Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Mad Men 5-12: Commissions and Fees

I, however, would put my money on Lane. The noose is tightening. -Me, last week, re: speculation that someone would commit suicide before the end of the season

I wish I hadn't used that particular cliché, despite - or perhaps because of - its prescience. Death, even on a TV show, isn't a mere betting game, at least not if the show's been at all successful in getting you to care about the characters.

And we - or at least I, and I know I'm not alone - care about Lane Pryce, even if he never quite elevated himself from a supporting role either in our eyes or in the eyes of the people around him. That was the tragedy of his life, in a way: always to be shoved to the margins, no matter how hard he worked to earn the respect and liking of others. (He's kind of a weird obverse or foil of Pete Campbell in that regard, which in retrospect makes their mano-a-mano episode as thought-provoking as it was comical.)

Even more poignantly, Lane's was a tragedy of someone who never got more than a taste of anything he truly wanted. He was an Englishman who came to America and fell in love with the prospect of breaking free of everything he'd chafed against in England (which I maintain began and ended with his social class: the English are obsessed with class in a way that no American can really understand). Yet he was never really able to leave England behind; whether it came in the shape of his wife and son, his tyrannical cane-wielding father, or the even more tyrannical British tax system, it stretched its hand across the pond to squeeze every last bit of hopeful American spirit out of him. What was so sad about Don telling him to "start over" was that Lane, with his background and his personality, was the person at Sterling Cooper least equipped to do just that. And so - exit Lane, not so elegantly.

I don't mean to suggest that Don handled the Lane situation badly, because he was absolutely in the right. True, there's some hypocrisy in his sitting in judgment on a man who arguably committed no worse a crime than anything Dick Whitman ever did. At the very least, there's something deeply ironic about punishing a man for forging a signature you've forged every day of your life for the last twenty years. (Embezzling, on the other hand...) Still, as a colleague, he was being only fair and even merciful in letting Lane resign without exposing him to the other partners or holding him accountable for the money. That knowledge, of course, did nothing to diminish Don's shock or guilt at the horrible outcome, especially since it so clearly echoed the suicide of his brother Adam - after a conversation not unlike the one he had with Lane.

Nonetheless, despite its timing, I'm not sure that Lane's death will put a lasting damper on Don's professional mojo, which showed signs of returning in the Jaguar pitch and in his bid for Dow's business. I couldn't tell whether his aggressive, balls-to-the-wall approach to the latter was a hit or a miss (he seemed too angry to me to be compelling), but I can't help thinking the writers wouldn't have included that terrific scene with Roger and Ken Cosgrove - who, in a rare and welcome moment, bared his professional fangs - if it wasn't going to lead anywhere. The question is, where? Don's line about happiness being the moment before you want "more" happiness is suggestive, not least of which because it's true...at least for 99% of the characters on "Mad Men." (And, if we're honest, a high percentage of its viewers, too.) Even if SCD(P) lands Dow, it's pretty much guaranteed not to yield any more lasting happiness than Jaguar did.

Sally's entree into "womanhood," the other major storyline of the episode, actually delivered a more genuine surprise than Lane's death, if less of an emotional wallop. I admit I gritted my teeth throughout that first scene of her fighting with Betty, thinking: oh great, just what I need - more rebellious Sally "acting up" and being a general pain in the ass, and more Betty letting her insecurity and pathological jealousy of Megan turn her into a raving bitch...And I admit I feared the worst when Sally called Glen and then greeted him all dolled up, looking like a mini-Betty in mini-go-go boots. I was, however, rather pleasantly surprised by everything that followed, especially since it gave us - for the first time in a very long time - a glimpse of Betty's softer side, which most people have forgotten from the earlier seasons. It was only a moment, made possible only by a traumatized Sally's temporarily reverting to little-girl state - but it was surprisingly moving.

Random observations:

-Jaguar better hope that there's no such thing as bad publicity, because the unreliability of its vehicles is now firmly established as a running joke on "Mad Men" - and not even a light joke that's easy to laugh off, but a very dark one, with an unsuccessful suicide attempt as its all-too-memorable punchline. I also can't help but wonder if Jaguar isn't going to be a harbinger of a larger failure for our Mad Men: something beautiful and desirable that doesn't start.

-Between the gruesome close-up of Lane's hanging corpse and the revelation of Sally's, uh, ailment, there wasn't much left to the visual imagination in this episode. Some have suggested that "Mad Men"'s shift towards a more graphic, jarring style is supposed to reflect the shift in cultural mores in the late '60s. Considering almost nothing about "Mad Men" is unintentional, I'd say it's quite plausible.

-I'm not buying Sally's preemptive rejection of Glen: her face definitely fell when he lobbed it right back at her. Then again, maybe she was just cramping. As for Glen, I tend to believe he was being sincere when he said he viewed her as a little sister. After all, he's more into older women, isn't he? He seemed awfully ready to receive the hospitality of Mrs. Draper #2, and if I remember correctly, was already calling her "Megan" by the end of the day. If Betty ever finds out...I was so terrified Sally, in her moment of vulnerability, was going to say something about him, but luckily the show didn't go there. I hope it never does.

-Still, I have no doubt the warmth and affection Betty showed Sally was genuine. I also have no doubt she derived significant pleasure from the knowledge that Sally had, at the critical moment, chosen her birth mother over the cooler, hipper, younger not-mom. But really, what's so terrible about that? Great acting by January Jones in that last phone call to Megan: just a touch of smugness, not too much. And Megan, for her part, was a trooper.

-I couldn't quite tell if Ken's no-Campbell ultimatum to Roger reflected a simple long-running personal dislike on his part or disgust at Pete's tactics in landing the Jaguar account. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Good-natured as he is, Ken's only human. I did like that he was the first to comfort Joan after their nightmarish discovery of Lane.

-Best line: "Eh, it wore off." -Roger's response to Don's "What happened to enlightenment?"

-Worst line: Glen's palaver about how everything you think is going to be good turns to crap. Way too on the nose, even for "Mad Men." I did like the last shot of Don letting him drive, though - for once, the kid actually did look happy. If only adult happiness were so easy to attain!


Blogger EC said...

Here's Jaguar's Marketing Dept's reaction to their story arc on Mad Men:



As for Ken and Roger (and Pete), I think Ken doesn't want Pete "the grimy pimp" Campbell anywhere near his father-in-law.

3:22 PM  

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