Mad World on Kritik: Mad Men Season 5.12
Catch a Body
Guest Writer: Faith Wilson Stein

Monday, June 4, 2012

posted under , , , , by Unit for Criticism
[The eleventh in the Unit for Criticism's multi-authored series of posts on Season 5 of AMC's Mad Men, posted prior to the publication of MAD MEN, MAD WORLD: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s (Duke University Press) Eds. Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing. Kritik welcomes anonymous comments so long as commentators choose an identification such as initials or a number. We also welcome you to check out our series of posts on Season 4 of Mad Men which begins here and ends here.]

"Catch a Body"

Written by Faith Wilson Stein (Comparative and World Literature)

“You really have no idea when things are good, do you?” Peggy said to Don in last week's episode of Mad Men (“The Other Woman,” Season 5, Episode 11). The rejoinder this week would seem to be that they were never really good in the first place. Peggy didn’t know the moral cost of winning the Jaguar account and, with no part in the firm’s ethical failings, was wholly absent from last night’s episode, “Commissions and Fees.” Also absent were copywriters Stan and Ginsberg. Indeed, "Commissions and Fees" has no heady creativity (“writing sexy,” as a rival ad exec says to Don in the opening scene); no dramatizations of inspiration which weave compelling advertising strategies from the detritus of the everyday; or discussions of how desire is invented, stoked, and (allegedly) satisfied by advertising. Instead, it is all business: while money is discussed it remains merely representational, like Lane's forged check. Lane’s wife is baffled at his “refusal to recognize the successes when they come” and the irony is all too bitter. To be one of “the grownups,” as Cooper admonishes, is to recognize that pleasure is always just a promise, and an empty one at that.

This season has been marked by distinctly gothic elements, from the macabre and murderous fantasies of Betty and Don to the discussions of Richard Speck and Charles Whitman (oy, that name!) and the reported news of the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Last week’s prostituting of Joan seemed like a culmination of sorts and it certainly literalized the season-long pattern of men using women to satisfy the demands of their professional causes: Henry expects Betty to attend political functions, Roger appeals to both of his ex-wives in order to make business deals. (Lakshmi’s seduction of Harry, on the other hand, turns out to be a ploy to control Paul). “You’re a grimy little pimp,” Lane sneered at Pete in Episode 5 – before making a pass at Joan himself. But “Commissions and Fees” shows that the gothic motifs can be even more subtle than murder and prostitution. The show’s physical settings, particularly its use of windows and doors, have also contributed to the mounting sense of unease and even dread, starting with the first episode’s opening scene of Sally peering through her father’s bedroom door and continuing with Don’s surreal peek into an empty elevator shaft (Episode 8) and Betty’s spying Megan through the windows (Episode 9).

In this episode, we see a suicidal Lane through the windshield of that cruelly unreliable Jaguar. Lane’s hanging corpse is not discovered through chic floor-to-ceiling windows like those on the Drapers’ patio but, rather, glimpsed from the small window at the top of Pete’s office wall. The door is blocked by his lifeless body which must be shoved past in order to enter. Don’s horrified guilt is most likely compounded by the memory of his half-brother Adam Whitman’s suicide by hanging (“Indian Summer,” Season 1, Episode 11), another instance in which Don instructed someone to disappear, seemingly for their own benefit but really for his own self-preservation. Lane vomited as Don did last season when confronted with exposure; but Lane does not confess to his wife as Don did to Faye Miller. Trying to contain secrets, to keep them shut in and unseen, only results in self-destruction.

Early in the episode the “commissions and fees” of the title are discussed by SCDP’s partners including Joan. Jaguar has requested a fee structure model of payment, rather than the usual commission. (“Well that is interesting,” snarks Roger.) With a fee structure, Lane explains, “The client merely pays for the work being done.” Rather than the use of one’s body for a particular time span, the dynamic allegorized in last week’s episode and analyzed by Todd McGowan, or the ad agency’s customary preference for a percentage of the sale of ads to television and print media, Jaguar wants to barter goods and services for direct payment. Lane, however, seems confused about what belongs to whom: he confesses to forgery and embezzlement but insists, “That was my money!” Having banked on the presumption of a bonus, he rationalizes the theft as his due “compensation” for the time, energy, and professional risk he has expended for the firm. Although Don rejects Lane’s rationalization he also debunks the agency status quo in his pitch to Ed Baxter of Dow. With their current agency, Don argues, Dow is “subsidizing all the great creative work they’re doing,” for other clients “and paying for new business lunches.”

And yet Don doesn’t try to sell Dow a new ad campaign. Sure, he knows about their controversial products. What better way to reverse the damage done by his insincere “ethical” stand against selling cigarettes in Season 4 than to flack for napalm? But instead of offering Dow a new pitch, Don offers himself, reminding Ed that their share of business is only 50 percent: “You don’t want most of it, you want all of it. And I won’t stop until you get all of it.” In one of the series’ pithiest distillations of the logic of advertising and, perhaps, life, Don asks: “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” Don sells them the illusion of advertising itself.

When Sally arrives unexpectedly at Don’s apartment, she is the voice of the counterculture: “She’s such a phony,” Sally whines about her mother to Megan. The line triggers an association with J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye which echoes throughout the rest of the episode. A Holden Caulfield-like Glen, ditching prep school and its “sadists,” takes Sally to the Museum of Natural History and tells her she’s like a little sister to him. But any desire to preserve innocence, to catch those young bodies, comes too late (like Don’s effort to save Joan last week). Sally has been ordering coffee and considering age-inappropriate movies with Megan and her friend. Glen has what Sally generously calls a mustache, she’s wearing those go-go boots that made Don nervous a few episodes ago, and her experience of menarche has been confirmed by the world’s expert on the topic!

But phony though her mother may be, the onset of womanhood finds Sally running home to her mother for comfort. Sally and Glen’s portion of the episode is not as disconnected from the plotline of Lane’s suicide as it may seem: as Sally pours copious amounts of sugar into her coffee, it – and the shot – dissolves into the image of Lane lying awake in bed (glasses on, secrets untold). Before he arrives, Glen says he needs to type up his paper and we transition to Lane typing in the office. He is presumably writing a suicide note and yet at the end of the episode it’s revealed to be a “boilerplate” resignation letter. The compulsive repetition of empty writing, like a forged signature (as Caroline Levine so elegantly unpacked), comes to a tragic ending. The letter reaches its destination, as commentators on Kritik have observed pace Lacan, but it doesn’t say anything.

Part of the pleasure of Mad Men, as Eleanor Courtemanche observed, is in our attendance to the details, which can then be shaped into some sort of narrative. Whereas that episode introduced us to Pete’s 7-foot Hi-Fi, the emblem of his suburban ennui, this episode gives us.the extra-textual echoes of Holden Caulfield in Glen and Sally’s storyline. Lane’s unexpected suicide inevitably brings us back to his furtive phone flirtations in the season’s first episode (“A Little Kiss”). Does this enable us to make sense of his tragedy? To derive satisfaction from our ability to piece together a narrative of referential decline? (It is fitting, albeit in a highly cynical sort of way, that an actual advertiser for AMC’s broadcasts of Mad Men – Jaguar, no less! – both invests in an “authentic” reading of the show, as though its events were real, while co-opting the “authenticity” of emotional response in order to sell its product.

When Don instructed Lane to tell his family that “the next thing will be better, because it always is,” the wording is rather ambiguous. Is Don assuring Lane that things will get better or is that simply what Lane should repeat to them? If previous seasons have posed the question, “Who is Don Draper?” Season 5, so far, has seemed to ask, “What does Don Draper want?” Glen for one seems to know that the question is moot: “Everything you wanna do, everything you think is gonna make you happy, just turns to crap.” Ever the salesman, Don asks him what he wants. In that dark moment, Don wants to provide someone else some happiness, however fleeting.

And so the episode ends with Glen behind the wheel of Don’s car, in a scene reminiscent of an earlier, happier time – a young(er) Sally driving her Grandpa Gene’s car under his amused supervision. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Butchie’s Tune” segues us into the credits, underscoring that the moment’s joy is transient and, thus, all the sweeter: “Don't give me a place for my memories to stay, / Don't show me an end or a light to find the way. / I ain't got time for the things on your mind, / And I'm leaving you today – / On my way.”

There will be more happiness in the next moment.

35 comments

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35 comments:

Jez B. said...

I was surprised by this episode. Thanks for this post.

Lauren said...

What surprised you Jez B. I'm guessing you mean Lane's suicide but did not want to put words in your mouth.

Lauren said...

PS. Just stopped by quickly to ask Jez B. for clarification. Will come back again later today to say more. But for now: thanks for this great post, Faith! I think this was one of the hardest episodes to write about so far!

Anonymous said...

First, thanks for these recaps. I've been reading them happily - just the sort of analysis this show deserves. But this post leaves me with some questions. You raise several points that aren't fully drawn out. Yes, there are two showy transitions between the Sally/Glen story and the Lane story - coffee cup and typing (not writing but typing) - but what are those shots getting at? Something about deferred pleasure as a mark of adulthood? Lane's life has been deferred pleasure, or worse. Sometimes it's been marked by brutally repressed pleasure.

Are Wiener & Co pointing towards a recognition of Lane's failure to achieve any satisfaction (as adults must do) in sublimated desire? Is his suicide a final gesture by which he turns the constant frustration of his always raw, unrecognized and silenced desires against himself? The empty writing of the "boilerplate" resignation letter offers no explanation, no revelation. It is writing that takes the place of communication, but offers none.

Another thread of the episode seems to be confusion about worth and value. Last week the negotiation over Joan's body arrived at a mutually agreed-upon figure: 5% of the company. But this week, as you point out, value floats more ambiguously above the action. What is the difference in value between fees and commissions? The partners all assume that because the company prefers to pay a fee, that must be worse for them. But no one knows for sure. And what is the worth of Lane's sacrifices? Commissions vs Fees. Commissions give a stake in the ups and downs, tying one's fortune's to the eventual successes and failures of one's efforts. Fees are final, blunt and disconnected. Once you're done with the work, you've been paid and no one owes you anything anymore.

Jez B. said...

Those are good comments Anonymous! @Lauren The whole thing surprised me. Lane, I thought he would not go ahead with it after the Jag.

John M said...

Great recap and a great spot re the Catcher in the Rye references. It's funny, Lane's suicide was such a thunderbolt that it seems to have given me temporary memory loss about how much else went on here. This was a much needed reminder, especially regarding Sally's storyline. And I'd totally forgotten about Adam (who might, more appropriately, have been called Able). Interesting that we didn't, if I remember rightly, actually see Adam hung.

I think here we were being played with regarding the reveal. Were we going to be spared it? It seemed for quite a while that we were, garnering our information about it from the horrified gazes of the characters peeking through the clerestory windows (prefigured last season by Peggy doing the same after Don smashed something in his office, if I remember rightly). The fact that in the end we weren't brutally brought home the reality of it. In this sense, it was the culmination of a tendency that goes right back to Roger's heart attack in a Lucky Strike meeting and runs through Freddy Rumsen's urinary self-soiling in his office, Roger (again) vomiting in the lobby while meeting United Fruit, Guy Mackendrick's unfortunate foot/lawnmower incident and Duck Phillips' attempt to defecate on Roger's chair. All of these eruptions of visceral, dirty unpleasantness point, in our desire to keep them out of our sanitary environments and consciousnesses, to the ultimate disavowed: death. Advertising plays on this fear to keep us sanitising -- to keep on selling soap powder, as it were. The various soilings with which MM is regularly punctuated are returns of advertising's repressed.

Am feeling there may be something to say about blood. Both Sally and Lane shed it -- suggesting even his hanging didn't go well. And after Don's fierce meeting with Dow Corning, whose napalm product arguably leaves them with blood on their hands, Roger tells Don he'll buy him a drink if he wipes the blood off his mouth.

John M said...

Further to the above, Lane's suicide immediately results in a white lie: Bert sends everyone home claiming a building emergency. Surely, however, the firm is going to have to concoct a bigger lie in order not to be besmirched with this ultimate excremental disavowed. A top executive killing himself in his office (after failing to to it in one of the products the company advertises) is surely not going to be good for business.

Faith W. S. said...

Thanks for the comments, Anonymous. Firstly, I’m still mulling over those transitions between the Lane and Sally/Glen plots myself. Both seemed suggestive of the repetitious rituals of adulthood and their inherent emptiness. Sally asks for coffee, echoing Megan’s order so as to copy some of her sophistication; Glen has type up a paper, which like most high school essays is no doubt simply rehashing his textbooks’ and teachers’ comments. These are empty gestures, of course, but it is the gesturing itself that matters; thus the mere presence of Don’s signature is irrelevant, despite Lane’s pitiful pointing, since Don is not the one who made it. Sally’s bit with the sugar seemed to me a small moment of sweetness (sorry), a reminder that that is she still very much a child, one who will run back home to her mother when upset. That the dissolve shot gives us a brief moment in which sugar rains down on Lane seemed particularly bittersweet (that pun is unintentional, I swear); he’s still in his office-persona glasses – which he’ll snap in half in the car – but broken by his failed gestures at fiscal and professional integrity.

I agree with your comments about worth and value. The absence of actual cash in this episode was notable since we’ve seen so much money thrown around all season (quite literally, in the case of Don’s tossing it in Peggy’s face): Pete pays Harry for his office, and Roger pays Peggy and Ginsberg for their extra work. But these are one-time payments, literally out-of-pocket, and wholly unofficial. Commissioned work is payment for the *promise* of labor (and thus, by extension, for the laborer himself). Joan chose not to take that one-time payment in the last episode, but with her new seat at the partners’ table she is complicit in and reliant upon the firm’s business. It doesn’t matter that Jaguar wants the detachment of a fee structure – they’ve already bought SCDP’s soul.

And I know what you mean, Jez B. Previous seasons have instilled a sense of foreboding about certain characters, from Roger with his heart problems to Pete with that Chekhov’s Gun (Yates’ Rifle?), but there are always surprises. (R.I.P. Mrs. Blankenship.) Oddly, the last time I wrote for Kritik it was about last season’s “Hands and Knees,” in which Lane tried to find some happiness with his “chocolate bunny” and was beaten by his father. One hates to give Pete any credit, but he was certainly right about the death drive in the series pilot.

Spot on, John M. That long lull between Lane’s final appearance alive and the discovery of his corpse was in part what piqued my curiosity about the overlaps with Sally and Glen and with Roger and Don. And the blood references are certainly intriguing.

John M said...

Faith, how could I forget the death of Ida Blankenship? First as farce, then as tragedy in this instance then.

Mike said...

Interesting analysis, Faith.

Looking at the first photo (the Ice Age display at the Museum of Natural History), did anyone else notice the use of weather and geography in this episode? When Don confronts Lane about the forged check, it's snowing outside--the first time in the show I can remember seeing it from the office windows. And then there's the aforementioned sugar-in-the-coffee transition to Lane lying awake in bed, suicide on his mind. White sugar. White snow. All of it falling down to meet the inevitable. Melting. Being absorbed. Lane's "winter."

Contrast that with Sally. Her "spring." "I'll meet you in Africa," says Glen as she rushes to the restroom to discover the onrush of womanhood. And fertility.

The end of one adult's life. The beginnings of another. And both of them, reasons imagined for the former and very real for the latter, had no choice in the matter.

Helena said...

The fact that Lane's death has been prefigured from the first episode this season didn't take anything from the shock of it - although I wasn't surprised. From the moment Don fired Lane I felt that only way out was suicide.

The falling sugar/snow made me think of snow globes: little worlds that can look so perfect but are at the mercy of the hand of fate to shake them into chaos. But then they settle until the next cataclysm. Like life and like the falling man of the titles.

I've read that the shock on the faces of Don, Pete and Roger was partly real for the actors : that was their first look at Lane and it can't have been easy. It's not often that fictional death is so real (as I remember we only saw Adam's legs and feet).The bumping of his body against the door was unspeakably ghastly - Jared Harris was hanging from a harness on the door so that was him, not a dummy. The Basket of Kisses blog makes a chilling link to this from a much earlier episode.

Helena said...

Lane's tragedy was summed up for me by the tantalus we see in his office after his death. The life he wanted was out of his reach. He made a series of bad decisions and even at the last moment, when he might have 'come clean' to Don over the dirty business of the forgery and Don might have saved him, he lied.

John M said...

Nice spoot, the tantalus, Helena. I didn't even know what one was until I read your post. My education by Mad Men continues apace. Fits with the continuing elucidation of desire along Lacanian lines in this episode:

Roger: 'The sex -- it's always disappointing.'

and

'Ed Baxter is Moby Dick. There are easier whales.'

and

Don: 'Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary. You get hungry even though you've just eaten...

'...What is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness.'

Not sure I agree that the only way for Lane was suicide. He did make a series of bad decisions, but he didn't bounce back as Don, intent, in parallel, on taking on the issue of The Letter with Baxter, advised. Then again, Roger's reading of the meeting with Dow is that Don made himself look insane, so maybe bouncing back isn't always the way either. But it looked to me like Lane always had options, even at this point. Why didn't he just do what Peggy did -- get some meetings, so to speak?

Speaking of letters, on a re-watch, Faith, I've got to say, I think Lane's letter absolutely reached its destination. Don told him to resign and his letter was a resignation letter -- addressed to the partners, seemingly saying nothing, but with a secret addressee to whom it hit home: You told me to resign. Well, this is what my resignation means. Reaction shot: Don looking stunned.

John M said...

Er, sorry, that should have been, 'my education by Mad Men and its brilliant and erudite viewers...' Ahem.

Helena said...

John - likewise.

I tried to put the word 'his' in italics, but it didn't work. I think for Lane, suicide was the only option. I see both Don and Lane as men who were abused children with violent fathers. For whatever reason, Don can snowplow his way through life and Lane can't. Perhaps they represent America and England in the 1960s : one feeling its power and one feeling its loss of power?

Faith W. S. said...

Well noted. Roger's commentary was great.
I should clarify that I meant "the letter" on more of a structural, narratival level: *we* see him type what we presume to be a suicide note (which he may very well have written - perhaps one will turn up next week), but it's actually this boilerplate formality devoid of meaning.
As a bitter rebuke to Don, of course, its message certainly hits, though I suspect its composition was also an expression of Lane's rigidly correct manners.

John M said...

@Faith
I suspect its composition was also an expression of Lane's rigidly correct manners.

Yes, and you're absolutely right about the way the letter relates, as empty writing, to his earlier forging of Don's signature. Sorry, I clearly read that in haste before, because I responded as if you'd said the letter didn't reach its destination.

This manners aspect makes it even more perfect from the psychoanalytic standpoint. He may not even have consciously meant it as a rebuke to Don. In this sense, the the seeming vacuity of the thing is incredibly rich in terms of what it says about his character, continuing his tendency to disappear in politeness, which is exactly what got him into this mess, but carrying a subtextual depth-charge of fury.

On a separate note, a poster on the Guardian has pointed out that the desire theme is rounded off nicely with Glen's nearly closing remarks on how everything always turns out crappy.

John M said...

Oh, and yeah, Helena, I've been wondering if Lane's Englishness was supposed to be key to his character's self-defeating reserve. Feels sort of a cliché, but maybe a valid one.

elle24 said...

I love the discussion here! This, the Guardian and TLo's Mad Style complement each other perfectly.

All I wanted to say is: has anyone else noticed the "Mad Mean" typo in this week's title? Deliberate, given that what we're about is understanding Mad Men's meanings and, so often, the MM characters' meanness, or a marvellous Freudian slip?

Helena said...

There were several references to England/Britain and being in America: British Racing Green for Lane's Jag. Rebecca called it racing green but I think it's full name is British Racing Green. Rebecca says ‘gotten’, suggesting she has integrated to some extent. There were airmail envelopes on Lane’s desk because he corresponds with the UK. I think he has a picture of London on his office wall and a pipe rack on the desk - perhaps not English but it feels so. On the back of Megan’s magazine in the café scene are the words : Europe the second time. And in the scene where poor Lane is offered the 4As post they are eating English Muffins. As any Brit in America knows and Lane says, American English Muffins aren't the same as English English Muffins! Lane is neither American nor English - something that happens to ex-pats. His visa may have recorded him as a Resident Alien (don't know if that term was used then?) which adds to his sense of isolation.

Eleanor said...

Lovely recap! The Holden Caulfield references seem apt, but the scenes in the Museum of Natural History also made me think of Wes Anderson. Between "Royal Tenenbaums," Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale," and even such YA fiction as "Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler," it seems as if the only natural place for teen misfits is in NYC in the 60s. Out in the suburbs, all we got was All-District Choir.

I thought a particularly artful touch was Lane's wife's clipped, limited personality. There is no clearer indictment of conformity & servitude to cultural norms: when you see her sitting on that couch, prim & proper & unable to register Lane's distress other than as something that might mess up her plans, it feels like a terrible death knell. (Whereas Don makes a bracing and even kind Angel of Death: "What you're feeling now is relief.") Even her generous gesture -- buying a Jaguar! -- is bizarrely oblivious and cruel. But you feel no pity for her failed attempt at "rewarding" her husband, since it underlines how difficult it would be for Lane to confess to her. When he tries to reply, he only vomits. If he spoke, could she understand?

The Don/Lane parallel definitely feels a little self-serving of the American point of view. In this series, Brits get it in the neck in every way possible. Yes, Don's survival is brutal and duplicitous, but there's nothing appealing or romantic about failing to survive. Lane is simply weak, and his culture's particular genre of emotional blindness is more homogeneous and less forgiving than the Americans' blindness. The Americans have chosen life, even if it means dealing (in napalm) in death.

Faith W. S. said...

"Brits get it in the neck in every way possible."

Or the foot...

Helena said...

Eleanor, Britain, particularly back in the 60s, doesn’t encourage second chances the way America does. The footless Guy MacKendrick is immediately cast aside by his colleagues whereas the one-footed reporter from Advertising Age (Roger: they’re so cheap they can’t afford a whole reporter) is working. Disgraced Brits went abroad to escape humiliation, they didn’t go home to meet it. Lane could never have gone back and in his world he and his family are better off with him dead : dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, after all.

Helena said...

Oh, and London Fog. A name that sounds English but isn't; that sounds traditional but didn't exist; that protects from the weather but was really toxic smog that killed people every winter.

bianca steele said...

Lane's suicide, especially the financial reasons that presumably were behind it, reminds me of The Death of a Salesman, which is being revived in New York now, and which was a TV movie in 1966, with Lee Cobb as Willy. Lane isn't a salesman, but Arthur Miller saw the qualities needed in a salesman as the qualities needed for any American businessman regardless of what his job normally is. Certainly all of the other partners are "well liked" in one way or another, even Pete.

How I Learned to Drive came to mind in that last scene with Don and Glenn. I'm not sure why. There have been other similar scenes in the series, and almost no hint of that kind of inappropriate relationship with any of the characters so far. But I haven't seen or read the play yet either--just requested it from ILL.

Helena said...

A poster on the Guardian blog noted that Joan's holiday choices were Hawaii (the newest US state) or Bermuda (an old British colony).

Hester said...

I'm 37 years old. Can we also talk about the juxtaposition of Sally's "becoming a woman" through the blood and pain of her menstruation and how the episode's redemption comes in the form of "too-young" Glen getting the opportunity to do what he wants most? That is to say, we essentially get a "the children are the future" sort of an ending.

In other words, if Mad Men can't or won't, can someone here please help debunk the the equations that claim:

Adulthood = pain & despair & then you die (or commit suicide).

and

Childhood = joy & hope & then you become an adult.

What is adult joy?
Real joy?
An inquiring adult wants to know.

John M said...

Hester, given that Glen says everything turns out crappy, it hardly seems as if childhood is being depicted here as unalloyed joy. Sally's childhood has not been without its problems either.

I think, buried away, there is a certain redemptive possibility on offer in all the pain and difficulty that MM depicts. I think we find it in Ken's embattled practice of writing, a means of processing the problematic situations he encounters (a poster on Slate has suggested MM will eventually turn out to be his memoir). Last week, Joan's John, Herb Rennet, says that having her in his room, he feels like a sultan with Helen of Troy in his tent. Joan tells him he's mixing up two different stories. The other story would be, I think, that of Scheherazade, married to a powerful man who kills his wives after one night and who saves her life by telling him stories, keeping him interested beyond a single night (which is all Rennet's going to get with Joan). This, like a lot of what's gone on in the last two episodes, is a spin on the relentlessness of desire, the impossibility of satisfaction. Rennet's dumb mix-up is premised on the false hope that if you could really have the most beautiful woman in the world, you'd be satisfied at last and would no longer need to kill the wife and move on to the next. Scheherazade provides the real solution by embracing and embodying change through the diegetic process and giving her husband a means of contemplating reality and impermanence.

Hester said...

Yes, John.
I think that's what's called the pleasure of basking in a state of delayed gratification.
It's all about that journey, etc.
[sigh]
I guess this'll have to do for now.
Thanks!

But it just occurred to me:
Is Scheherazade enjoying the giving as much as the King is enjoying the receiving, because isn't she giving out of fear of death? Who are we to say that that fear has subsided, however many stories she might be into the "diegetic process?"

John M said...

Well, for the appropriately named Lacan, all language was born of lack, i.e. it begins with asking for something. 'Mama ma ma mammary gland.' Scheherazade is asking for her life, in a roundabout way.

I can only speculate re Scheherazade' enjoyment, but my guess would be that while being the recipient of a story is more simply enjoyable, the difficult business of contemplating and ordering life into a story is more satisfying, better, pace Megans' dad, for your 'soul'. That's about more than delayed gratification. It's about sidestepping the process of pursuit, gratification and disappointment. Stories require both happy and unhappy elements, gain and loss, life and death, so, arguably, help us towards the Zen objective of preferring neither and appreciating life in general.

Lauren said...

Such interesting comments everyone; I wish I had had time to take part earlier. Hester, John M. and others. I think your instincts are right that this particular episode takes an existential turn. It is not just about Mad Men’s characters but about “life.” The older changeth, yielding place to new but at least from Glen’s perspective that is not a guarantee of happiness. (Sally’s story may possibly be rosier even if menstruation did remind her that Betty is her mother and the woman she reflexively turns to during rites of passage.) This metaphysical scale of this episode eclipses the counterculture story we’ve been getting so far. Not knowing much about this period of literature and culture I wonder if Holden Caulfield is being taken as a harbinger of the counterculture or as a sign of some universal restlessness of youth that never quite achieves the promise of the Bildungsroman. (The last time I read Catcher in the Rye I was younger than Holden!)

Helena: I appreciate your thoughts on Britishness v. much since I love to know how MM resonates outside the US. You have given me more to chew on since I tend to think of the show’s use of Britishness as standing for a US view of the subject. Youth culture-wise, somehow British musicians like the Animals, the Zombies the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles (all referenced in MM) managed in the early-mid 60s to “steal” rock and roll, an American art form with deep ties to African American musical forms and experience. From an African American standpoint it may make little difference whether the white guys popularizing your vibe are Americans like Elvis or young Britons like Mick J et al. But I think the “British invasion” meant a lot to American culture about the role of “old countries” (to quote Donald Rumsfeld) in providing cultural aura in the Anglophone world. In that sense I guess you could say that it’s telling for this episode, with its focus on Lane’s death, to end with the Lovin’ Spoonful (an American band with at least one really great song!).
Less purely about Britain vis-à-vis America, yes, Lane is a different kind of man than Don but also in some ways a more “average” one and at times a more decent one than a composite of American men on the show that includes Roger, Don, and Pete. I think Lane’s suicide could be a real loss for Don—that hurts him the way that Adam’s suicide eventually did. Though maybe not. (I was not entirely convinced by Don’s refusal to give Lane a second chance: I guess Bert’s anger provided a backstory for that but Don generally does what Don wants to do.)

Lauren said...

Eleanor: I actually felt sorry for Lane’s wife even as I felt sorry for him. Her inability to communicate her love for her husband reminded me of what was saddest in Betty’s marriage to Don. That is, both Rebecca (I think that’s her name) and Betty are trapped in marriage roles that keep them structurally isolated from what their husbands are doing or undergoing at work and this makes them blind about what they are feeling. (This cuts both ways and we could easily have a husband clueless about his wife’s despair leading to her suicide.)
Jez B.: like you I thought the Jag might save the day. It could have been brilliant in a way if the car’s famous unreliability created just the random event to bring Lane back from the brink. I also thought it might happen that way. But instead it turned out to be a way of replicating the hanging (Adam) and the tendency for most things that happen in Mad Men to happen in the office.

Thanks again for all of these comments (and Anonymous please choose a name for yourself when you come back, as I hope you do).

Thanks again Faith!

Helena said...

Lauren, I really related to Lane’s relief at finding himself in NYC where no one asked him what school he went to. I lived in the States for the best part of a decade in the late 80s/early 90s. It was amusing, at first, to be seen as exotic simply because of the way I spoke and to be told I could make money reading the phone book! But one of the first things to hit me was that I had no way of consciously or unconsciously categorizing people by they way they spoke, the cars they drove, the clothes they wore or the suburbs they lived in. Everyone and everything was label-free, to me. It was an enormous relief having come from England where there was a formality and class structure that was much closer to the 60s than it is today. It didn’t last because the labels gradually appeared. Remembering that, it strengthens my feeling that a man like Lane would have grown up in a much more rigid system where one of the worst places to be was struggling to be a class or two ‘above yourself’. Without the chutzpah of a man like Don, he would never have been accepted and always be giving himself away in small social or verbal mistakes – if you don’t know it, just Google Nancy Mitford U and Non-U to see what that horror meant. And I think we saw that in the way his English bosses treated him. The stress of living like that would be huge, compounding his sense of failure and humiliation over the fraud; he had suffered so much for so long in vain.

Lauren said...

Interesting Helena and thank you. Perhaps part of what you felt (when you lived in US) was the freer perspective that comes with being an outsider to the particular stratifications that organize a given social world. That is, Americans also make subtle judgments about how people speak (where I come from in New York City it is a matter of whether you pronounce your "r"s and sibilate your "t"s) and we certainly make judgments about cars and other status objects. But I know what you mean about public schools and agree that the British class system is to this day more rigid: with few exceptions, you do not get past a certain point without being educated in a certain way. (Though let me add that it can be surprising true here as well: both Mitt and Barack went to Harvard just as both Kerry and Bush went to Yale and were "Skull and Bones" even if "W" managed to have his cake and eat by speaking like someone who never stepped outside of Texas.)

I do think that MM's writers sought realistic detail in rendering Lane's story: his creepy father for example. So I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm only saying what you already know from your own experience of anglophilia(my husband btw is from London and though his accent is flattened after 16 yrs. he still gets gushing praise on his pronunciation from time to time). What I mean is that the experience of British decline, the anxiety and guilt about an empire--aspects of Britishness which I think are folded into L's characterization--are mainly invisible to the many Americans who think more in terms of the accent, the queen, the music (though not necessarily in that order).

T. AKA Ricky Raw said...

Helena, great comment. That Mitford U thing is fascinating. Overall I regret Lane's suicide because I think there were still more interesting stories to tell with him.

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