Episode 512 -- Death and Taxes: Paying The Pryce, Plus The Sally In The Rye!
“Commissions and Fees,” the aptly titled next-to-last episode of the season (gulp!), focuses on the fallout from acting on impulse. Shit sure happens when the bill comes due.
In this case, however, the payback was lightening quick -- a lot faster than I expected. Though it has hung over our heads all season (and since the very beginning, shown in the animated opening), we finally got our falling man. But he was hanging up. Indeed, the chief financial officer’s last name is working overtime in the paying-the-price department. And in his Christ-like repose on the back of his office door, has Lane Pryce died for the agency’s sins?
Meanwhile, Don’s killer instinct is back. He’s like a wolf going after raw meat when he meets with Dow Chemical. (And Roger mentions the blood on his face.) But does Don also have blood on his hands? Given his half brother Adam’s similar end, does that mean he is a serial killer? And now that he’s back on the road, in the only place he feels free, will he start reliving the Hobo Code? Lots of questions to chew on.
Poor desperate embezzler Lane’s very grim death storyline was juxtaposed with the very anxious birth of a woman. No longer little, Sally gets her period on a date with Glen while viewing the age-old dioramas of stuffed bison families at the Museum of Natural History. In this scenario, watching through the glass, (just as Don watched a man and a woman prepare for some sexual act through the department store window in the promo posters) Sally is meant to be Eve to his Adam, starting a whole new Family of Man -- or, um, Mad Men.
Or not. Next to Sally, and in his blue blazer, Glen looks all growed up. But he’s really just a badly mothered kid with a rep tie and a slightly repulsive ‘stache.
Did someone say rep tie? Let’s get this whole “Catcher in the Rye” thing over with before we get back to Don’s killer instincts. Glen, aka “creepy Glen,” is of course played by Matthew Weiner’s son, Marten. Full name? Marten Holden Weiner. (Not making that up!) So clearly, the showrunner himself has some sort of “Catcher In The Rye” fixation.
In the Salinger story, Holden escapes his prep school and all the “phonies” (Sally tells Glen Betty is so “phony”) to spend a few illicit days in New York CIty before his parents know he’s there. He’s obsessed with the animal dioramas in the Museum of Natural History, natch. (The ducks were saved for a “Sopranos” scenario, I guess.) There are prostitutes. Also, Holden takes a girl he pines for, named Sally, to a play, and visits his favorite person in the world, his very wise little sister Phoebe. Glen tells Sally that he thinks of her as a “little sister, but smart.”
Lots of viewers love to heap scorn on creepy Glen. (And apparently so do the Hotchkiss upperclassmen, although what they deposit in his locker is worse than scorn.) I thought his acting was better, and more natural, when he was younger. But now that he’s in that humongously awkward adolescent phase, he’s also stilted physically. Still, the scenes with Sally were just the right amount off-kilter to foreshadow something odd and poignant happening. She got to wear her awesome white patent go-go boots of womanhood for the occasion (the ones that Don earlier insisted she take off, when Megan’s dad said she would soon “spread her legs.”). Earlier, if you recall, Sally rejected the ski boots Betty got her, because they belonged to another girl, and they were “smelly.”
Sally can order coffee and talk about a “boyfriend” with Megan and her friend all she wants. But when life comes at you, and you realize that in the end we are all just animals responding to our bodily functions (and pubescent boys’ scary hair growth) it's any shoe in a storm. And Sally hotfoots it back to Rye. (Ahem!)
She has to hurl herself at less-fat, but still-cold, Betty to find any motherly succor. But Betty did warm to the task, after a fashion, (and of course used the incident to make herself feel better, vis-a-vis Megan.) Still, they had something of a cuddle on the bed, as Betty passed on the wisdom of female responsibility, and daughters having daughters. (On a side note, I believe this was the first time menstrual blood was approximated on a TV screen. Just from watching TV commercials, a Martian would assume it’s blue water. Surely, if we’re also showing a bloated dead gray head, we can learn to deal with a shot of a little clotted blood on white panties.)
But let’s get back to this family of man, or Don, or Dick, the animus he returns to when Don hits the road.
The weird thing is that Glen has somehow interacted personally (and mostly perversely) with just about everyone in the Draper clan. He has a way of infiltrating. First there was his romance with Betty. She found a soft spot for him as they became children together, and a cold hard anger (just like Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate”) when she found out he was romancing (as much as a smelly lug can romance) her daughter. And we can all diss Betty for being a bad mom, but did you notice how Don received Sally when he came home from work? He never took the time to tell Megan she was coming, and then never hugged his daughter or even said hello properly when he saw her on the couch, with her Wise Potato Chips. The only real interaction came when he rudely barked at her through the bedroom door (just as he treated Peggy!) that she was staying home Monday morning. He was actually nicer to Glen than he was to Sally. (More on that later.)
And in between, Glen and Megan also had a moment. She asks if he’d like something to eat, and the prepster with the Nat Turner paper due suavely counters, “If you don’t mind.”
I’ve been putting off the Lane storyline, because it’s just too damn sad! I guess we learned everything we had to about him when we saw his father caning him: he’s been shamed and humiliated, and he won’t let it happen again. Pitifully, he’s filled with fury, but so repressed that he is unable to express it directly until it’s too late.
“Mad Men,” of course, is filled with ironies and, like life, very unattractive human hypocrisies.
There’s Don, who actually stole an identity, and lied to and cheated on countless women, etc. etc., now establishing himself as the agency ethicist: Lane stole from the company, so Don can’t trust him, and he’s out. As with the tobacco letter, Don made the decision impulsively, without checking with the partners. (He thought he was doing Lane a favor giving him time to engineer an “elegant exit.”) What people like Don can’t understand is that there are others who are far more fragile and unable to compartmentalize -- as he and Peggy do so easily. Don didn’t see that THIS job, with Lane’s name on the door, was all he ever wanted, and that he couldn’t consider rereinventing himself: he already did that to come to America, and sacrificed everything to stay there. Jared Harris’ acting when confronted by Don is brilliant; his most desperate plea involves “making it right by Easter.” (His potential resurrection.)
I wondered whether, after Lane left Don’s office, and lingered tentatively at Joan’s door, he intended to spill the beans and work out a rational plan with her. (In a sort of reversal of the week before, when he told Joan to go for the partnership.) But she brings up the 4A’s honor. (He was named head of the “Fiscal Control Committee” for the august trade association -- talk about irony!) That appointment comes with a trip to the Greenbrier, where Lane can bring his wife, or not. (At this West Virginia resort, the mostly black staff walks around with keys around their necks, so it sounds as if they’re in chains. And by 10 p.m. or so, the hotel puts up signs reading “Shh -- it’s sleepy-bye time in the South.” Or at least they did that through the late 1980s.)
Joan also mentions wanting to take an Easter vacation. Lane is immediately brought back to the present, and uses the ugliness of last week against her, in bringing up the hot bikini bit. But he also talks about a way to honor the “death and resurrection of our Lord.”
No rebirth in sight. Lane’s wife Rebecca surprises him with a fabulous sporty green Jaguar, and he immediately hurls at the sight. (And what the agency did to get the account is indeed hurl-worthy.) I thought the bit with the car not starting was heavy-handed. I also was shocked that he would try to commit suicide in a public garage -- I’ve never seen that before!
Despite all Lane has done, with his weird fingering of the photo of the mob moll at his desk, and his love affair with his “chocolate bunny,” by the time I saw that he was making preparations to die, I started to cry. That shot of him trying to fix the Jag with his glasses broken down into a monocle was killing me, as Holden might say. And then to bring the act to the office, after typing out a “boilerplate” resignation letter, was a double eff-you to Don.
And then we have Don, the ultimate Hollow Man, going through his Heart of Darkness stuff with the guy from Dow. Is it just me, or is it too obvious to mention the abundant hypocrisy in giving up cigarettes to wholeheartedly embrace napalm?
Don’s crazed performance in that office reminded me of the “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!” guy (played by Robert Duvall) in “Apocalypse Now.” When Don tells Ed Baxter & Co how unhappy they should be with “50% of anything” because they should want “100%,” he was talking about himself. And maybe now he realizes that he’ll never have 100% of Megan.
Yup, Don’s got his mojo working again, turning back into Dick. He has an insatiable appetite for fleeing and remaking himself, so when presented with the opportunity to leave and hit the road with Glen, he does.
Something felt weird and incestuous in that final scene, with Don acting all paternal and fraternal in the car with Weiner’s son. A boy’s ultimate dream -- to be at the wheel, at night, in the open road -- is Don’s, too. The scene paralleled the one in an earlier season with Sally at the wheel herself at 8 or 9, driving to school with her grandpa, who soon died. And in the third season, Don drives the crazy brother of one of his mistresses (Sally’s schoolteacher) back to school, too.
But back to this season, and Don’s discovery of the tragedy in the office. He and Roger come back sloshed from the Dow Chemical meeting, and Roger makes a joke about calling in “the men in the white coats.” They see an empty agency, and Roger says, “Hello?”
Don’s horror at possibly being the cause of yet another hanging death forces him to bring some dignity to the scene. “We can’t leave him like that,” he says, and he, Roger and Pete cut Lane down. (That was actually Jared Harris with makeup.) The scene was brutal, and unforgettable, with the two soldiers laying Lane’s body on the couch, as if he’s napping.
Next week is the last of the season. There has to be fallout from the fallout. Ken Cosgrove already expressed his distaste at a possible partnership, because it’s been so stained. Is Sterling, Draper & Cooper about to combust?