With ‘Fees and Commissions,’ ‘Mad Men’ did what it does best: Telling a melancholy – no, tragic – story quite matter-of-factly. It was shocking even though we all probably saw a lot of it coming. It was both sympathetic and heartless, and it showed how television can juxtapose images and storylines to masterful effect.
This episode is about beginnings and endings. The young and the not-so-young. It features characters rejuvenated with confidence and others completely drained of it. And at the center of the story, fittingly and sadly, is Lane Pryce.
In the beginning, it starts off quite alright for Lane. A member of the 4As recruits Lane to be the head of its Fiscal Control Committee. It’s perhaps the best personal and professional news that Lane has received in months. But soon it’s dashed to pieces.
For once, Bert Cooper goes digging through financial records, and lo and behold, he comes across the cancelled check that Lane forged with Don’s signature. Bert assumes Don gave Lane a bonus, but Don holds back a reaction and says he’ll take care of it.
Take care of it he does. He confronts Lane about it, and while Lane denies it for about two seconds, soon he is crying, blaming SCDP for his financial woes, begging for forgiveness and stomping his feet. With all the warmth of a tray of ice, Don demands Lane’s resignation, even though it means he will have to return to England. Despite a tearful plea from Lane, in Don’s mind there is no question what to do. From the master of starting things over, it honestly seems like no big deal to Don.
Don, meanwhile, is sick of being part of what is called a “little agency” and of landing luxurious accounts like Jaguar. So he and Roger decide to talk to Ed Baxter of Dow Chemical to land some accounts up SCDP’s alley. They have to wait hours for the meeting, but Don hits it out of the park, almost demanding that Baxter’s company seek more of the market share with SCDP’s help.
Back at home, Sally arrives unexpectedly after poo-pooing Betty’s ski trip. Don knows about Sally’s imminent arrival but forgets to tell Megan because of the troubles with Lane. The following Monday morning, Sally is left alone because Megan has an audition. Sally takes advantage of the situation to meet her “boyfriend,” Glen, the creepy kid who probably still sleeps with a lock of Betty’s hair under his pillow.
Their exchange is fairly innocent as they glide through the halls of the Museum of Natural History, aside from Glen’s confession that he told his friends that he would sleep with her. Sally doesn’t feel well, and flees after finding out that she’s gotten her period. Rather than returning to Don and Megan’s, she goes home to Betty, who is caught off guard but relishes the fact that Sally picked her over Don’s “child bride.”
At home at Lane’s, his wife surprises him with a Jaguar. It’s probably the most ironic and ill-timed present that the man could have received. Her intentions are marvelous, but her words like, “You never spend money on yourself” are like a dagger in his heart. Later he attempts suicide in the car, but it won’t start. Oh, those Jaguars.
Instead, he goes to his office and types what turns out to be his resignation. The next day, after unsuccessfully attempting to get into his office, Joan tells Pete and the boys that something’s wrong. They peek over the glass panel of the wall and see that Lane has hanged himself.
When Don and Roger get back from their meeting with Dow Chemical, the office is deserted. Everyone has been sent home. Bert bluntly says that Lane has hanged himself. Don sinks into a chair. And then, in perhaps one of the most wrenching scenes in the series, they cut Lane’s body loose from his office door. Whether Don feels guilty or not, he believes that people should die with dignity.
Returning home after a very bad day, Don finds Glen and Megan. Barely remembering who Glen is, he offers to drive him home. After Glen sputters something about everything in life turning to crap, Don lets him steer his car, and they drive off into the night.
It’s a sad ending for Lane, but not an unexpected one. Perhaps more than anyone on the show, he is a loner, and that’s saying a lot, because the halls of SCDP are filled with lonely souls who are hungry to be loved and validated. Lane, it seems, never got what he was looking for, and that means his arc ends exactly the opposite of how you would hope it would: Alone and unappreciated. Even for ‘Mad Men,’ it seems cruel, but as the episode’s title suggests, it will come at a price.