Tom Mandel: “Rest in Peace” — A Review of Mad Men Season 5, Episode 12, “Commissions and Fees”
“I don’t wanna die in this office.”
That’s what Roger Sterling said in response to the first death in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices: Ida Blankenship. Her death was a blip on the radar when compared to Lane’s — they didn’t close the office. The meetings kept going. They covered her with a sheet and carted her ass out of there. And she was a much less important character.
Lane Pryce never fit in. He wasn’t a creative, and he wasn’t an accounts man. He wasn’t a secretary, either. His job was so unimportant to the fabric of the show that we never met anybody who did his job at Sterling Cooper. He wasn’t American. His dad was able to beat him up with a cane. His advances on Joan were rebuked. He couldn’t close an account if it were served up on a silver platter. He wore glasses. In short: Lane Pryce was never an ad man.
How strange, then, that he did want to die in that office. The man who was routinely ignored in partners’ meetings cemented himself into the legacy of SCDP forever. In a hundred years, people will still be talking about the founding partner who hanged himself in the office. Sterling will surely be just a name on the stationery, in the same way that I couldn’t tell you anything about the individual legacies of Batten, Barton, Durstine, or Osborn, besides the fact that they founded BBDO.
Don should have fired Lane. It would have been the perfect completion of the circle that began when Lane fired Don, Roger, and Bert at Sterling Cooper. And it would have forced Lane to accept reality, instead of choosing a permanent exit from it. But I guess hindsight is 20/20.
Despite everything, I’ve always liked you, Lane. Nobody could beat up Pete the way you did. Nobody could say ‘pubis’ the way you did. And, just as the name of the episode suggests, nobody could tell us the difference between ‘commissions and fees’ the way you did.
Lane Pryce was obviously the centerpiece of this episode. But there were two other things going on, and I’m still wavering on how I feel about their juxtaposition next to a suicide. The bigger of the two was the death of Sally’s childhood. The smaller was Don’s vindictive pursuit of Dow Chemical.
Sally cut class, disobeyed her step-mom’s orders, strapped on her go-go boots and met up with a prep school boy to take a trip to the Museum of Natural History and laugh at all the funny things that animals do. And this was all before her first period! She bled, she freaked out, she ran home to mom. What a mom Betty was. I give her the mother of the year award for her little speech. Hopefully this means the end of Glen, the largest blemish of the show, a blemish that only exists due to blind nepotism. And he propositions her! In a really indirect, lazy way. No such luck, Glenny boy.
Then there’s Don. Insatiable! No more of these piddling $1 million accounts. It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. And Dow Chemical has a lot of Benjamins. Even though they only have a 50% market share.
So how do these fit in with Lane? Well… trivially. They’re the afterthoughts of the episode. The footnotes. Sally’s womanly transformation was robbed of its importance. Don’s business affairs were equally robbed of their importance. And that’s OK. Because, believe it or not, there are some things more important than sex and advertising.
About Tom Mandel: Tom Mandel lives above a bar, loves that he lives above a bar, and never goes.