TV Review: Mad Men Episode 12 – Commissions and Fees

Written by Vanessa Vernick June 06, 2012

With only one episode left to go in the fifth season, this one was by far the darkest and most disturbing episode of the entire “Mad Men” series. It was emotional, powerful, raw and full of pathos which are all marks of good acting and good writing. “Commissions and Fees” follows three stories that, in many ways, parallel one another but in other ways are paradoxical of each other. We are taken on a journey through the circle of life and we welcome life, we experience growth and change but ultimately, we face death.

You Should Sit Down

There is a lot of guilt going a round in this episode and you see a side of Don that almost seems defeated. Early on in the episode, Don comes to the realization that Lane forged his signature and embezzled money from the company. He asks Lane for his resignation so as not to embarrass him and tells him to leave. After a blow up in which Lane crosses quite a few lines, we become aware of the fact that maybe we’ve never really known Lane. We never knew him as a character; a person. We witness how he’s become so consumed by shame and humiliation, and not because of the money but because of the forgery. The writers did an incredible job of building up to the climax of this episode. We end up wondering: what are his choices? Does he have a choice? He can’t go back to work, he can’t stay in the USA because of visa issues, he can’t face his wife and tell her what he’s done, and he can’t go back to England as a failure. And then, he makes his choice or, at least, makes the only decision he can; the discovery of Lane in his office, hanging from the door with a rope around his neck.

While this was all happening, I couldn’t help but think about the Samurai code of honour, Seppuku, in which a shamed samurai warrior would willingly die by his own sword (by essentially thrusting his blade into his abdomen himself) in order to die with honour rather than be handed over to die by the hands of his enemies. I realize that in Western cultures suicide is often seen as a cowardice way of dying, but I couldn’t help but think that for Lane, suicide was the only way in which he could keep any notion of honour and dignity without having being further shamed and humiliated by his enemy, the world.

Happiness is a Moment Before You Need More Happiness

Intertwined with Lane’s story line, Don and Sterling arrange a meeting with Kenny’s father-in-law, Ed and we realize that Don isn’t happy. The themes of honour and shame rear their heads again as Don’s insatiable appetite for acquisition and this deep seated need for more reveals itself. It initially appears as though he’s absolutely desperate for something ‘bigger’. But if we look a bit deeper, we find that while he may indeed want more, what he is really after is change. He is tired of the way SCDP has been conducting business and although they managed to snag Jaguar he is ashamed of the way they got it. There was no honour or integrity involved in that deal and, to be honest, there have been quite a few questionable decisions made this season. Don wants to succeed in a way that is honest by doing something that he and the company can be proud of. In my opinion, this is one of Jon Hamm’s best performances.

Death and Resurrection

 

As we say goodbye to Lane and see a life end, we also get to see growth and a new life begin with Sally. Her attitude becomes understood less as rebellion and more as her trying to test the boundaries of adulthood. She convinces Glen to come to the city for a visit and they end up going to the Museum of Natural History. Though Sally desperately wants to grow up, as witnessed by her attempts to dress like Megan, she’s really still a little girl. However, half way through their excursion Sally realizes that she doesn’t actually like Glen in a romantic way and then, the ultimate event in a girl’s life happens, she gets her first period. Scared and unsure of what to do, she comes to the conclusion that as cool as Megan may be, all she wants is her mom and runs home to her.

We see a new beginning for Sally as she leaves childhood behind and we also see a new relationship form between Betty and her daughter and find that sometimes we do get second chances and sometimes we need to leave the past in the past. This is an interesting set up for what should be an epic season finale but it is also setting the tone for what to expect next season and though I’ve had my gripes with this season, I personally can’t wait!

 

 

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About Vanessa Vernick

Vanessa is a writer and editor for We Eat Films and, thus, has a love for film (especially classic FIlm Noir) and a passion for writing. She is currently in pursuit of an Honours Double Major in Criminology and Sociology at Western, giving her a unique edge, and tries to incorporate a bit of this into much of what she writes. She is hoping to pursue her Masters in Journalism. When she's not writing, you'll usually find her glued to her TV or enamoured by one of the great, classic Penguin novels.

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