Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 12: “Commissions and Fees”
Written by Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton
Directed by Chris Manley
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
A major thematic arc this season has been the dissatisfaction of characters, derived from their constant efforts to achieve happiness; whatever “happiness” actually means. This has manifested itself in a number of different ways throughout the season and appears once again in this episode, the penultimate of the season.
For Pete and Roger, boredom has been at the forefront of their discontent. Both have tired of their respective wives. Roger is even at the stage of finding sex “disappointing” with others outside of his now separated wife. “If they can get it, won’t everyone want it?”, Roger proposes during the partner meeting. This idea of greed and the continued struggle for happiness, as last week’s episode noted, points to the fact that happiness is probably unattainable.
This season has found Don continually frustrated, illustrating his discontent, as he persistently strives for bigger and better. Ultimately, Don’s story arc demonstrates that each and every character finds themselves in a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction due to greed, as no matter what they achieve, they are always looking at what someone else has, and are never truly fulfilled. The characters always want more, as Megan’s departure from SCDP and renewal of her acting career attests. Glen’s speech to Don in the lift in the final moments of the episode further echoes this gluttony. “Everything you think is gonna make you happy just turns to crap”, he wisely bemoans.
Earlier in the episode, Rebecca implores Lane to take her to dinner, instead of staying in. She notes that he “refuses to recognise the successes when they come”. Lane’s narrative this season has explored the idea of declining self-worth, which brilliantly foreshadowed his eventual suicide in his own office. “What is it I do here?”, he asked Joan in the fifth episode, reflecting on his lack of recognition from SCDP, and forcing him to question his own worth to the company.
Fittingly, episode twelve ensures the audience knows the important duty Lane has performed for SCDP. Firstly, he wins the Chairmanship of AAAA and then when Don confronts him about his fraudulent cheque, Lane condemns Don and his “fellow partners”, who he claims have failed to acknowledge the vital role he’s played. Tragically, Lane symbolises what happens when everyone else is concerned about their own happiness and fails to acknowledge that of others’. Equally, he symbolises the dissatisfaction experienced by all of the characters in this world.
Appropriately titled ‘Commissions and Fees’, the story this week presents a great irony, in effect stating that we all have to pay a price, in order to get anywhere. Don believes he’s doing Lane a favour by allowing him to submit his resignation admirably, thus saving face. Don even states he’ll remunerate Lane for the funds that he injected into SCDP to keep them afloat, throughout the Lucky Strike crisis. It appears a simple trade: compensation for his resignation. Alas, as fate would have it, Lane pays with his life. Suitably, Pete is the one to cut Lane down, as he symbolically did earlier in the season.
The issue of trust has underpinned a number of moments this year. One notable example is Lane’s betrayal of his partners at SCDP by forging Don’s signature. ‘Commissions and Fees’ provides a few further instances. Megan trusts Sally to do as she’s told and stay at the apartment, which Sally immediately disobeys, as soon as the door shuts. Megan later trusts Glen despite never meeting him before. And finally, although fragile in the wake of Lane’s death, Don allows Glen to drive his car, in a somewhat contrived scene. Trust is also exemplified in a positive way, in the conversation between Sally and Megan about relationships, with the ample pouring of sugar symbolising the sweetness of Megan’s feelings toward Sally.
Meanwhile, having derided Betty for the majority of the season, Sally’s trust in her mother is evident when she experiences her first period in the museum. Instead of returning to Don and Megan’s apartment, which she clearly perceives to be a safe place, she takes a taxi totaling $25, all the way to Betty and Henry’s. It is revealed albeit surprisingly that she truly seeks solace in her mother, literally running into her arms. This understandably delights Betty, as she almost brags to Megan, “I think she just needed her mother”.
Tension was rife this week, particularly in Lane’s story, even before his first suicide attempt; additionally, later in the episode, during Sally’s trip to the museum with Glen. The fifth season seems to have focused heavily on its tension, more so than any other year thus far. We’ve had the ominous threats of serial killers (‘Mystery Date’), missing people (‘Far Away Places’), Don committing murder (‘Mystery Date’), cancer scares (‘Tea Leaves’), depression and now suicide.
‘Commissions and Fees’ may not have been up with this season’s best, but it is stronger than the season premiere and ‘Far Away Places’. With one final episode to go, Mad Men will no doubt leave 2012 tantalisingly.