Mad Men - Commissions and Fees

Mad Men Commentary: episode 512 Commissions and Fees

Sorry for the delay in getting this up.  Sickness and travel prevented me from getting it up earlier.  Enjoy.

Early in this week’s episode of Mad Men, the partners have a meeting in which they discuss what Pete calls a confusing request from Jaguar.  The car maker wants to discuss the possibility of changing the way they pay SCDP, moving away from the traditional commission structure of taking a 15% commission on media purchases and marking up creative work to a leaner plan of paying only for the work that is being done, with a 1-2% fee paid to the agency.

The partners are all confused.  It’s never been done before.  Don senses that since the client is asking for it, it can’t be good for the agency.  He says “No” on the spot, but Bert moves to look into it, which they all agree to do.

And thus, this week’s episode is titled “Commissions and Fees,” which gets to the heart of the three main storylines, where Don, Lane, and Sally and Glen will view a stretch of life as blessed, but find it to be cursed.

The episode opens with Don getting a haircut.  It’s just him and his barber until another man walks in.  It turns out to be Jed Covington, an executive from an agency that lost out on Jaguar.  Jed recognizes Don, and lavishes backhanded praise on him for winning the account (calling a Jaguar and “expensive, unreliable Dodge”).  Don shrugs off Jed’s comments until Jed singles out Pete Campbell for the good impression he made on the Jaguar executives.  The final insult comes when Jed tells Don that Jaguar is a “big win for your little agency.”

Lane is having breakfast with a friend from the 4A’s (the American Association of Advertising Agencies), who also lavishes praise on the agency in general, but Lane specifically, hitting the core of Lane’s ego by calling him quintessentially American.  This pleases Lane to no end, and when an offer of chairing the Association’s Fiscal Control Committee is presented, Lane accepts after a bit of false modesty.  It’s a welcome bit of good news for Lane, but we all know it can’t last.

As Betty’s kids eat breakfast, she sorts through a box of ski gear, preparing for a weekend getaway to the slopes.  Sally is having none of it, refusing to even consider wearing hand-me-down ski boots.  It’s another tour de force for Kiernan Shipka, who continues to shine as the put upon adolescent.  She’s so good that I got pissed off just watching her.

Sally is smart, and she stays on the attack, refusing to go, until Betty finally relents and calls Don at work to inform him of his unexpected weekend visit.  When Don objects, Betty gets in a dig, telling him it’s his “child bride” Sally really wants to see.  Way to keep it classy, Betty.

Bert walks in on Betty’s call, impatient to bring Don a bit of bad news.  After the partner’s meeting, he took it upon himself to investigate the fee vs. commission issue, and as he examined the company files, he found a cancelled check – THE cancelled check – made out to Lane for $7,500.  Because it has Don’s signature on it, Bert assumes that Don has gone behind the partners’ backs to give Lane his bonus, the bonus he wouldn’t shut up about.  Don looks at the check, knowing of course that he never signed it, but says nothing of this to Bert.  He absorbs Bert’s chiding (“You can’t keep being the good little boy while the adults run this business”) and tells him he’ll take care of it.

The moment Bert leaves the office, Don has Lane summoned to his office.  Don’s “close the door” should have been warning enough for Lane, who surely must have been expecting the other shoe to drop, but after his morning glory with the 4A’s, Lane was drunk with hubris.  He asks Don if he’s heard the good news, but Don cuts to the chase, showing him the check.

What follows is a fascinating sequence where we see Lane come undone.  It’s painful to watch.

Lane denies the charge, accusing Don of being too busy to remember signing it.  “You want me to play detective?” Don asks.  Lane tries another dodge, but Don knows.  “Is this the only one?”  Another dodge.  “I’m giving you a chance to come clean.”  Finally, Lane admits only that it was only a 13 day loan, where the bonus would have washed it clean.  The problem is, bonuses were never an issue until Lane brought them up, and even then, they were never delivered..AND Lane never asked permission to give himself the loan.  When Don is unmoved by this ploy, Lane reminds Don of the dirty deal with Joan, in which the firm was all too willing to be her pimp and surrender much more money that Lane’s “loan.”  He tags it by saying, “And I’m the one committing a crime?”  This is odd, since Don was the lone partner who stood against it, and only points to Lane’s growing desperation.  Don is unmoved, and finally, Lane admits that he took the money, but does that thing that so many guilty parties do – he turns the tables and makes himself out as the victim.  Lane points to the $50,000 he put into the agency, having to liquidate his assets to do so.  He accuses Don and the other partners of lining their pockets in the wake of the defection from the old firm, while he was never fairly compensated for being the one person who was able to make that maneuver possible.  Finally, in fit of self-righteous anger, he yells at Don, saying that it was HIS money.  “Who would’ve ever dreamt of the word ‘Jaguar’, huh?” he asks.

Don asks for Lane’s resignation.  It’s a sad ending for Lane, and he seems shocked that this request is made.  When he balks, Don points out that he’s embezzled money from the agency, forging Don’s signature in the process.  It comes down to trust, and Don can’t trust Lane anymore.  He’s done.  Lane’s last attempt at saving himself is to accuse Don of acting harshly, which Don brushes aside.  Don is giving Lane a chance to save face – to leave with dignity.

But what there was of Lane’s dignity is gone.  He begs for mercy.  “I’m sorry,” Don says.  “But I can’t trust you.”  When Don pours him a drink and says he’ll cover the check, Lane says, “Seven thousand five hundred is nothing to you.  Do you know how the rest of us live?  And in the end, who’s being harmed, really?”  As the finality of Don’s decision sinks in, Lane looks ahead, and what he sees is bleak.  “I’ll lose my visa.  I can’t go back to England.  Not like this.  What will I tell my wife?  What will I tell my son?”  “You’ll tell them that it didn’t work out,” Don says.  “Because it didn’t.  You’ll tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is.”

It would have been easy for Don to give in and show mercy, but he sticks to his guns, exhibiting the weird duality between his professional life, which is governed by a strict code of honor, and his after-hours/private life, a swirling chaos of virtue and vice.

When Lane tells Don he feels lightheaded, Don tells him it’s relief.  “I’ve started over a lot, Lane.  This is the worst part.”  Don stands to cue the end of the meeting, and tells Lane to take the weekend to think of an elegant exit strategy, write a resignation letter, and deliver it on Monday.  Nobody knows about this but them.  He assures Lane that everything will be all right, but unlike Betty, Lane isn’t buying it.

Lane takes his drink and shuffles into Joan’s office.  She suspects they’ve been celebrating his 4A’s success, and asks where he thinks she should spend her Easter holiday – Bermuda or Hawaii.  “Neither are suitable for commemorating the death and resurrection of our Lord,” he says, momentarily pushing aside his impending doom to flirt with Joan.  When he makes a rude comment about seeing her bouncing around “in an obscene bikini,” she tells him to take his party somewhere else.  That line will come back to haunt her later.

Lane ends up back in his office, where he sits alone, surrounded by his American symbols, about to be sent packing back to England in humiliation.

Like he often does after a stressful encounter, Don goes to Roger’s office to work out his feelings, albeit cryptically, asking Roger, “Why do we do this?”  “For the sex,” Roger says.  “But it’s always disappointing.  For me, anyway.”  And with that, Roger Sterling sums up Roger Sterling in fewer syllables than would fill a haiku.

“I don’t like what we’re doing,” Don says, fueled not only by the Lane business, but also by the reminder that her received from Jed Covington at the barber shop that they are just a little agency – and that Pete is getting all the credit.  “I’m tired of this piddly shit.  I’m tired of living the delusion that we’re going somewhere when we can’t even give Christmas bonuses.”  Roger asks Don about the rah rah speech he gave to the company about having arrived.  “So, you feel different since Jaguar?” Don asks.  “We’re getting incoming calls.”  “Pete is,” Don says, getting at one of the things that’s eating him.  Competition has brought Don out of his slump this season – first, with Ginsberg, and now with Pete Campbell.  “Look, I don’t like him, but he’s kind of turned things around,” Roger says, giving the devil his due.  Don accuses Pete of thinking small.

“So you don’t want [Jaguar]?” Roger asks.  “No.  I don’t want Jaguar.  I want Chevy.  I don’t want Mohawk.  I want American.  I don’t want Dunlop.  I want Firestone.”  Roger reminds Don that he warned Roger away from the Firestone executive at the American Cancer Society gala, telling him he was wasting his time.  “That’s because Ed Baxter told me the Lucky Strike letter poisoned us with those companies.”

Roger laughs at Don, incredulous at the thought of Don being intimidated by a guy like Ed Baxter.  “You used to love ‘no’,” Roger says.  “Whether you admit it or not, things have changed.  You just beat out two huge firms for that shitty car account.”

When Roger pages his secretary to get Firestone on the phone, Don tells him to get Ed Baxter instead.  Roger tells him to forget about it, sensing that this is a personal vendetta.  Don points out that Dow Chemical bills 20 million a year, about the same as Lucky Strike, Roger’s old account.  They go back and forth until Roger reminds Don about Ken Cosgrove, Ed’s son-in-law, and how reluctant Ken is to do business with family.  “Then fire him,” Don says, leaving.

It’s a fascinating scene in that it shows us Don’s motivational process at work.  All season long, he’s all but ignored the office in favor of chasing after Megan.  The combination of trying to top Ginsberg for Sno Ball account and being chastised by Megan over his spaghetti dinner have nudged him back into the arena.  Don loves competition and proving his doubters wrong.  His chivalrous stand in Joan’s defense was as much for his own sense of self-worth as it was for Joan’s honor, and with the Jaguar win tainted by the added influence of Joan’s liaison with Herb Rennet, not to mention Jed Covington’s remarks, Don is eager for the next mountain to climb.  Who better than Ed Baxter, the man who took the wind out of his sails at the American Cancer Society gala?

While this is going on, Sally drops in on Megan, whom Don was too busy to notify.  When Sally picks up on Megan’s lack of enthusiasm, she tells her she thought she’d be excited to see her, then puts Megan to work making tea.  Megan’s look equals a rough night for Don.

After work, Roger has drinks with Ken, to let him know that they are going after his father-in-law.  When Ken says that he won’t be any help, Roger tells him that they are counting on that.  This catches Ken off-guard, but when he regains his footing, he makes a thinly veiled threat of being capable of messing up the whole deal that gives him leverage with Roger (who hasn’t gotten leverage with Roger this season?).  Roger asks him if he’s looking for a partnership, but Ken declines, implying that he’s not willing to make the compromises that come with the job.  What he does get is a promise from Roger that Pete will never be involved with the account, and that once it’s landed, they will “force” him to work it.  This will give him clean hands with his wife.

Don catches Roger on the elevator, after the meeting, and Roger informs him that he’s secured a meeting for Don first thing Monday morning.  Don balks at only having 48 hours to prepare.  “Don’t lose your nerve,” Roger says.  “I liked that guy I saw today.  I’ve missed him.”  It’s a challenge, which means that Don will be unavailable to Megan or Sally until after that meeting.

When he gets home, Don has to deal with a pissed-off Megan, who’s understandably not happy at having Sally dumped on her.  After Megan makes her point, Don plays his get-out-of-jail-free card – he tells her he had to fire Lane.  This takes the starch out of her argument and sends her into nurturing mode.  She even gets him to agree to have dinner with Sally before disappearing into his work.

Things go from worse to worser for Lane.  When he gets home, his wife has learned about the 4A’s coup, and refuses his objections of going out for a celebratory dinner.  He’s been drinking, but she doesn’t care.  It’s not just a dinner.  She wants him to drive (a ridiculous notion in Manhattan), but it’s really a ruse to show him the real surprise – she bought him a brand new Jaguar XKE earlier that day.  She just went out and wrote a check.  With money that she thinks is there, but isn’t.

Lane’s reaction is to vomit.  His wife thinks it’s the booze, of course.  That Jaguar is the final straw, a tangible reminder of his failure.

Megan helps Don by keeping Sally busy over the weekend, taking her out with her actress friend Julia.  They go to a café, where Sally clearly enjoys playing at being a grown-up.  She even tells the other girls that she has a boyfriend.  Megan explains to Sally that a boyfriend is someone “who makes you feel special – who knows you.”  This seems to give Sally a new insight into her relationship with Glen.

On Sunday night, Sally sneaks a call to Glen to invite him to the city.  Megan has an audition, and Don can’t get her to school, so she has the day off.  After Glen balks, Sally applies pressure, telling him she thought he couldn’t wait to see her.  He figures out a way, telling her he’ll be at her place in the morning.  Sally must be envisioning a romantic date as she hangs up the phone.  Her night ends on a hopeful note.

Lane’s night, he decides, will be his last.  He gets up from bed, where his wife sleeps, and dresses, as for work.  He carries a bag of supplies down to his new Jaguar, the symbol of his failure, and rigs it to finish him off.  He runs a hose to the driver’s side window, closes the gap with a towel, then chugs a bottle of liquor.  His final act of defiance is to break his eyeglasses in two.  After a pause, he hits the ignition button.  Nothing.  The car cranks, but won’t turn over.  He tries again and again, but the English lemon won’t start.  He takes a stab at looking at the motor, but it’s Greek to him.

Cut to the office, where he shows up alone in the middle of the night.  The last we see of him, he’s typing in the dark.

The next morning, Megan leaves for her audition, giving Sally strict instructions on how not to waste her day watching TV.  As soon as Megan leaves, Sally shuts of the TV and prepares for Glen.

Roger and Don sit in the waiting room at Dow, waiting for Ed Baxter to see them.  They smoke in silence, obviously tense, like an actor about to go onstage.  Roger breaks the silence.  “Are you going to tell me what you’re going to talk about, or is my look of surprise part of the pitch?”  “I don’t want it to sound rehearsed,” Don says.  “No danger of that,” Roger says, stubbing out his cigarette.  “I want you to go in there, and keep your cool,” Roger continues.  “But if he baits you, I want you to punch him in the balls.”  “What happened to your enlightenment?” Don asks.  “I don’t know.  It wore off.”

Glen shows up, and Sally lets him into Don and Megan’s apartment, asking him what he thinks.  She’s wearing the Go Go boots that Don wouldn’t let her wear to the American Cancer Society gala.  She’s trying to impress.  Glen looks around and declares the place nice, but says that a kid at his school has one with a second floor.  She shifts gears, asking him what he would like to do.  “Are you kidding?  The museum is right across the park.”  It’s not what Sally was hoping for, and she tells Glen they don’t go across the park – “There’s bums on the other side.”  Glen presses the point, offering to pay for a cab ride, and she gives in.  It’s probably not what she dreamed about last night.

At the museum, the exchange between Glen and Sally has a Salingeresque ring to it as they shift gears from commenting on the diaramas (Sally asks how they go the animals and Glen tells her that Teddy Roosevelt shot them all) to griping about their parents (Sally tells Glen that she wishes Henry would leave her mom, which she admits is a terrible thought).

Glen confesses to Sally that he’s frequently picked on by the boys at Hotchkiss, and told them he was coming to New York to deflower Sally so his stock would rise.  She tells him he can say what he likes, but doesn’t like to think of him that way.  He misses the meaning and tells her he feels the same way, that he thinks of her as a sister.  After this, Sally comments on Glen’s moustache.  When he tells her that he didn’t shave for her, she tells him coldly that she doesn’t like it.

A moment later, she tells him her stomach is bothering her.  When it doesn’t get better, she excuses herself to the bathroom.  She races to a stall, and when she gets her panties down, she sees blood.  It’s her first period, and she freaks out, not knowing what to do.

After being kept waiting an hour and 45 minutes, Roger and Don are finally called into Ed Baxter’s office.  It’s a power move, and they can’t do anything but roll with the punches.

Ed guides them to their seats, flanked by his heads of marketing and operations.  The atmosphere is more like a street fight than a business meeting.  When the marketing guy asks Ed where Ed’s brother-in-law is, Ed tells him that Ken has more sense than to show up at a meeting like this.

Ed cuts to the chase and asks Roger and Don what they want.  Don rolls with it and tells Ed his advertising needs help.  “And you’re the guy who can do it,” Ed says, laughing.  “I am,” Don says, showing no emotion.  “Are you the same guy who wrote that letter?” Ed says.  “I don’t want to hear about that letter again,” Don says.  It’s a complete reversal from when Ed first gave him that news at the gala over drinks.  Roger jumps in and after some give and take between him and Ed, Ed backs off and tells them that he knew that was what this meeting was about.  But Don jumps back in and tells Ed that he’s wrong, that he wants to talk about his advertising.  That’s all.

The marketing guy tells Don they’re happy with their advertising, and Don’s ready for him.  First, he undercuts the current agency by pointing out that Dow’s billing is what is fueling all of the efforts at winning new business from other companies – business lunches, flashy creative, and half-assed work for Dow.

The marketing guy fires back that they have 50% market share in every category they’re in, and Don is ready for this one, too.  “Because you have a big line of diverse and charismatic products.  And you keep making more…And why do you do that?  Because even though success is a reality, it’s effects are temporary.  You get hungry even though you’ve just eaten.  At the old firm, we had London Fog raincoats.  We had year where we sold 81% of the raincoats in the USA.”  “Name another rain coat,” Roger adds.

“Tell me about Napalm,” the operations head demands.  Don turns this trap into a patriotic commercial for Dow, how they are there, ready to dependably equip our fighting men whenever and wherever they’re in need.

“But it doesn’t change the fact that we’re happy with the other agency,” Ed says, unimpressed.  And here’s where Don springs HIS trap.  “Are you?  You’re happy with 50%?  You’re on top, but you don’t have enough.  You’re happy because you’re successful now.  But what is happiness?  It’s a moment before you need more happiness.  I won’t settle for 50% of anything.  I want 100%.  You’re happy with your agency?  You’re not happy with anything.  You don’t want most of it.  You want all of it, and I won’t stop until you get all of it.”

It’s another Don Draper home run.  We don’t get the reaction shot of Ed and his henchmen, but we don’t need to.  After the meeting, Roger tells Don he’ll buy him a drink as soon as Don wipes the blood from his mouth.  It’s a mountain top moment that won’t last very long.

Megan gets home from her audition only to find Glen’s duffle bag on a table.  Before she can get too freaked out, Glen knocks at the door, looking for Sally.  After a brief introduction, Megan invites Glen to stay with her until it’s time to catch his train home.

Meanwhile, Betty, Henry, and the boys are unpacking when Sally runs through the house and up to her room.  Henry follows, griping about a 25$ cab fare.  Betty follows Sally to her room, where she gets the story and a big hug.  Betty seems not to know how to handle the show of tenderness, but Sally melts some of the frostiness.  But not enough to prevent Betty from making a triumphant phone call to Megan to let her know that Sally was safe…and needed her mother.  Touche.

Roll back the clock a few hours.

As Joan gets settled for the day, Scarlett brings the company books to her.  They were left there by Lane.  Puzzled, Joan takes them and walks to Lane’s office.  She unlocks the door, but can’t get it opened.  She sticks her face to the crack, but a foul odor drives her back.  Next door, there’s laughter coming from Pete’s office.  Joan barges in and tells them she thinks something’s wrong with Lane’s office.

Pete climbs on the back of his sofa and looks through the glass window at the top of the ceiling to see a horrible sight.  Harry and Ken follow, and they react the same way.  Joan breaks down, knowing it’s what she’d feared.

Roger and Don enter the offices laughing, but the silence baffles them.  They make their way to the break room, where Bert, Pete, and Joan wait.  They look beat.  Roger asks what’s going on, and Bert tells them that Lane hanged himself.  This sends Joan back into tears, guilt-ridden at her reaction to his remarks of the Friday before.  Don sags under the weight of this announcement, knowing what none of them know.

When he learns that Lane is still hanging in his office, waiting for the coroner, Don demands they cut him down.  The others try to stop him, but he insists, and he, Roger, and Pete push their way in and cut him down and compose him on his sofa, a blue and bloated facsimile.  Don is deeply shaken, but Pete and Roger get him to leave the office.

In the hallway, they all gather to read the letter Lane left, but it’s only a form rejection letter, addressed to the partners.  To all but Don, it’s a mystery.

At home, Don arrives to find Glen, whom he doesn’t remember.  Once Glen reintroduces himself, Don asks what’s going on.  Megan says she’ll give Don the details later, and that Glen’s about to leave for his train.  She can tell that something is up with Don, but he avoids the questions by offering to drive Glen back to Hotchkiss.

In the elevator, on the way down, they are both world-weary.  Glen breaks the silence by asking why everything turns to crap.  “What do you mean?” Don asks, giving him a sideways glance.  “Everything you want to do.  Everything you think’ll make you happy turns to crap,” Glen says.  “You’re too young to talk that way,” Don says, not knowing what we viewers know about Glen.  “But it’s true,” Glen says, not backing down.  “What do you want to do?” Don asks.  “If you could do anything, what would you do?”

Cut to the final scene.  Don sits in the passenger seat of his car, staring at the road ahead.  As the camera pulls back, we see his left hand on the wheel, helping Glen stay on course.  Glen is driving, and he has a smile on his face.

Don has temporarily eased his guilt and complicity by helping on person get something they want.  And with the ride back, he’ll have time to build a new compartment for the guilt that will likely haunt him for a very long time.

4 thoughts on “Mad Men Commentary: episode 512 Commissions and Fees”

  1. I’m starting to dislike Megan. She acts more and more childish each episode, prone to snotty fits like a spoiled kid. Sad for Lane though I really think his choice of venue for his suicide was a big FU to the partners for not seeing his worth. I’m really liking the Glen and Sally Dynamic and I hope we see more of that but alas…..another years wait.

    1. Megan has been a lightning rod of emotion this season. It’s funny how she positioned herself as not like the SCDP gang (meaning not cynical and mean), but in her desperation to make it as an actress, she betrays her friend Emilly for the sake of a gig. She doesn’t seem to have the drive or the stomach for show business. Agreed on Lane’s choice of venue, after the Jaguar debacle. I’d bet a lot of money that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Glen & Sally. I predict that next season will start post-Don/Megan divorce.

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