Follow Monsters of Television on Twitter

Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Mad Men – “Commissions and Fees”

“No, I don’t want to be a partner. I’ve seen what’s involved.”

Don is unaffected by Lane's pleading.

Lane in his usual pose of World's Most Pathetic.

I didn’t expect to see it.

Everything about Lane since getting into bed with S, C, and D has been hard to watch, like watching someone voluntarily get hit in the stomach after asking for another. He’s not like the others when they make their mistakes. Pete’s humiliations, Don’s scrapes with being discovered, Roger’s conjugal buffoonery — they’re easier to watch because you know they’ll bounce back. Maybe they won’t be the same or they’ll lower their own expectations for themselves but they bounce back. Lane never seemed to have the constitution to be one of those people.

And so, this season, he sinks lower and lower. His wife goes from homesick harpie to ever-supportive which makes the unfortunate series of bad decisions by Lane so much more awful. He doesn’t have the charisma, the stamina, the wherewithal that the other partners have and season 5 for Lane Pryce is about how, while others flourish in the chaos of a fledgling enterprise, he flounders but is too prideful to admit he can’t keep up.

I just didn’t expect to actually see it.

The last days of Lane Pryce are a distillation of the character at his most pathetic. He is a company man that did well while being pushed around by a larger corporation, one in which he could hide if he just put his head down and turned out mediocre work. But the lifestyle of a small agency is more pressure than his spinelessness could handle and it never fit him and he could never attain the swagger of his cohorts.

Suicide on television is rarely shown as such a sorry way out. It almost always couched in desperation but perhaps something understandable, such as literally no other way out (facing extended jail time or some otherwise certain death, existentially or physically) or after something so emotionally-scarring that it demands approval from an audience (think SVU, etc). But after Don asks for Lane’s resignation upon catching him embezzling money, Don sets it up clearly that this situation is none of those things. This is a time that will pass, no matter what awful things you’ve done. Everyone at that company has remade themselves at some point. Lane is never able to make the transition, gets lost, and can’t take it.

You can even look at Lane as being the normal person among demigods. So many electric personalities with puffed out chests swaggering through this timeline and Lane was this mortal, spinning his legs just to keep up. Maybe that’s why we had to see it. Everyone still full of life even with the hardships they’ve all suffered and Lane spends every bit of energy he has left until he was a husk of a human.

Don takes the news especially hard. This is the second episode in a row where he’s in a position to do something about a horrible situation and no one listens to him. The partners move forward with the plan to prostitute Joan despite his protests and too-late-last-minute plea with the woman herself not to do it. And he even offers Lane advice after demanding his resignation, telling him this is the worst part and that it’ll soon be over.

During the conversation, I almost felt like Don might cave to Lane’s pleas to stay on despite doing the absolute worst thing he could do in his position: taking money from the company for his own gain. Though we know this is an act of desperation, Don has no idea because Lane refuses to play that card. I also get the feeling (as I did when Lane forged Don’s signature in the first place), that if he’d admit to his drowning and asked for help earlier, Don or someone would’ve pitched in, done something, pointed the company in a direction where Lane could get the Christmas bonus or something so he could get his head above water.

But another terrible thing happened that could’ve been preventable. Even before the hanging, releasing Lane is enough to set Don off on a tear to take control again. He’s lost Peggy, he’s lost a fight of persuasion about using Joan, he’s lost a little bit of respect in Cooper’s eyes (since Bert thinks Don caved and gave Lane the money), and now he’s lost Lane after being used by him. He’s on a rampage and demands the world. He wants clients that aren’t start-ups or small players. He wants to sink his teeth into something with more muscle, more blood, more renown. He wants Dow Chemical. He wants control.

Sally and Glen look at the buffalo at the natural history museum.

Did Wes Anderson direct this episode?

And maybe that’s why he understands Glen’s desire to drive at the end. Glen has suffered a lifetime of no power and his life is also a pathetic output of late, from being bullied to feeling the need to tell everyone at school he’s going to nail Sally. It’s made even more sorry when they both admit their complicated relationship is something more akin to siblings than pre-lovers. His life is, as he says, crappy. Peed-on jersey? Good lord.

But Glen and Sally’s complicated relationship, surely to become combustible and destructive by the time they get old enough to make some bad decisions, is intriguing. Both are saddled with intelligent feelings of loneliness and isolation in bodies that, as of this episode, have betrayed them with adulthood of the most monstrous degrees for their genders. Sally “becomes a woman” as Betty says and Glen — well, I just feel sorry that the kid has to go through puberty on camera. It isn’t pleasant for him. But what’s interesting is how this relationship will evolve now that their grips on innocence, both of them holding on steadfastly while hollering about how grown up they are, are forced to release. How will their floundering in isolation change when they also flounder in adulthood?

There’s certainly something to be said about Sally involuntarily leaving childhood at the same time Lane voluntarily leaves humanhood. Both seem pretty upset by the change. The difference is Sally faces the worst of it and survives. Lane couldn’t hack the change.

Some other things:

  • “This is a big win for your little agency.” At the time the scene played I thought Don was satisfied with that. Turns out it was fuel to his “we’re not big enough” fire.
  • What is with the people in this industry constantly luring others with the prospect of partying with their wives — or without? The 4A’s guy is the creepiest.
  • “Also?” “Also: there should be danish.”
  • Speaking of danish, Fat Betty is still around!
  • The last conversation between Don and Lane is painfully delicious. It never pulls punches. It doesn’t pull away. You have to suffer the egregious humiliation.
  • One of my favorite parts about the Megan/Don/Betty dynamic is how honest and good and tolerant Megan is of Betty, particularly in front of Betty’s children. It makes Fat Betty that much more conniving and petty. And fat. Because Megan looks good in a tight sweater and Betty’s sweaters look like the Marshmallow Man got chilly. That’s more about January Jones’s fat suit than Fat Betty as a character.
  • Cosgrove is awesome. He plays this game better than anyone on the show. “Pete doesn’t go to the meeting. And Pete doesn’t go to any meetings.” Yes.
  • Lane tries to kill himself but the car of ill-reputation that his firm represents doesn’t start. OH I GET IT. Seems really dramatic for Lane.
  • Also: killing yourself in your car seems like a lot of work compared to other suicides that require less equipment, fewer contraptions, and are more highly effective.
  • Regarding Sally getting her first period: I did not expect to see the blood. I suppose as she and Lane both transition to different levels of humanness, a demonstration of how macabre our bodies are is in order.
  • I thought for a little bit that Megan would drive Glen back to school so he could pretend he hit that but I realized this isn’t an American Pie spin-off.
  • With the way people are dropping off, by the end of Season 6 it’ll just be Don and Roger running things like that episode of The Simpsons when Mr Burns and Smithers frolic around the plant. Actually, I really want to see that episode.

Leave a comment