Sterling Cooper Draper… Harris?
Was suicide the only way out for Mad Men’s consistent recipient of the Least Valuable Player Award?
In “Commissions and Fees,” Lane’s tragic end is inevitable as soon as his sleight of hand with the books is found out by Bert Cooper; the canceled check for the money he stole from company coffers leads Don to confront him and force his resignation.
The punctilious partner provides essential services behind the scenes, but it’s clear this season that the Pryce is not right.
Might you recall the young woman Lane mooned over briefly, indulging in flirtation by phone? He may have had the digits, but he couldn’t convert. When he tried his hand on his own as an Account Man? Epic Fail. And the bonus he needed so badly? Thinking he could take the money for a few days and no one would be the wiser? Bad call.
Even the Jaguar account is a disappointment for him. He wants his due, and can’t get it from his fellow partners. He thinks he’s getting some recognition when a professional organization asks him to take a leadership role. But at SCDP, everyone else gets the kudos; it took Don and team pulling out all the stops, and the assets of Mrs. Harris providing a little insurance.
Mr. Pryce hasn’t had a winning season – or even the hope of one – since Daddie Dearest struck him, felled him, and reduced him to beaten boy.
As for the reasons that Lane embezzled funds? It seems he didn’t ask for enough when he became a partner, he didn’t make the big bucks on the deal that the others had, and he’s been robbing Peter to pay Paul for the past three years.
And what if Don hadn’t fired him, though in his own way he’s trying to save Lane’s good name? Has Lane been playing in a lion’s den for years, without realizing the extent of the danger?
The Taste of Blood
Don is tight-lipped and grim through much of Episode 12. Things aren’t going his way, though nothing is specifically going awry. But there’s friction at home. There’s friction at the office. He’s resentful that the partners voted on the Joan and Jag deal without his knowledge. He’s on the verge of something… an explosion, a break-down, a breath-through, and he sputters to Roger that he’s tired of “the piddly shit.”
This is “old Don,” and it’s extraordinary to see him in action. Roger is impressed, and makes a comment that Don should wipe the blood off his mouth. Well – he certainly devoured the Dow executives!
As Old Don gets his groove back, he’s all about being ruthless if necessary. If Kenny is in the way of the Dow deal? Fire him! In fact, if anyone is in Don’s way these days? Look out!
So what about firing Lane? Ruthless? Necessary? Could he have bailed him out and given him a second chance?
Possibly. But it’s interesting that when the Brit asks for time to pay back what he’s misappropriated, Don says “I can’t trust you.” Ironic, from a man who has shaken everyone’s trust with years of a false identity, and was shaken himself by the repercussions.
As Don and Lane conclude their conversation and the soon-to-be-departed executive gets up to leave, he’s slightly drunk, clearly in shock, and ashamed to have been caught in the act of forgery and misappropriation of funds.
Lane says “I feel lightheaded.” Don says “That’s relief.” And he adds:
I’ve started over a lot. This is the worst part.
But Don is the quintessential survivor. Lane? Apparently not.
His Tragic End
“Something beautiful you can finally own?”
That was the winning slogan for Jaguar, and Lane’s Missus “writes a check” and surprises her husband with a new sports car. In a way, Lane is recognized for his value in the end – by his wife at least.
I must give kudos to Mad Men for the dark humor in Lane’s failed attempt to off himself in the Jag. The sexy vehicle “that you can finally have” turns out to be a dud. Lane tries to run a hose from the tail pipe into the interior to inhale the exhaust, but he can’t get the motor to turn over!
After tinkering with the engine and giving up, Mr. Pryce chooses Plan B, which is a less poetic end – in itself, indicative of the Brit’s sorry state of affairs. He lets himself into his office, types up a letter, and hangs himself by his tie – a gruesome discovery for his partners the next day. As for the note? It’s a letter of resignation – and nothing more than “boilerplate ”
If Don comes into this episode like a Lion, it’s Lane who goes out like a lamb. And a slain one at that.
I can’t help but wonder what the other animals in the pack will do next. It’s lovely to see Joan in the role of board member rather than office manager, but won’t Pete be positioning for his name on the agency’s door? Sterling Cooper Draper… Campbell?
And did anyone else notice the small Statue of Liberty in Lane’s office? After Don tells him he must resign, Mr. Pryce sits at his desk, stares out the window through slatted blinds at the Big Apple, and the only other image we register is that symbol of American opportunity, which has remained elusive for Lane – to the end.
Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons
This episode offers another peek into the emergence of Sally the teenager, as she interacts with her mother (fighting), with her step-mother (they have more fun), and with old friend Glen, whom she manages to meet at the Museum of Natural History.
More imagery of the animal pack, the kill, the “natural” cycles of life and death? The strong, who will out-live the weak?
As Sally and Glen awkwardly approach the subject of sex and all things “natural” while standing in front of a diorama of prehistoric animals. It’s even more poignant when Sally doesn’t feel well, goes to the bathroom, and discovers blood in her panties. She knows what it is, but she’s aghast and scared. She takes off, cabs back to the Gothic Manse and Mother Betty, where Bad Betty shows her tender side, as her daughter “becomes a woman.”
The dynamic between Megan and Sally is intriguing to watch. Sally has many reasons to dislike Betty, and Megan offers a contrast to the former Mrs. Draper in every way – appearance, lifestyle, energy, not to mention the people and places she exposes Sally to. It’s to be expected that Betty would be resentful, and that Sally would enjoy being treated more like a friend (at times) than a child.
Yet she is a child, of course. Despite the short skirt and white go-go boots she wears to meet Glen. Despite the cup of coffee she orders at the restaurant with Megan and her pal. Despite her brave front – which crumbles when she gets her period for the first time – and all she wants is to go home, and be with her mother.
There was another poignant moment, exchanged between Don and Glen, as Don offers to drive him back to school. Their conversation is surprising and cuts to the bone, certainly for Don. Glen says:
Why does everything turn out crappy?
Don asks what he means.
Everything you want to do turns to crap.
Don tells him he’s too young to feel that way, and then he asks the teenager:
If you could do anything, what would you do?
In the closing scene, we see Don and Glen in the car. It’s the boy behind the wheel, with Don assisting as he steers. They listen to the radio in the dark, they drive in silence, and I wonder if this is how Don will be some day with his sons – if Betty allows it.
I think how little family Don has, and recall that his half-brother committed suicide, as the result of Don’s ruthless side. One more example of survival of the fittest?
On the heels of Peggy’s departure, not to mention the foreboding in that empty elevator shaft some weeks back, this is an episode that hits us with a more final goodbye. And the music on the radio, by Lovin’ Spoonful, plays “I’m leaving you today… please don’t cry when the time to part has come.”
The losses are piling up for Don lately, but maybe this moment with Glen is healing, just as Betty curled up with Sally is a moment of peace for both of them.