So, I thought Mad Men went too far when Peggy quit SCDP, leaving Don’s side. That plot twist was a minor hiccup compared to what happened this week on the penultimate episode of the fifth season “Commissions and Fees.”
***PLEASE DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THIS EPISODE***
A lot goes on in this episode, and Betty made a welcome appearance, as does Glenn Bishop. But the biggest part of the episode is Lane’s suicide – something that was hinted at throughout the season, but still a shock, nonetheless.
A recurring theme throughout the fifth season was Lane’s money problems. To appease creditors who were hounded him, he pushed Bert, Roger, Pete and Don for Christmas bonuses, so that he could pay off some debts. Forced to embezzle money, Lane forges Don’s signature on a check.
All this came to a head when Bert discovers the canceled check and confronts Don. Don then confronts Lane. The two have a tense and difficult conversation. Waves of self-pity, desperation and outrage wash over him as he tries to squirm his way out of this mess. The thing about this is when Lane was tracing Don’s signature, I immediately had Bernie Maddoff flash in my head: Just as I was wondering how Maddoff was going to extricate from his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme, I was trying to figure just how Lane was going to get out of this scrape?
Don then demands Lane’s resignation. A low blow? Perhaps, seeing’s how Lane’s been instrumental in the forming of SCDP. But Don’s not above cutting people out if it’s for the firm – just look at the ignominious way Sal was let go a couple seasons back when he refused the advances of a lecherous (and closeted) Lucky Strikes exec. And even though I sympathized mightily with Lane, I knew Don was right – Lane had to go. Don then reassures Lane that the worst part is over, and that he’ll be able to “start over.” Don is of course, making a reference to himself and Peggy – they both also had potentially ruinous secrets that they managed to transcend. But with Lane it’s different and the viewers know that: he’s not Don or Peggy – he lacks their creativity, but he also lacks their single-minded ambition and their almost-bionic work ethic. He’s not cut from the same fabric as the two and it’s showing.
After getting the heave-ho from Don, Lane goes to Joan’s office. Joan and Lane have an interesting relationship – he’s tried, awkwardly, to make a pass at her in the past, but they’ve developed a deep friendship. Unfortunately, he makes lewd comments to her, lashing out at his closest ally, and she sends him away.
After alienated the closeted person in his professional life, Lane must face the closest person in his personal life: his wife Rebecca. I always had mixed feelings for Rebecca: I found her to be snobby, pretentious, bigoted and slightly stupid. But I warmed to her this past season and in this episode she truly shined. Instead of being the nag, she was the supportive wife. Hearing about an earlier success in a meeting with the American Association of Advertising Agencies, she surprises Lane with a brand new Jaguar. Overcome, the only reaction he can muster is to throw up in the parking garage – his wife clucks sympathetically, assuming it’s because Lane’s had too much to drink.
The Jaguar is an interesting gift because it essentially represents a major shift for SCDP – it raises the cache of the firm, but it also causes the loss of its second strongest copywriter. Lane also had a personal stake with the Jaguar account, because it was his chance to shine in front of the other partners. But unfortunately, Rebecca’s gift also represents all that’s wrong with Lane’s life. So it comes as no surprise that he tries to gas himself to death by running a hose into the car and starting the engine: the only this is that the Jaguar doesn’t start – a running joke throughout Mad Men is that Jaguar’s an expensive lemon. I had a relieved laugh at Lane’s inability to finish off the job.
Lane goes back into the office and sits at his typewriter, banging away in the night – reminiscent of the scene that brought his downfall. There are lots of scenes in Mad Men of employees stuck at their desks, their gaunt, pale faces lit by the harsh desk lamps.
The next morning, Lane’s secretary leaves some papers on Joan’s desk, letting her know that the door’s lock. Joan grabs the papers and tries to get into Lane’s office, but can’t – there’s something blocking the door; she also smells a terrible odor. She fearfully goes next door to Pete and asks them to help. Pete, Harry and Ken jump on the couch to peer into Lane’s office, and come down ashen-faced. Joan immediately knows and starts to cry.
Don and Roger come back from a meeting with the folks at Dow Chemical Company. The meeting went well, and Don exhibited glimpses of his former self. It seems that Lane’s desperation, along with everything else that fell on him woke Don up; he was the kind of Don Draper of the first and second season – aggressive, powerful and inspired. The two enter a near-empty office, elated. Don’s return-to-form is short-lived as Bert announces sadly that Lane’s hanged himself.
Of course Don feels guilty. And initially, I thought, “good!” But thinking more about it, I realized that Don could not have known that Lane would’ve killed himself – there shades of the Dharun Ravi/Tyler Clementi case. When Pete told Don that Lane’s still hanging from the door, the men go to the dreaded office at Don’s insistence; he deserves to some dignity.
I guess because this is cable (even though it’s basic cable), viewers were gifted with the scene of Lane’s swollen, disfigured head, leaning horrifically (and unnaturally) to the side. They cut him down and lay him on a couch and find his resignation letter.
I found this plot arc to be terribly sad, but also very satisfying. Overall, the fifth season has been pretty incredible, and this is a high – and one of the best episodes in the drama’s five-year run. I cannot imagine the show without Lane, so I’ll be curious to see how his absence will be dealt with.
The plot involving Betty, Sally, Megan and Glenn Bishop (!) was only slightly less-interesting only because of the high drama of Lane’s suicide. In a welcome appearance, Betty is packing the Frances family to go on a ski trip. As we’ve seen this season, Sally’s developed quite a petulant streak (not sure who she gets that from: Don or Betty). She sulks and insists that she doesn’t want to go skiing. Betty’s relationship with Sally has taken quite a dark turn this season when Sally realized that her mom would stoop to even hurting her to get under Don’s skin. Sally constantly throws her relationship with Megan in Betty’s face, and because Betty’s Betty, she reacts like Sally’s same-aged classmate and not her mother.
She unceremoniously dumps Sally at Don’s and Megan’s. The second Mrs. Draper is pissed because Don neglected to warn her about Sally’s arrival. When Don comes home, Megan’s itching for a fight, but he cuts things off by letting her know that Lane’s been fired. Despite her sympathy, Megan instructs Don to eat dinner with his daughter: I love this kind of give-and-take that Megan and Don have – the S&M stuff was pretty ridiculous (not to mention really offensive), but Don’s somewhat healthy marriage (as healthy as Mad Men would allow) is pretty interesting and it’s all thanks to Megan – it’s refreshing to see a woman not completely undone by Don’s bullshit; it’s also nice to see Don being respectful toward a woman he’s sleeping with.
Because Megan and Don are busy, Sally gets to stay home for the day and what does she do? Call Glenn Bishop. Glenn’s still pretty creepy, but he was Sally’s main source of consistency when everything turned to shit when her parents were splitting up. He takes the train to Manhattan and meets up with Sally, who is turned out in a cute outfit with go go boots and a new flip ‘do. Instead of going to a soda fountain or the movies, Glenn and Sally go to the American Museum of Natural History. Fantastic. They amble through the halls, stopping in front of diorama. Glenn admits that he’s being bullied and that he’ll have to lie and tell his friends back at prep school that he and Sally “did it.” Sally’s surprised, but doesn’t seem to mind, but lets him know that she’s not sure she likes him “that way.” He replies similarly, saying she’s like a little sister only smart. Despite the grossness of Glenn’s planned lie, it’s cool to see Sally start to grow up and tentatively make her way into womanhood.
Speaking of which: Sally has her period. In the middle of her date with Glenn, she rushes to the bathroom, complaining of a stomach ache and discovers she’s begun menstruating. She ditches Glenn and manages to get back to Rye. She rushes into the house and spills her guts to her mom. Betty is momentarily aloof, but is shocked into motherhood when Sally lunges for a hug. Betty then becomes supermom, which is interesting to see as she’s always put her wants and needs ahead of her children’s. This time, she reacts with love and care.
Glenn comes back to Don’s place and sees a perturbed Megan. She’s losing her mind with worry because Sally’s gone missing. Glenn doesn’t know where she is either and is put out that he was abandoned. Despite her lapse into maturity, Betty manages to summon up her inner woman-child and calls Megan with a smirk, letting her know that Sally’s safe and sound. She shares Sally’s news about her first period and then with smug self-satisfaction informs Megan that Sally just wanted to be with her mother. This must be sweet for Betty who earlier in the episode was spitting nails in envy over he daughter’s affection for her stepmother. Satisfied that she’s safe, Glenn is ready to leave, but Megan insists he stay until his train leaves.
As if returning to earth from another planet, Don comes home to Megan and Glenn. He offers the kid a ride back to his boarding school. On the elevator ride, Glenn, still smarting from his disappointing date , tells Don “everything you think is going to make you happy just turns to crap.” Don struck by such a bitter sentiment coming from such a young kid asks Glenn if he could do anything what would it be. In the next shot we see Glenn smiling as Don’s letting him drive his car.
“Commissions and Fees” is a doozy, and I’ll be waiting to see what’s going to happen in the finale next week. Mad Men this season has been pretty rough on the characters – think about it: Betty went through a cancer scare, gained a whole lot of weight and is feeling suffocated in her marriage; Joan’s drops her asshat of a husband and has to raise her kid on her own, and prostitutes herself to save an account and become a partner; Peggy’s relationship with Don as well as the firm cracked, and she ended up leaving after months of being taken for granted; Roger split with Jane; Sally grew up and realized that the adults in her life who were supposed to be looking out for her best interests, often acted in self-interest; Pete’s sense of self and his general take on life and marriage took a nosedive – not to mention he got his face bashed in by Lane; and now, Lane done in by shame, hangs himself.
Season finales tend to be “explosive” and Mad Men often has some cliff hanger to be resolved. I’ll be excited to see what happens next.