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'Mad Men' recap: 'Commissions and Fees'

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the hit

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the hit AMC TV series “Mad Men.” Hamm has been nominated for an Emmy award for his role in the drama series. Credit: AMC

Looks like Don Draper has another secret, and this one, from last night's “Mad Men” episode, “Commission and Fees,“ is a doozy.

Now is the point to insert the obligatory “do not read another word (if you missed last night)“ because it's impossible to discuss a room with an elephant in it without making at least some reference to the elephant.

This was a big episode, with a big elephant, the penultimate one of the season, and I think it's reasonable to react viscerally to it, since it demands a visceral response. That said, I didn't particularly like “Commission and Fees.“

I didn't like losing a critical character, and in some ways one of the most intriguing. So much unresolved about this character -- so much forever unresolved.

OK, assuming you've come this far into the post, you don't care about spoilers or want to share in your grief: Lane Pryce, the bell tolled for thee.

I am going to forego the usual breakdown in this post to talk about Lane at some length -- his life, death, and overall meaning in the context of “Mad Men.“ I'll add to this as thoughts occur, so you may wish to check back to see if you viscerally disagree with me.

But quickly a recap: Don confronts him about the forged check after Bert pushes it under his nose -- the result of his rudimentary investigation into fee-versus-commission structure (Bert opened the bank statement!).

Don knows nothing about it, of course. He is left briefly to wonder whether Bert assumes he's the one who double-dipped. Lane is confronted and goes through the three stages of guilt, roughly sketched out as: a.) Don't know what you're talking about; b.) I didn't do it; c.) Hey, I deserve this after all the work I've done. He then collapses in tears.

Don fires Lane, in a what-goes-around moment, for it was Lane who was forced on Sterling Cooper by new British parent, Puttnam, Powell, and Lowe, two seasons ago to clean up the books. (Euphemism for fire people. Lane's very first victim -- Bert Peterson, head of accounts.)

Doubtless, some viewers last night considered Don's reaction harsh, even brutal, and it was. It may have also been appropriate. Lane had embezzled, which is a crime. Don could have called the police, if at very least to begin the process of exonerating himself. (Bert still doesn't know the genesis of the check, by the way.) And after the investigation, Lane could have been deported. Don, at the very least saved him that fate -- and yet set him up for a worse one.

Why didn't Don instantly call a meeting of the partners - Lane being a junior one - to discuss the matter? As a controlling partner, Don probably had the right to fire him, but that's not entirely clear either. What is clear is that by acting unilaterally, and secretly (he only told Megs), he's now boxed himself in. By episode's end he still hadn't told Roger, maybe because he knew he himself had acted inappropriately. Whatever the reason, the net result was the same: Lane committed suicide.

The death was shocking--- a blow to the solar plexus of a few million viewers who knew Lane was a tragic character, but not necessarily a suicidal one. Plus, they were emotionally whipsawed -- from a comical scene, with Lane peering under the hood of the Jag that wouldn't start. to that scene of Pete peeking over the partition into Lane's office. (Pete later explained that he didn't cut him down because it was a “crime scene.")

Another whipsaw: The sight of Lane hanging on the back of his door, like a London Fog rain coat, or a sack of potatoes. That was the single most shocking scene in five seasons. “Mad Men,“ and Matthew Weiner, did nothing to soften the blow. There Lane hung, neck broken, his head thrust downward, his face sunken, white.

Lane -- Jared Harris, who was brilliant during his run -- joined at the beginning of the third season, in an episode entitled “Out of Town,“ when Don and Sal traveled to Baltimore. Lane, we soon learned, was everything Don was not. He was a construct of others (and of another world). Don was self-made. He was a numbers man. Don was the creative man. He has a wry sense of humor. Don has no sense of humor.

He is fundamentally decent. Don, no so much.

He is sexually repressed. Don, not so much.

Lane came from a highly stratified world of class, of the British mercantile class, where one's life expectations were preset in stone. Don, of course, the exact opposite. Lane was (so to speak) Bertie Wooster to Don's Jay Gatsby.

But their similarities are perhaps more telling. Both have secret lives protected by carefully constructed facades. For both, the facade is everything -- and Lane's would simply fall away, like a line of dominoes when confronted with the consequences of his lie. A lie, after all, made in the service of his son.

“I feel like I just went to my own funeral,“ Lane once famously said. “I didn’t like the eulogy.”

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