Monday, June 4, 2012

Mad Men: Fees and Commissions

"If you needed it so badly, why didn't you just ask?"
I'll say right up front that I think Don's behaviour towards Lane was exemplary. And I thought Lane was unmanly and weaselly in response. I'd guess that how you feel about this episode will boil down to how you feel about that interaction.

I don't mean who you feel about this episode as an artistic creation but how you react to the moral aspects of it. Of course, that moral response will have something to do with how you might react to it as art.

Okay, but here is the hard argument against it. Don says he can't trust Lane but any severe Don critic—of whom there are legions—will say, "How can you trust a man who isn't who he says he is?"

I think a man is what he does. Keep doing it, and you become it. As the old line has it, fake it 'til you make it. In that regard, we are all like Don. We're born with an identity and at some point we crave a new one and set out to become that.

"Fake it until you make it", is still very good advice.

Think of the moment back in Season One when Don faces exposure by Pete. He wants to run away, as we all would in a moment like that, but, as I noted at the time, while Don talks about running away it is Rachel who actually does.  But even running away is better than trying weasel your way out like Lane does. Is that an old-fashioned morality? Is it an old-fashioned sense of what it is to be a man? You bet. That's why it's good.

I thought the opening was intentionally old fashioned. First the barbershop and then the restaurant. These were both interiors that already would have felt like they were fading into the past in 1967. And they, especially the barbershop, were very male interiors.

And we see two very different ways of being male. Don is driven by rivalry. Jed Covington's mention of Pete Campbell sparks him. And his calling the firm "little" also drives Don. The partners' meeting furthers that feeling.

Along with that, we get a lot of the old Roger-Don chemistry in this episode.

We might wonder, those of us who love Don, whether the show's creators aren't teasing us a bit here. If you love that lost world, and a lot of us do, you can't help feeling the sense of profound loss as the late 1960s slip into place. For me, and people who think like me, the period from 1967 to sometime in the late 1970s is a cultural tragedy. All season long we've felt it creeping up on us. And here was this last nostalgic look at it. When Roger says to Don that he missed the guy he sees again, we all felt that with him. (Well, those of us who are true believers did.)

Poor Lane. And yet there is nothing more selfish than a  suicide. And it's not just the act. His entire life up to that moment was like unto  it. The man  never could ask for what he really needed. The most pathetic moment was when he went to Joan and he might have talked to her, told her what had happened. Instead, he made a stupid sexual comment.

And it was avoidable all along. He didn't have to do it.

How fitting, then, that his final message was, as Roger aptly puts it, just boilerplate.

Glen Bishop seems less creepy now and just geeky.

O yeah, there was a girl-woman story going on too. It didn't do anything for me. Perhaps your mileage varied on that one.

Final thoughts
I thought Don evoking his Korea experience in answering the napalm question had a hint of doom about it. This too must have been something he used to do. Remember how he had his Purple Heart in his desk in Season One? Remember how Pete used to make reverence to Don the military hero. There must have been a time when that was more a part of his personality and it coming up again suggests a return to the beginning.

(By the way, Don's answer on napalm is the right answer.)

Anyway, as I said before, I have a feeling that the next episode of Mad Men will be the last one. I think AMC would be foolish to renew again as the show is not growing and they could make better money out of something new.

Besides, the important thing about this series was that it enabled us to focus on an important era that is too often ignored because the baby boomers have had too tight a stranglehold on our culture. Their market power has forced us to sit through too many evocations of the later 1960s.

AT this point, I find I don't care how it ends up. Part of me worries that Weiner and Co. have some completely trite ending wherein Don falls hard. More likely they have a non-ending as happened with The Sopranos. Maybe they have no ending at all and they are planning to try for another season. I don't care, I've gotten what I wanted out of the show.

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