By John Keegan and Henry Tran
There was bound to be consequences to Lane Pryce's choice to embezzle funds from the company several episodes ago. Due to his lone status as the money man as well as a foreigner seemingly lost in a country that has never fully accepted him, Lane resorts to the most horrifying and final choice left to him. His fellow co-workers are now forced to deal with his shocking suicide head-on instead of sweeping events aside like they've been doing for much of the season.
Lane's death is shocking and sad, but watching the episode, I couldn't help but feel that there was this dreadful inevitability to it. Once Don got the ball rolling with his "dignified" request for Lane's resignation, the whole storyline became a waiting game for that horrible ending. The goings on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have steadily become darker and seedier than ever. The pursuit of Dow Chemical and Jaguar indicates that business is on its way back to respectability. The personal costs for attaining that respectability may be too much for everyone to bear, however.
The whole episode had this unsteady feel from the start. It was looking good at the beginning, for the most part. Don hears from fellow ad executives about SCDP's newfound prowess in the game after landing the Jaguar account. Lane is offered the position of the finance man for the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the "4A's" everyone is talking about). New and incoming business is rolling SCDP's way. It only takes one crack for the fissure to open, however, and it starts with Cooper (of all people) actually doing some work and finding Lane's forged check in the company's books.
Don does respect Lane enough to offer not to humiliate the man and gives him a way to exit in as elegant a manner as possible. It's interesting to see the contrasts between Don and Lane in this conversation. Don is comfortable constantly changing his life to suit whatever needs he has at the moment. Here is a man who stole another man's identity and rose to power from nothing. He isn't lying to Lane when he tells him that he has started over many times before. Don Draper lives by "the Hobo code," something he learned very early in life and it's enabled him to survive in this cutthroat world.
Lane doesn't have that aspect about him. He's prideful and stubborn, two traits that don't help him when his world starts to collapse around him. He could have simply asked Don for some financial help (note how easily Don says he can cover what Lane stole from the firm), but he took the embezzlement route and now, it's too late. He's been giving his life to the firm and gotten nothing in return. He could've been saved, but it gets worse when he returns home to find that his wife bought him a Jaguar coupe in celebration of his new success at work.
It becomes difficult to even watch Lane's story after that. After he tries to kill himself in that Jaguar coupe, but fails to do so because the damned car isn't reliable enough to start its engine. These are the high-priced vehicles that are supposed to save the firm from ruin? It seemed then like a cosmic joke, a sign that Lane shouldn't go through with what he intended. Only, he did go through with it, and the partners have lost a colleague and a friend.
I thought the other storylines in the episode were at least equal to the quality and care shown in Lane's journey to the end of his life. Don remains fired up at work, upset that the firm is consistently going after second-rate clients and staying away from the big fish. This mindset empowers him to go after Dow Chemical despite Ken Cosgrove's objections of mixing business with family. At least Ken gets one good scene with Roger in discussing the details of the firm's pursuit of his father-in-law's company. Ken seems to now be the only person in the firm who knows what he's doing and staying completely clean of the shadier parts of the business.
Lane's suicide is an event every character has to face, but this episode showed that everyone still remembers the lengths by which the firm acquired the Jaguar account. Ken wants no part of the partnerships heading the firm. Joan's own friendly banter with Lane turns on a dime when he mentioned that he could imagine Joan in a skimpy outfit at the beach.
Anyway, this angry mindset from Don informs very much on the pitch he gives to Ed and the Dow Chemical executives. It didn't feel like the routine romantic and idealistic pitches Don gives, but more as if he was threatening Dow Chemical to pursue the market in a bullying manner. It felt like Don was giving them an ultimatum to take SCDP and no one else. It may or may not work. We'll have to see what happens next. It has to feel like a gut punch to Don when he comes out of that meeting so confident and then to return to a nearly empty office and have to deal with the sudden death of a man he considered a friend.
That would make Sally's story throughout the episode feel a bit small, but again, there was some unease with everything that felt dreadful to me. Perhaps it was because it involved some characters that have never been all that endearing to me. There's something very creepy about Glen (as has always been the case with that kid) and I found it unsettling that Sally would even consider him as a possible boyfriend. She talks about it to Megan and her actress friend, but it feels to me like Sally has just been getting the wrong advice the entire time. She broaches the subject with Glen at the Natural History Museum, and even Glen agrees that he doesn't really feel that way about her.
Just when it couldn't be any more awkward for the two of them, Sally gets her first period at the museum. Here, she makes an odd choice: She runs home to her mother's arms, which gives Betty the opportunity to throw some petty asides to Megan about how Sally just needed her mother instead of rebelling and running to her young, relatable stepmother. That's what threw me off about the whole storyline. Sally spends the beginning of the episode rebelling against and basically hating on her mother and Henry. When she didn't know what to do at the museum, she sought comfort in Betty's presence. It really seemed like the writers were giving an excuse to include Betty in the episode and have her do something that isn't all about her. She does give Sally some comforting words about how her menstruation is the first sign that Sally can bear a child who might be the light of her life.
Those words are conveying a much happier sentiment than what is shown through the rest of the episode, but it's the sole contrast to the overwhelming darkness. Remember, Sally previously told Glen that the city was "dirty." That's still true in a much larger sense, as her father's business is achieving success, but is doing so in a dirty manner. Joan prostituted herself for an account. Lane stole money, then killed himself rather than face the shame of it. The means can't really justify the ends here.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Henry Tran is Critical Myth's reviewer for Mad Men.