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'Mad Men' Episode 12 Review and Recap: When 'Commissions and Fees' Demand the Most Terrible Price

Television
by Beth Hanna
June 4, 2012 6:23 AM
5 Comments
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"Mad Men" AMC

"Please don't stick around to see me when I'm feelin' low. Don't pass the cards to me to deal the crashing blow. I'll leave and close the door so you won't see me go." - The Lovin' Spoonful, "Butchie's Tune." Spoilers ahead!

What happened:

The newly won Jaguar clients have requested a fee structure, as opposed to commission, from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

As a result, Bert Cooper searches through accounting books and discovers the check that Lane forged with Don's signature. Bert confronts Don, unaware the check is fraudulent, but Don understands what has happened. He confronts Lane, and demands Lane's resignation. Lane breaks down. Don attempts to comfort him: "I've started over a lot, Lane. This is the worst part."

Sally is acting up at the Francis residence, making Smart Alec remarks about the family's upcoming ski trip. Betty loses her temper and calls Don, telling him that he and his "child bride" Megan will have to take care of Sally for the weekend.

Don expresses his dissatisfaction with the Jaguar account to Roger: He wants a big fish, like Chevy, not Jaguar. When Roger suggests a meeting with Ken's father-in-law, Ed Baxter of Dow Chemical, Don is hesitant -- Ed called him on his Lucky Strike letter at the American Cancer Society gala, and will likely reject SCDP. Roger shoots back with an interesting comparison to impotence: "'No' used to make you hard."

Roger meets with Ken. "So we're going after your father-in-law." Ken lays down his requirements: If SCDP lands Dow Chemical, he wants to be on the account, and for Pete to have nothing to do with it. Roger goes back to Don, telling him he has 48 hours before his meeting with Baxter. Don has his weekend work cut out for him.

Upon Lane's return home, his wife insists they go out to dinner to celebrate his recent 4A's Fiscal Control Committee chairmanship. In the parking garage, she surprises him with a newly purchased Jaguar. How did she pay for it? "I wrote a check." The stinging irony is too much for Lane, and he throws up violently. Later, we see Lane gagging the exhaust pipe of the vehicle, and attempt to kill himself. The irony is ratcheted up one more level, as the "beautiful but unreliable" Jaguar won't turn over. Lane can't even get lucky with a carbon monoxide job.

The following Monday morning, Sally is left alone at Don and Megan's apartment, as Don has the Baxter meeting and Megan has an audition. Awkward Glen plays hookie and comes to see her. They go to the Museum of Natural History, where Sally gets her first period. Fraught with confusion, she catches a cab back to the Francis residence and tells Betty. In a rare moment, they hug.

Don and Roger meet with Baxter, who claims he's happy with his company's current agency, McManus. Don explains that Dow would be more fulfilled with SCDP, and that the satisfaction Baxter feels with McManus isn't lasting: "Happiness is a moment before you need more happiness."

Back at SCDP, Joan tries to deliver some company records to Lane's office, but the door will only open a foot, and a terrible smell wafts out. Anxious, Joan steps into the neighboring office to tell Pete, Ken and Bert. Pete, the character most associated with suicide throughout this entire season, peeks through the adjoining office window and gasps. Lane is dead.

Roger and Don return to a suspiciously empty SCDP. Joan, Pete and Bert are the only employees there, having sent everyone else home. They tell Roger and Don that Lane hanged himself. Don forces his way into Lane's office: "You can't leave him like that." In perhaps the most graphic scene in the history of "Mad Men" -- barring the lawnmower incident -- Don, Pete and Roger haul down a purplish Lane from his noose. (Importantly, Pete is the one to cut the rope.) They discover a resignation letter, but it reveals nothing. "Boilerplate."

Don returns home, where Megan is waiting with Glen, both having been worried about Sally's disappearance until Betty called with an update. Don insists he drive Glen back to Hotchkiss.

Lane's suicide:

Suicide has come up again and again this season. But it was hard to see the forest for the trees. Pete's miserable in the suburbs. Pete's pining for a woman he can't have. Don's drawing pictures of hangman's nooses. Don's looking down empty elevator shafts. Not that it was necessarily expected for either Pete or Don to die. It would be very un-"Mad Men" to visually and verbally reference something like suicide so often with a certain character and then literally bestow that fate on him.

A very clever and devastating trick was played: Lane's problems are consistently -- and strategically -- overshadowed in the "Mad Men" narrative. With Peggy's departure, Joan's prostitution-turned-partnership, Megan and Don's violence and Pete's existential misery, it's easy to forget about Lane. I densely viewed his embezzlement as a sort of second-tier MacGuffin. In fact it was the last stage in a long-coming and unanswered cry for help. And it makes perfect sense. Who is most in danger of suicide? Someone who has been forgotten.

We see Lane alone at night in the SCDP office, typing what we later learn is his resignation letter (and thus a generic stand-in for a suicide note). This nicely parallels Lane's other moment this season when he conducted late-night personal business in the office: The forging of the check. If the resignation letter signals the end, the check forging signaled the beginning of the end.

There is a longstanding history of body horror on "Mad Men." Lane joins the ranks of the show's vomiters in this episode (Don, Roger and Betty are past vomiters). "Mad Men" characters expel things from their body when they can't verbally express their problems. Lane is homesick, unappreciated, excluded from the all-American boys club at SCDP, horny and in debt. When his wife purchases him a Jaguar -- a symbol of a place he no longer works -- with money they don't have, that's the cherry on top of the shit pile. He throws up and then, scenes later, kills himself. Body horror indeed.

Two mommies:

Sally has her own body horror in this episode. A shot of a young girl's white panties stained with blood is a bold and uneasy visual.

There were a couple of nice payoffs with Sally's storyline this week. First, the juxtaposition between Betty and Megan as mothers is further explored. Sally views Megan as the cool older girl to emulate. When Megan takes Sally to lunch with Julia, Sally maturely orders coffee, and mentions that she has a boyfriend. She also doesn't blink at Julia's joke about "being a redhead everywhere." When Glen comes to the apartment, notice that Sally wears her white Go-Go boots (which Don didn't allow for the American Cancer Society dinner) and a pleated mini-dress. The outfit is very similar to what Megan often wears.

Meanwhile, Betty is the grouchy mother figure who Sally resents. I love that Sally disdainfully sniffs the ski boots Betty offers her, but later shows off the shiny boots she bought with Megan.

However, when Sally gets her period, she hurries back to the Francis residence and tells Betty. Betty is quick to mention this to Megan: "I think she just needed her mother."

Betty is saddled with a lot of nasty mothering in "Mad Men," and it was refreshing to see her and Sally hug and cuddle in this episode. I'd like to think of this as an apology from the show writers to Betty for the one-note awfulness they gave her in Season 4.

Bits and pieces:

  • Joan was all smiles when talking about her upcoming vacation. The 5% partnership agrees with her.
  • I predict that Ken Cosgrove will get a major storyline next season. We learned more about his writing career this season, and now, if Ed Baxter is wooed over to SCDP, Ken will be on the account at the exclusion of Pete and he'll be navigating a tricky family vs. business relationship.
  • Don lets Glen drive his car. I saw this as a bit of hard-won wisdom from Lane's suicide. Don was the only one who could have possibly guessed what Lane might do to himself, but he ignored the danger signs and instead focused on the upcoming Baxter meeting. When Glen confesses that "everything that makes you happy turns to crap," Don listens and tries to help.
  • "Butchie's Tune" by The Lovin' Spoonful is the episode's closing song.

Other ideas or interpretations? Thoughts about the episode?

Television
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More: Television, TV Reviews, AMC , Mad Men

5 Comments

  • LD | June 8, 2012 3:58 AMReply

    I actually didnt find the panty-blood shot uneasy at all. I was all 'Awww, she's growing up!' Maybe I am just a bit 'clucky' :)

    I don't know what it is about some people (characters on TV mostly), you can really smell 'death' on them. And Lane definitely fits into that category. Of course hindsight is always 20-20....but I am still going to insist that if you tune your senses, you can really 'feel' it emanating from some characters. It's like dread, rising and rising...

  • Beth Hanna | June 8, 2012 12:27 PM

    @LD -- Thanks for your comment. In terms of Sally's period, I think the panty-blood shot (gotta love that term!) is uneasy in the general TV universe (which, of course, Mad Men defies), while it may not be uneasy to certain viewers. I found myself both relating to Sally, and also surprised/impressed that they went ahead and showed the menstrual blood. In terms of Lane, I think you're right. I tend to get so wrapped up in the women of Mad Men, that I sometimes overlook the men, and fail to see just how desperate their situation really is. There was a part of me thinking there would be no death at all. But, as you say, Lane certainly had dread emanating from him for many episodes (even seasons) now.

  • Beth Hanna | June 6, 2012 12:14 PMReply

    @R. Scott -- That's an interesting point. Don is definitely attempting a moral highground this season, but it's fascinating to see the ways in which he's getting punished for it. He tries to do the valiant thing when Joan's in her predicament with Herb, but he arrives too late to her apartment. (I would also argue that his leaving the room when the Joan-Herb discussion was happening amongst the partners was a pretty passive form of protest.) He won't condone Lane's transgression, as you say, and gives him a relatively easy out of the company. But then Lane kills himself, which will probably haunt Don for the rest of his life. Don's been compared verbally and visually to Super Man many times this season, which I agree is a form of re-invention of Dick Whitman. But, of course, the re-invention is messier than Don would like.

  • R. Scott | June 5, 2012 10:56 PMReply

    What I find interesting about this season is that Don (Don!) is becoming the moral centre of Mad Men. He's being shown as the loyal (so far) husband, protector of women and the guy who won't condone Lane's transgression, and he's good enough to allow him to resign. He still has his moments, such as last episode's boorish throwing money at Peggy, but is the new moral Don the latest re-invention of Dick Whitman?

  • cinephilactic | June 4, 2012 9:19 AMReply

    Thought that Lanes suicide was handled well. The show has been building up to this moment all season, but it was always going to be Lane or Pete. Sad to see Harris go, but Don's reaction and even the way the firing scene were handled was Mad Men and it's actors at their best.

    Our take: http://wp.me/p1VQBq-ZP

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