The Mad Men Project: Week 11

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

The blog is vindicated! The blog is vindicated!

If you remember correctly, it was predicted in the vicinity of this teeny, tiny corner of the Internet that Lane’s inevitable suicide would occur at some point throughout this season of “Mad Men.” And if you remember those predictions, then chances are good that you also remember that it was Tyler  (Pete Campbell) who initially floated the possibility after having a discussion with a county judge in northern Pennsylvania. TV Without A TV’s The Mad Men Project: Your source for accurate television predictions. Eat it, Slate, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. We had that one pinned weeks ago.

Now, on to that tease from last week. I felt it only proper that after 11 weeks of setting up this blog so my friends could talk about the current season of “Mad Men” that I give it a go over at Popmatters. So … for those who have even the slightest interest in seeing a long-winded take on the first group of episodes this season (read: none of you), click here to read about how I admit to not just being wrong about this season initially, but how I was loud-wrong. Which, by the way, is always the best kind of wrong to be.

Go ahead. Give it a click. OK. Are you back yet? Good.

Finally, moving on to the actual episode we have gathered here to dissect. I can say with full authority that have no idea what’s going to happen. How’s that for a prediction? “Commissions And Fees” didn’t seem to work as well for me as it did some of the others associated with this project (though that could admittedly be in part because Adam flippantly emailed me the big giveaway before I ever even had a chance to actually view the episode. Boo). It was all fine and good, I thought, but it didn’t hold up to how affecting the Peggy-leaving scene was the week before. But even so, boy, when Don Draper wants to go get something … my God, is there any better character currently on television to watch? His whole spiel about happiness and being content should be burned onto a CD for people to listen to when they feel like hanging themselves in their workplace office. Magnificent television.

And now with one week left, it’s anybody’s guess as to how this whole thing might play out. Does someone replace Lane? Does Don walk away from it all? Is Megan finally going to be written off the show? Will Sal finally make his triumphant return?

I suppose we shall see this Sunday as this whirlwind of a season comes to a close. But as always, enough about me. Let’s see what our board of experts had to say …

Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling

“Jesus, Don. You used to love ‘no’. ‘No’ used to make you hard.”

“Don’t lose your nerve. I liked that guy I saw today. I missed him.”

How refreshing it was to see Roger be a positive force last week! Instead of another plot reinforcing his status as an ad agency also-ran, Roger was given the chance to be an agent of change, a facilitator for Don’s renewed sense of ambition for the agency. Don’s dismissal of the Jaguar and Dunlop tire accounts as “piddly … ” and his hunger for bigger business is music to Roger’s ears. But when Don ultimately expresses doubt about landing such clients due to Ed Baxter’s interpretation of the infamous Lucky Strike letter, Roger reminds Don of his bygone tenacity, setting off a chain reaction of motivational sentiment that ultimately results in Roger scheduling a Monday morning meeting with Baxter and Dow Chemical at Don’s behest. Thankfully Roger didn’t have to fire or bribe Baxter son-in-law Kenny Cosgrove to make this happen, being more than happy to meet Ken’s demand that Pete Campbell be kept away from the account.

Season five has provided so many new and interesting character pairings that it was easy to forget the chemistry that unfolds when SCDP’s two favorite candidates for cirrhosis of the liver team up to take on new business. Roger’s personal and professional relationship with Don has always been fraught with moments of tension and jealousy, but the pairing of Roger’s wit- and -war-stories routine and Don’s brooding creative intellect is a combination that often proves irresistible to clients, and they both know it.

As they rehearse strategy ahead of the Dow meeting, Roger advises Don to “go in there and keep your cool, but if (Baxter) baits you I want you to punch him in the balls.” In a subtle sarcastic reply, Don asks what happened to the “enlightenment” of post LSD Roger, and without surprise, Roger replies that the enlightenment just “wore off.” This little slice of dialogue is perfect because it finally calls out Roger’s phony sense of grandiose insight and introspection. And in a meta sense, it’s a commentary on the fleeting nature of certain “Mad Men” characters trying (and failing) to be something they aren’t (an argument fully articulated in Colin’s PopMatters piece). There will never be a kinder, gentler Roger who isn’t attracted to easy (if ultimately disappointing) sex with impressionable twenty-something coat check girls.

After an hour and forty-five minute wait, Don delivers a brief, emotionally-charged, if desperate pitch to bemused Dow execs. Afterwards, Roger, with perhaps his best quip of the season, promises to buy Don a drink if “you’ll wipe the blood off your mouth.” Unfortunately, the back-slapping camaraderie between them ends abruptly when they are confronted with the news of Lane’s suicide. The expression of sheer horror on Roger’s face as he eyes Lane’s dangling corpse is something he’s never exhibited, and the normally flippant Roger makes no attempts at gallows humor for the sake of levity.

If Roger is to experience any sort of real enlightenment this season, this is the moment. Last week, the majority of the partners thought nothing of using Joan as physical currency for new business. Even if only Don knows the circumstances, Lane’s suicide should impart to Roger (and to all the partners) on some level that the aggressive pursuit of new business can incur real human costs.

Julie Ciaramella (TwitterBlog) – Betty Francis, Megan Draper

Despite Betty Francis starting out this week’s episode in her typical fashion — i.e., yelling at Sally — she ended up having what might be the kindest, most sympathetic moment we’ve ever seen Betty have with one of her kids. In an episode where one character met a horrific ending, the image of Betty hugging Sally in bed was a welcome, comforting image. When Sally runs home from the museum after getting her first period, she just needs her mom. And Betty is there, surprised by Sally’s sudden affection and willing to give it back in return.

It’s also telling that Sally runs to her mother, not Megan. Sally spends most of the episode complaining about how she can’t stand her mom, and she goes to stay with Megan and Don for the weekend while Betty, Henry and the boys go on a skiing trip. Sally acts like a brat when she first arrives, telling Megan that she hates her mother, who is a “phony.” Megan gently reprimands her, and it’s funny to think that if the roles were reversed — if Sally were complaining to Betty about Megan — Betty would probably join in.

Sally seems to relish the time with Megan, drinking coffee and acting like a grown-up. She heads to the museum with her sort-of-boyfriend Glen (who’s still as creepy as ever), and Megan panics when she comes home from an audition and Sally isn’t there. Betty calls to tell Megan what happened: “I think she just needed her mother,” Betty says, a fabulous, understated dig done in a way only Betty knows how to do. Sally may have wanted to be with Megan for the weekend, but Betty is the one Sally goes to in a moment of a crisis. And Betty, who at one point calls Megan a “child bride,” is going to make sure Megan knows that.

Does anyone else keep wondering when Don and Megan’s marriage is going to fall apart? Every argument they have leaves them teetering on the brink of collapse until someone, usually Don, apologizes. He keeps her out of the loop on Sally’s visit, and when he comes home after Lane hangs himself, he doesn’t tell Megan — he just says he’s had a bad day and leaves to drive Glen home. It seems like there’s a new argument every episode. And let’s not forget that weird scene at the beginning of the season where Megan was cleaning in her underwear, or the scene where Don tackled her to the floor, or the infamous Orange Sherbet at Howard Johnson’s incident. It’s hard not to wonder if they’ll continue to work things out or if it’ll all come to an end.

Mark Zeltner (TwitterBlog and Blog) – Don Draper

“What is happiness? It’s the moment before you need more happiness.”

How much happiness is enough? How much success is enough? How much money is enough? How much sex is enough? Don Draper continues to struggle with these existential questions and in the end he comes to the same conclusion we all come to if we are honest: nothing is ever enough. There is no end of the rainbow. There is no real satisfaction or end of the struggle for more. If we are lucky, we continue to fight until our final days hoping to find that happiness, that satisfaction: ever yearning. If we are unlucky we hang ourselves in our office leaving behind nothing but a boilerplate resignation letter as an upright middle finger to all the bastards that kept us from achieving … happiness?

Don’s relative kindness to Lane in offering him an opportunity to resign with a modicum of dignity seems borne out of his recognition that he is lucky to have escaped a similar fate. “The next thing will be better. Because it always is,” he tells Lane and in a perverse way you believe he means what he says. He tells Lane that he has started over many times, as he has, and the realization that the game is over is always the toughest part. To Draper, reinvention and starting over is a positive — a way of clearing the deck and reimagining who one is. His fatal flaw is that he fails to see the terror this situation would cause in the average, less compartmentalized, person.

Don’s encounter with Lane seems to have inflamed his old passion for his work. He tells Roger that he is tired of dealing with mid-level accounts like Mohawk Airlines or Dunlop Tires but he is afraid the Lucky Strike letter has poisoned their ability to land the big accounts. But Roger astutely observes, “You used to love no. No made you hard.” And it did. Because as Roger earlier noted: when it is too easy — for example bedding a 25 year old because she has never had room service before — it is always disappointing.

So Draper plunges into his meeting with Dow Chemical with the old animal desires clearly in evidence. He tells them that 50 percent of the market share is not enough. He wants it all and so should they, “Because even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary.” He chides the Dow Chemical executives for their lack of foresight and then has a few celebratory drinks with Roger before heading back to the office to discover the news about Lane. He is the only one in the office with the common decency to cut Lane down but it is obvious that he knows there will be repercussions stemming from his suicide. There is a price to pay for the pursuit of it all.

Don returns home to find Sally’s former playmate Glen waiting for an appropriate time to return to Grand Central Station and catch his train. After realizing who he is, Don offers him a ride home. “Why does everything turn out crappy?” Glen asks in the elevator. Good question. In the end all Draper can offer him is what every pre-teen boy wants an opportunity to do: drive a car. Is it happiness? No. But it will have to do for now.

Courtney Pomeroy (TwitterTwitterBlogBlog) – Joan Harris

There should be danish. Are we all clear on the necessity of danish when we are trying to be productive advertising executives? Good. On to new business.

Joan spent much of this week’s episode, “Commissions and Fees,” coaching “the new her” about the protocol. Baked goods. Ongoing business. New business. Et cetera. When she wasn’t doing that, she was either planning the Easter vacation she can now afford because of her freshly minted partnership or discovering dead bodies. What a topsy turvy hour, huh?

She may be smiling widely at brochures for paradise and enjoying every minute of whipping her replacement into shape, but there was at least one moment on Sunday where we could tell she hasn’t pushed what she had to do for her financial security and power out of her mind. Most notably, when Don put his two cents in about Jaguar’s payment plan and then asked if his vote mattered or if the rest of the partners were just going to wait until he left the room to decide amongst themselves. The situation draws a clear parallel to when Bert, Roger, Lane and Pete concluded, despite Don’s protest, that Joan prostituting herself was an acceptable way to land the Jaguar account. In response to Don’s statement, her eyes went straight to the table. Everyone knows what he was referencing. It’s not like anyone is ever going to forget.

And you have to wonder if that’s just going to spoil the whole thing for her eventually. As Glen said at the end of the episode, everything that seems like it’s going to make you happy just turns to crap. And as Don pointed out, happiness is just a moment before you need more happiness. Will financial security prove to be worth what Joan had to do to get it? It sure hasn’t seemed to make any of her fellow partners content. Just look at them. Don isn’t happy with landing the car account he was so excited about just a few weeks ago. He doesn’t want Jaguar, he wants Chevy. For Roger, sex with the coat check girl from Long Island (Rhode Island?) just wasn’t satisfying. And it never is. Pete has it all, but he still wants the girl from his driver’s education class, his commuter buddy’s wife and an apartment in the city — probably so he can try to bed more women who aren’t his wife. And Lane hanged himself, for goodness’ sake. Bert is the only one of them who doesn’t seem to think his life is horrible, and even he is pretty darn indifferent about it all.

With all of that taken into consideration, it’s frankly not a question of if but *when* Joan realizes happiness can’t be bought. The happiest any character has seemed in this entire season was when Peggy stepped into the elevator and out of SCDP (perhaps forever) at the end of “The Other Woman.” Yeah, she’s going to be making more moolah at the other agency, but she’s also going to be respected. Not seen as “some secretary from Brooklyn who’s dying to help out,” as Freddy Rumson put it. Well, I’ll see your Brooklyn secretary and raise you a Manhattan prostitute. That may be harsh, but it’s true. If the SCDP men could never manage to see Peggy as an equal, despite her efforts, how is Joan going to fare after she literally slept her way to the top?

Of course, some of these things were put out of the minds of the audience in the second half of the episode in light of the jarring tragedy of Lane’s suicide. But as we all know, Joan’s securing of the Jaguar account played no small role in the circumstances that led to him hanging himself. Since Joan had an affinity for Lane, let’s hope she never finds that out. It would only exacerbate the regret she will undoubtedly have for her actions at some point down the line.

Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell

Yes, Glen, you are correct — everything turns to crap. Despite proclaiming “The Other Woman” as the darkest episode of the season last week, “Commissions and Fees” certainly all other episodes of season five in morbidity and pessimism. Unfortunately for Lane, he paid the ultimate commission and fee. Thus, happiness does not exist. The firm started anew last season and has worked into landing Mohawk and Jaguar. Still, no character is happy, which calls into question the efforts of achieving happiness. What is it all worth?

Apparently, the worth is setting the roadmap for season six. Don is left holding the bag containing the secret of Lane’s embezzlement. Dow Chemical will ultimately sign on with Sterling Cooper Draper, nee Price, to the exclusion of Pete. Peggy will be competing against Don at her new job. And, the door is open for the entry of a new character to fill Lane’s position within the firm.

The style and cinematography of this episode was beautifully cold and desolate. What better time of year than early- to mid-winter to commit suicide? This bleakness was underscored by the great shot of Sally and Glen backlit by the winter diorama of snow buffalo at the museum. The only warmth was portrayed by Don’s compassion toward Lane in his forced resignation, Betty’s pseudo motherhood of Sally in her time of need, and Rebecca Price’s dotage to her late husband (Who wouldn’t want a wife like Rebecca Price?).

Pete Campbell lacks the compassion the other characters exhibit. Had Pete been the one to fire Lane, he would have either used it to his advantage or tattled to Bert Cooper. And, really, what were Pete’s efforts of garnering more business worth? Roger admits that, although he dislikes Campbell, Pete has been bringing incoming business and phone calls to the firm. However, Don, having come out of his apathetic stupor of late, realizes that Pete’s efforts and achievements have been piddly. Pete snags Mohawk; Don wants American Airlines. Pete gets Jaguar; Don wants Chevy. Pete has Dunlop tires on the line, and Don vies for Firestone. Pete Campbell is merely a big fish in a small pond — no matter how hard one works, someone else’s view from the top is always better.

Having no expectations means no possibility of disappointment. The loathsome Glen Bishop accentuated this notion perfectly by quipping, “Everything you think is going to make you happy just turns to crap.” Even Lane’s attempt at ending his life in the Jaguar ended in disappointment. As the engine cranked and cranked, Bert Cooper’s voice was figuratively echoing in the background: “They’re lemons! They never start!” Despite these depressing themes, it appears that the writers have finally succeeded in returning this series to what it used to be. Evidently, then, not all things turn to crap.

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