Mad Men – Commissions and Fees
(Caution: coherency may vary. Author is feeling like a bit of a Jaguar today)
“What happened to your enlightenment?”
“Don’t know. Wore off.”
Nothing lasts forever. Happiness doesn’t last. Satisfaction Doesn’t last. This Season will not last much longer (it has only a week left to live) and Lane? Let’s just say that forever is now exactly where he finds himself. It’s unfortunate but it’s also just the way of life; nothing lasts. That is, not unless it’s stuffed and displayed in a diorama, a false frontage, a facade for a future audience of disinterested onlookers; then maybe a glimpse of it remans. Mad Men is officially going to go down in history as one of the greatest tales ever told but there has been no doubt of that for a very long time, these episodes are simply tasked with determining what shaped legacy it will leave, they are adding the baby to complete the family, if you will.
I say that not just as a callback to one of this episodes conversations but also because it sums up nicely what it is this season has been doing. Don has always been a family man and his family fairly important pieces of the plot but the evolution of this season seems to me to be similar to that of a single man who all of a sudden has a child. Instantly the “I” becomes less important: so too business, money, power and all the other things oft sought by men. In their place comes the child of course, but also grander philosophical thoughts; once one starts to look outside of themselves it becomes hard to stop.
So while many have said that the show has been less subtle this year – and are right to – it bears pointing out that the meaning behind the metaphors are so much bigger here than they ever were in past seasons, so a lack of delicacy in their delivery simply makes sense. This is no longer just the story of one man and his identity issues, it’s now one charting the life and death of an entire generation.
Of course though the show has not actually changed all that much in terms of form, it’s still a show about advertising after all and so this story is told to us more through business terms than biological ones. Thus we are told of how we each of us have our fees and commissions to pay in life, that inescapable debt of the end and how these – our lives and our deaths – are all balanced in nature’s big book of accounts. I daresay that bluntness is necessary when attempting to cram that size theme in to a compelling narrative full of complex characters, which is exactly what the show did this week and has done basically all season ( This streak surely cannot last).
Speaking of business landing the Jaguar account has ushered in a period of financial fecundity for the firm with some small clients now calling in asking for ad work and Don inspired to go out and grab the big ones by the pursestrings. The profit purgatory that they seemed stuck in is no more and the title of “little firm” one that didn’t last anywhere near as long as forever; SCDP is evolving, it’s growing up.
And speaking of growing up ( Who can be bothered thinking of clever segues?) the episode ended on a pair of perfect parenting scenes: Betty got a magical moment of motherhood when Sally, now her spoiled simulacrum, came running into her arms after seeing only ominousness in her first ovulation while Don got one of fatherhood with show-runner Matthew Wiener’s son as they drive slowly up state together, summery music spotting from the radio. These two teenagers catch a glimpse of adulthood and come scurrying back under the wing that they had only just started to renounce, while their parents ( and pseudo-parents) are given a chance to correct things, to be in control. Childhood too then does not last, the innocence crushed under the steady encroaching of experience, but it’s end is the beginning of something new: Sally the girl is gone with Lane to the big office block in the sky, Sally the woman is the role now played by Kiernan Shipka, Lady Lazurus, etc.
But of course it’s not the starting of new life that people will remember this episode for but the way it cut short an old – or ongoing – one. Don may not be the kind of man that needed a Jaguar, but because of a few bad choices Lane was; though he needed it like a hole in the head…or should i say a bruise round the neck? Everything about his suicide was pitch-perfectly handled: from the introduction of the jaguar (which almost made me sick to see), it’s failure to sate him, the way that we were kept at a distance by the door and the office divider under we were far too close for comfort and Joan’s reactions to everything. So striking and yet so subtle. People have been saying that this tax plot came out of nowhere and now I think that was done on purpose; the thing that kills us could come from anywhere and at anytime, death is around every corner.
So this was another very dark episode in what is seemingly the darkest
timeline season that the show has given us yet, but I have to think that this too will all balance out in the end. If everything must end then darkness and depression have timers too. Yes there is a lot of talk this week about good days turning into bad days and everything turning to crap but the episode itself doesn’t reflect this; structurally speaking death isn’t the end, Don’s driving scene was and like Peggy at the lift last week this is a loving and uplifting moment which makes me think that things can only get better, be it next week, next season or fifty odd years in the future where these characters find themselves writing copy for commercials that interrupt one of the greatest shows ever made, one that must feel very familiar to them, depicting as it does their life story. If anything is, the glory of this show is quickly becoming immortal.