Mad Men s5e12: Commissions and Fees

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

We all have good days that turn into bad ones, but some of us just can’t shake it. As much as it’s Real Life, the consequences of our own actions are sometimes too much to bear. Sometimes shit is just so devastating you can’t cope.. enter Lane Pryce and his illicit cash grab.

image courtesy of Vulture

We knew it was coming, but Lane’s been caught red-handed by Cooper, cancelled Christmas bonus check with Don’s faux signature and all. And we all know Lane is one proud motherfucker, so his chat with savvier than expected Don does not go well.

Sadly, this is grisly familiar territory for Don; it’s not the first time that a guy he knew has hanged himself as a near-direct result of Don telling him to get on with it and leave. Before Lane Pryce, there was of course Adam Whitman. Don’s motivations as well as the circumstances are super different, but the endgame is identical; Dick Whitman imparts some hobo code ‘run away’ advice and both of these guys instead choose to violently exit the world.

And the punch is that Don was truly doing do the right thing for Lane, giving him an elegant exit with a resignation– obviously trying to course correct after Adam.

Adam & Lane || image courtesy of Tumblr

Don really thinks he did the decent thing for Lane here, and he’s not entirely wrong. When that type of trust is broken, natch Don cannot keep working with him; letting him resign sans scandal is miles better than outing his embezzlement and shady shit to the partners, much less ringing the coppers. Trying to do him a favour and send him off on a semi-OK note, Don gives Lane a variation on the speech he gave Peggy in the mental ward back in s2 about moving forward from absolute shit circumstances.

“I can’t go back to England like this. What will I tell my wife? .. What will I tell my son?”

“You’ll tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t. And you’ll tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is. Take the weekend.. think of an elegant exit. Cooper doesn’t know anything.”

“l feel a bit light-headed.”

“That’s relief. I’ve started over a lot, Lane.. this is the worst part.”

Seems like good advice on how to get on with it, but Lane ain’t Pegs and he certainly is not Donald Draper. Peggy has enough common ground with Don to make that hobo code a part of her aesthetic and make it work to her advantage. Look at her bounce to a better profesh situation as soon as the opportunity presents itself; however, Lane is not particularly equipped to do the same.

Take a look at the guy. Lane is a middle manager– the moneyman hemming and hawing over payroll and Jaguar’s fee versus commission structure, treated as a malleable marionette by PPL, seen begrudgingly as a necessary evil by the SCDP partners. The kicker is that whenever he strives to achieve more in life beyond his predetermined glass box, he gets beaten down.. quite literally by his crust-ass dad’s cane.

(Also, anytime I think of Lane Pryce’s father I think of Mr. Burns’ mother..)

Brass tacks– handsome and determined Dick Whitman could start over; Lane Pryce cannot. Don’s schpiele to Peggy gave her life a clean slate, but his speech to Lane instead brought his to a screeching halt. He’s got more at stake than Peggy did as well. Don’t forget that Lane is in the USA on a work visa, has a wife and apartment in Manhattan, kid in a good NYC school.. no wonder he thought it was all over. Being stripped of his visa would fuck that all to hell like your prom date; briskly and thoroughly. How could he return to England under those circumstances?

Trying to off himself in the surprise Jaguar he and his wife can’t afford (unbeknownst to her) and having the damned unreliable thing not start was a bitter touch.

Even though Don was of course never as close to Lane as he was to Adam, nor was he as arctic in his rejection, the parallels are suffocating. Insisting upon going into Lane’s office to prevent the guy from dangling up there alone until the coroner makes his appearance, I get the vibe that he’s attempting to deal with lingering memories of his departed half-brother. After all, Adam was long dead before Don even knew about it.

If you don’t learn anything from your past, you’re absolutely fucking doomed to repeat it. And though Don tried to do it right with Lane, at the end of the day he cannot control anything other than his own shit; a hard pill to swallow for sure.

I leave you all with this Don Draper iconography directed at Leland Palmer and Dow Chemical. Once he essentially sacks Lane, he yearns to move onto the big leagues account-wise, to think bigger than Lane ever did. And let’s be real, he ain’t wrong; what IS happiness? The moment before you need more happiness. Nothing is ever enough.

“Ed Baxter told me the Lucky Strike letter poisoned us with all those companies.

“What? Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“Because l wrote that letter.”

“You let that wax figurine discourage you??”


Mad Men s5e9: Dark Shadows

“Don’t wake me up and throw your failures in my face, it’s Sunday, for Christ’s sake!”

Hello, self-involved garbage– as Roger succinctly puts it in this episode, it’s every man for himself. Betty gets insecure and stirs the pot with Sally re:Anna, Don clips talented Ginzo’s wings, and Roger’s doing God knows what with Jane.. they’re just grabbing whatever they want in that moment, everyone else be damned.

image courtesy of Reddit

So, there’s Don and his work mojo .. or lack thereof. Shockingly, turns out all his fucking off has left him real rusty. Heading in on a now-rare weekend, Don attempts to get some SnoBall shit done to no avail. On his way out, he glimpses Ginsberg’s folder, overflowing with great ideas.

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He’s jealous of Ginzo’s raw talent, and even though Don trashes Ginsberg’s (better) SnoBall idea en route to the meeting so the client would favour his pitch instead, he hasn’t won the war; this is just temporary satisfaction, a band-aid on some horrifying wound. The Michael Ginsberg looming talent threat persists, in spite of Don’s cultivated façade of indifference.

Though Betty is actively trying to better herself and get on with it, it’s one step forward and 2 gigantic steps back. At least Henry is a steady positive in her life.. and actually present for Thanksgiving with his family. Waiting to get the kids one weekend, Betty snags an accidentally intimate look at Don and Megan’s lavish lifestyle on Park Avenue, and immediately feels intensely uncomfortable and insecure. Can you blame her?

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Oof. That love note to Megan is probably the best writing Don’s done in awhile. Seeing him being so outwardly kind, romantic and loving with someone else can’t feel good for Betty.. especially after all the bullshit he put her through for years on end. But Bets, don’t forget that appearances can be deceiving. Don didn’t immediately land on his feet after the divorce, after all.. and shit’s a damn mess on and off with Megan.

Every one of these characters experiences moments of great happiness tempered with terrible real life shit. Betty’s life, though cushy from the outside, can be just bleak as we know Don’s can be. It’s all a real mixed bag; good shit happens, bad shit happens, just like Forrest Gump’s Mama said. What matters is holding onto your humanity, keeping an eye on your moral compass .. which can be exceedingly difficult when life circumstances throw everything they’ve got at you. Gotta keep your shit together during times of adversity, which is harder than it looks.

In this case, Don’s lie about his upbringing and being previously ‘married’ to Anna is a lie so big, so insurmountably massive to Betty. Sally’s doing some busywork family tree for school, but to Betty, there’s an exposed nerve there; it kicks up a whole bunch of bad vibes and negative feelings.

But when she’s with Henry and living her day to day, Betty shows real flashes of insight, clearly absorbing the life advice from her Weight Watchers meetings. There’s some understanding and personal growth, slowly unraveling why she feels the way she does about shit in order to get on with it. But Betty is also human; she really could not sustain this level of zen as she felt jealous and sad about Don’s new life. Though this may be petty and absolute shit, it is relate-able and human.

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Absolutely apoplectic that Betty casually mentioned Anna Draper to Sally, Don blasts towards the phone to give her an earful. Megan astutely tells him that’s a bunch of shit, effectively putting him in his place; let her stir the pot, Don. One step forward, maybe. Megan ain’t wrong.

Remember, bad behaviour is generally motivated by alienation and fear, irrational things that we all feel every now and then. Betty is natch capable of compassion and affection, but those behaviours fly in the faces of immaturity and selfishness.

And even though doing acid hasn’t actually changed much of Roger’s day to day, it’s impacted how he deals with his own feelings as well as how he deals with the people around him. It’s given him a touch of introspection and clarity. The morning after he and Jane have a bang in her now tainted Clean Slate(TM) apartment, he shows real remorse for brazenly hurting someone he once cared about a great deal. Think about this Roger versus the guy from a season or two back; he would have made some super sardonic quip and sauntered off about his business. There’s some semblance of growth with Roger as Don and Betty backslide a little.

Thanksgiving 1966 brings a gigantic toxic cloud to descend upon Manhattan, a pretty literal vision of the negativity and selfish garbage floating around in this episode. Shit’ll clear up soon, guys and gals.

“This is a setback. You’re always thinking about other people, and then you’re angry because no one’s thinking about you.. But I am. It’s so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we’re in charge of ourselves. And I’m here to heIp you, as you’re here to help me. We’ll figure out what’s next.”

Mad Men s5e7: At the Codfish Ball

“No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away..”

“.. Wings, daddy.”

Here’s some of that good old deep-rooted dissatisfaction and the ever-present yearning for more.. TALE AS OLD AS TIIIIIIIME. This pair o’themes are on display in this delightful episode. There’s a bunch of semi-fulfilled and partially crushed dreams here. Peggy comes to the realisation that she may indeed want to get married, and then .. sort of gets it but not entirely. Megan longs for creative success, subbing in advertising for acting, and when she really succeeds it still ain’t quite right. Sally gets to hit up the eventually disappointing grand staircase-less ball in the mod dress she wanted, but not the gogo boots and makeup.

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And of course we have Don, thinking he is about to pounce on the opportunity of a lifetime at said ball; he bags Heinz, but ends up being cast aside from the big corporate fish due to the reverberating consequences of The Letter. Natch, nobody wants to work with a guy who would fuck them dirty like that.

There’s Peggy and Abe, with her modern sensibilities in competition with her Catholic upbringing. When Abe insists on a dinner together, Pegs is rattled; sounds like bad news to me too. But Joan puts the marriage proposal bug in Peggy’s ear.. when it turns out all Abe wants to do is shack up.

image courtesy of BurnThisMedia

Peggy chooses to be with Abe because he’s modern and not like those other dolt dudes who expect her to be a certain way because of ~Society~, but now she has to actually live with the fact that.. he’s a modern guy. Grappling with being a modern 60s career gal on an explosive upward trajectory and the future she’s Supposed To Want is no easy task. But hey, moving in together is pretty awesome too– as Joan kindly points out, reassuring Pegs it’s the right choice for her.

Joan: “Sounds like he wants to be with you no matter what.”

Peggy: “I thought you were going to be disappointed for me..”

J: “I think it’s very romantic.”

P: “It is, isn’t it? We don’t need a piece of paper! I mean.. not that marriage is wrong or anything.”

J: “Greg has a piece of paper with the US Army that’s more important than the one he has with me.

P: “.. I’m sorry..”

J: “It is what it is.. I think you’re brave. I think it’s a beautiful statement. Congratulations!”

Obvi, the dinner at their newly minted shared space with Mrs. Olsen did not go well. And it’s not that shocking that the woman who claimed moving to Manhattan meant certain rape would be less than supportive of Peggy and Abe’s choice to live together In Sin(TM). Yikes on bikes. Admittedly, I think Peggy was trying to do the right thing and attempt to have an adult relationship with her mother where she doesn’t have to lie about her life, but some people are just stuck in their ways. Not much she can do about it.

image courtesy of LowBrowMedia

At a fancy client dinner, Megan gets wind that SCDP is about to be fired; she and Don close that Heinz deal expertly. It’s also probably the first time this season we see Don actually, you know, working. Fuckin’ finally.

Though she’s very talented at this gig, Megan definitely wants more; her father expresses his disappointment at her giving up the acting dream to this job and this shortcut life with Don. All Marxist and pretentious academic junk aside, Emile ain’t wrong.

You can see it on her face when Peggy is genuinely thrilled for her re:Heinz; Megan’s got some lingering discontent and indifference to the whole schtick. If this type of professional success is ‘as good as it gets’ according to Pegs and Megan feels this nonchalant.. that’s not a great sign of things to come. Here’s that enormous, central theme of the series.. is that all there is?

On top of all that– since she’s Don’s wife, the reaction is sort of overblown. Peggy even remarks on it, saying that when she did that very same thing with a great campaign that the men in the office didn’t really bat an eye. And the nightmare fight Don and Megan had in the previous episode stemmed in part from her wanting to be seen as more than Mrs. Don Draper, home and office wife who just does whatever the hell he says. If this happens again and she has another idea that’s not in line with what he’s thinking, will he have another fucking meltdown?

And Megan’s tag for Heinz, ‘some things never change’, is true of all our characters. Try as they may to throw on a fancy persona, they’re all the same people deep down. Don as the ever-glib brilliant adman who’s now happily remarried is still a human mess just below the surface. Roger is charming and magnetic as ever with Sally, until Marie catches his eye and he’s gone in a flash to get blown. Pegs wanting to shack up rather than get hitched, though at the end of the day maybe she DOES want to be married after all. Megan knocks it outta the park with Heinz, but deep down she would prefer to be IN that commercial.

Don really did fuck it up with The Letter, as Kenny’s father in law Leland Palmer succinctly points out. Don’t bite the hand, Don.

image courtesy of Reddit

And here’s Sally wanting to be more grown up, but then sees something TOO grown up when she walks in on Roger getting his knob enthusiastically schlobbed by Marie. Pretty much nobody but Roger’s had a good night at this ball.

image courtesy of The AV Club

Ringing Glen, he’s at the communal phone of his boarding school in absurd flasher gear of a winter coat (and apparently nothing else) on the phone to Sally, asking.. How’s the city?

Dirty, indeed.

“He’s at Dow Corning– they make beautiful dishes, glassware, .. napalm..”

Mad Men s4e13: Tomorrowland

“But I think, in my heart, it was an impulse. Because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.”

Ahh, the curveball season finale. As we all know, Don Draper is the reigning king of the fresh start, always moving forward and all that garbage. But life really isn’t conducive to clean slates as Henry makes crystal clear to Betty, along with those of us living on planet earth know intrinsically. One of the show’s central themes is prominent in this episode.. can people really change? Or is it all just a blip?

image courtesy of IMDB

This is and is not the Don Draper we’ve gotten to know throughout the series thus far. When it looks like he’s going to come to terms with his own identity in some meaningful way, he veers sharply left (and imitates Roger by making an impetuous and capricious move) and proposes to Megan. The hell? True to form, I guess.

Betty certainly thought her life would change when she married Henry. Sure, things are different, but it’s not all that she envisioned. As her journey continues, she’s learning that life is less and less the ideal iconography she was pitched and the only thing you can really control is your perspective.

Bets, you can move out of your house and leave Ossining, but your problems are gonna follow ya if you don’t look inward and work on that shit. Her fresh start with Henry hasn’t radically changed her nor her life, and a new house in Rye won’t do that either. At least she’s with a man who will communicate with her exactly what is wrong with her actions, and call her out on her bullshit instead of just disappearing, but it’s up to her to do the work.

Now that Don’s not around to blame for her erratic/childish behaviour, she’s gotta learn to adapt and be an adult. Henry has precisely no time for her impulsive shitfit re:Glen and Sally being friends which is probably for the best. Firing Carla inadvertently draws Don closer to Megan too, ha.

And man, Faye didn’t deserve such shit treatment. She really got a raw deal, but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Don lost interest episodes ago, and it doesn’t look like he was ever really that into her; she’s not the right person for him. But getting some fucking phone call like “oh yeah bee-tee-dubs I met someone and am suddenly engaged PEACE” is crushing, but she blasts him with a truth H-Bomb before hanging up.

“I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

image courtesy of Imgur

Let’s be real, the Hobo Code stuck with him. Dude is always looking to hop that midnight train going anywhere; Faye represents facing his issues and working through his Dick Whitman/desertion garbage feelings like a real life person, whereas Megan represents a clean slate and bright-eyed optimism that only youth can foster. Poor girl doesn’t know what she’s signed on for..

I’m drawn back to the season premiere, and that reporter snapping Don out from his thoughts; “Who is Don Draper?” Good question. He’s tried to make himself a better man this season, but suddenly jerks to the crutch of the Fresh Start(TM) personified, Megan. The first time I watched this finale, that ending gave me whiplash– but going back and examining the earlier episodes, it adds up pretty neatly. All along there were these little snippets planted that she’s the shining star for Don; the Pond’s focus group, being naturally nurturing to Sally, actually getting what The Letter was about.. etc. The pieces are all there.

Megan’s on the level. Maybe she’ll be the one to accept Don for who he really is, to love Dick Whitman and all that mess entails, allowing him to get on with it sans too much manpain. And hey, maybe he’ll do it right. He tells her he feels like “himself” around her, the best version of the man he aspires to be in the day to day. Maybe she’ll coax more of that out into the open.

At the end of the day, Don is someone who needs to be needed, and Faye didn’t really deliver that; Megan does just that little bit. He also needs someone who will nurture his kids in the way that Betty simply can’t at this point, in a way that he’s unable to as well; since he grew up with no loving mother figure, seeing that in Megan is magnetic.

image courtesy of Slant Magazine

She also didn’t have a fucking meltdown over a spilled milkshake, which Betty certainly would have done. Between Megan’s sunniness and Don’s slight ability to even acknowledge his past to Sally (“that’s my nickname sometimes” re:Dick and Anna on the wall) and have it go well, Don seems on top of the world.

It’s an optimistic ending for a season fraught with such darkness, yet I can’t help but wonder how pristine that slate will stay as lives move on. Fundamentally, people don’t change– not wholly.

Peggy and Joan share a moment over the absurdity of the engagement; Peggy signed the first bit of new business with Topaz that day, but natch.. that’s not as important as getting married. Those dudes are all just between marriages, after all.

image courtesy of Roger Ebert

And it didn’t slide past Roger that Don did the exact thing he was judged harshly for back in Season 2, either. Granted, Roger reacts much better than Don ever did— and there’s absolutely fuckall Don can quip back about it.

Don and Betty have one last encounter in the house on Bullet Park Road, and it’s a bittersweet adieu. It’s also one of those rare moments where she softens towards Don, and they have an easy interaction; she’s vulnerable about how things aren’t ideal in her life. Don lets her know that he’s engaged, and even in her sensitive state, Betty manages to not say anything shitty which is pretty good progress.

She does ask if it’s to Bethany Van Nuys, and Don is essentially like “WHO??

image courtesy of Tom + Lorenzo

Adios, house; thanks for the memories. Onto the next one.

The finale closes with Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” as Don stares off into the void, his new fiancée asleep on his chest. Natch, the first thing I thought of was the always relevant Groundhog Day, the tale of a man trapped in a fucking time loop with endless fresh starts as he relives the same day over and over.

And once he gets it right, he breaks the loop and can live happily ever after.. but only after something like 100 goddamned years.

Here’s hoping Don gets his shit together sooner than Bill Murray. As a man who’s started over quite a bit, maybe he’ll stick the landing this time.

That’s a wrap on Season 4, kiddos! Stay tuned for Season 5 reviews, starting soon.. will Don do it right with his marriage this time? Will Pete’s hairline continue to evaporate? Will Peggy be running the place by the time we return? Will trash Greg do the math on Joan’s baby??? Do people really change or is it all just smoke and mirrors?

Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

image courtesy of YouTube

Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

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Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.