season premiere, sets the stage for what comes next.

Facing utter ruin, Lane’s troubles seemingly compound after his wife, Rebecca (Embeth Davitdz), purchases a new Jaguar to congratulate him on his recent success. In a bit of pointed irony, his first attempt to end his life is stalled by the notoriously unreliable Jaguar’s failure to start. Undeterred, Lane heads to the office, types up the letter of resignation Don requested and hangs himself. It is a tragic end to the man who arguably risked the most in the effort to bring Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to life. The shock of Lane’s death is measured by its own inevitability, but that does nothing to dilute the situation’s emotional impact. Things had been looking up; he’d believed himself out of a financial jam with none the wiser, SCDP had managed to land Jaguar after initially botching the first attempt to woo the car company and he had recently been given a rather prestigious appointment. But to paraphrase Glen (Martin Holden Weiner), “Everything you think is going to make you happy just turns to crap.”

Jon Hamm Mad Men Commissions and Fees Mad Men Season 5, Episode 12: Commissions and Fees

For some, that realization means heading back to the place they are most comfortable. As mentioned above, for Don, that’s taking the bull by the horns and going after a company he’d allowed himself to believe SCDP had no business pursuing.

Don and Roger (John Slattery) get a meeting with Ed Baxter (Ray Wise), in the hopes of landing Dow Chemical. Don’s attempt to land Dow is the Draper of old – right down to the threat of firing Ken (Aaron Staton) if he continues to have a problem with going after his father-in-law for business. (Turns out Ken doesn’t have a problem, he just won’t accept Pete Campbell being anywhere near the deal.) For others, though, the realization is that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, they may not be ready to accept the reality that comes with going for those things they most desired.

In regards to Sally (Kiernan Shipka), it’s the shift from being a child, to that of an increasingly independent young woman. Having badmouthed her way out of a ski trip with Betty (January Jones) and Henry (Christopher Stanley), Sally utilized her time with Megan to act as the adult she felt she was becoming – ordering coffee and remaining unfazed by the increasingly adult conversation of Megan’s friend. Faced with the tantalizing prospect of time alone in Manhattan, Sally cajoles Glen into traveling several hours to see her. The two head out to the museum and the conversation eventually turns to the possibility of sex. Right on cue, Sally “becomes a woman,” as her mother would say, and the prospect of this sends her back to the woman she’d recently shunned; it sends Sally to find her way back “home,” a place not many in the series can ever return.

Though Mad Men has dealt plenty with the notion of death, it hasn’t been so directly related to the actions of a single person (Don) since the hanging suicide of his half-brother Adam Whitman (Jay Paulson) in season 1. So it’s no surprise that in the wake of such an event, Don would take responsibility for Glen, telling the young man it’s too soon for him to be so pessimistic, taking him home although it would mean driving several hours out of his way, and stepping out of the driver’s seat to give Glen what he wanted – all the while being right there to make sure it didn’t turn out crappy.

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Mad Men ends season 5 next Sunday with ‘The Phantom’ @10pm on AMC. Take a peek at the episode below:

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  1. Lane purposefully setting the stage for suicide – Garden hose? Check. Rag large enough to plug up both exhausts? Check. Towel to anchor hose and snuff out escaped CO2? Check. Remove and snap glasses in two? Check. Start engine and get suicide rolling? Epic fail! Ironic indeed.
    My first thought when Lane succeeded elsewhere in taking his own life? Please tell me the agency won’t become Sterling Cooper Draper and Campbell!

    The look on Don’s face upon hearing the news and his actions afterward were riveting. Although suicide’s considered a selfish act, Don will carry the guilt of his actions until his dying day. “If only I’d _________ instead…”

    Another excellent episode. I cannot believe next Sunday is the last of it. Too soon. I’m not ready

  2. I thought Sally’s running home was very realistic. Megan is her cool friend, but Betty is her mother. We forget that Betty is the one raising her day-to-day and being a conventional mother (a weakness in the show that only shows Betty’s sniping and snits but ignores that she spends her time being a productive housewife as we saw in earlier seasons). On the other hand, we saw clearly on this visit that Megan is certainly not a replacement mother. She complained to Don she was too busy to host Sally, but just went into her bedroom to read for the afternoon. When she took Sally out, she grimaced to Don about having to spend time with her. What else does Megan have to do? Besides lounging around barefoot in the apartment and hanging out with her skank friend?

    • Actually, she was preparing for an audition. That’s not quite the same as just lying around reading.

    • I liked that moment when Betty realized Sally needed her and her demeanor changed radically. She went from being uninterested forced-to-be-a-mom, to someone who could soothe her daughter. Betty hasn’t always been treated well by her family members, so this was a touching scene to me.

      • just wait till betty finds out a,don let her skip school, and b, she spent the day with GLENN! Oh No!

  3. i was floored by lane’s death. he was growing into one of my favorite characters. can’t get too attached to any characters these days – i’m still “recovering” from boardwalk empire’s season 2 finale!! makes for great TV though

  4. Between this and Game of Thrones, I’m gonna miss my sundays. But great episode. Don is starting to be the same guy from before and unfortunately, he is losing people in the process. I wouldn’t doubt that Megan would be the next person he loses if she gets the gig in Chicago. I hope we get to see a little bit of Peggy in next episode just to see how she’s doing in the other agency.

  5. What a wonderful observation that Don “drifted away from the driver’s seat” – and yet, at the end of this episode as he returns to his more ruthless “drive” and succeeds professionally, he gives up the wheel to a boy… just to make him happy.

    Many remarkable moments in this season, and this grim latest chapter.

    http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/mad-men-reviews/

  6. Loved all the Catcher in the Rye references in this ep. Mad Men: The Catcher in the Whiskey http://wp.me/p1xVI5-12C

  7. Two characters written of the series. Mad Men’s first character kill of complete shocker…I would assume Lane would have been fired but actual ” Termination”. Bravo MW for giving us such an incredible season. No cast member is safe (except Don) great to have old Don back!

  8. At first when Lane was confronted with the fraudulent check he argued with Don that it was his signature, humbling himself only after being cornered by the facts. Don’s offer to payoff the “debt” and give him the weekend to compose an “elegant exit” would save him from deportation and fraud charges. Don stated: “I cannot trust you”. Lane goes directly to Joan’s office and insults her vacation plans saying “I picture you pounding the sand in an obscene Bikini” He seemed unhinged or someone with the mask removed. The revengeful suicide in the office was an indication of someone not as they had seemed to be before.

  9. I can’t believe they killed off Pryce. He was definitely one of my favorite characters. Right under Roger with all his quips.

  10. Hmmmm. Do you think that Betty only comforts Sally because Sally chose her over Megan?