'Mad Men' Recap: Sterling Cooper Draper - Rolling Stone
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‘Mad Men’ Recap: Sterling Cooper Draper

Lane implements a permanent solution for his financial problems

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Jared Harris as Lane Pryce on 'Mad Men.'

Jordin Althaus/AMC

It’s another major loss for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Last week saw Peggy‘s swift exit for the greener pastures of Cutler, Gleason and Chaough (she was MIA this episode, and whether she’ll make an appearance in next week’s season finale remains a question mark). And this week brought the inevitable resolution to Lane‘s long-simmering money problems. From the moment his embezzlement scheme was discovered by Bert and Don at the start of “Commissions and Fees,” the writing was on the wall for the British partner. Still, his suicide was no less upsetting. Regardless of his integral role in the creation of SCDP, as well as the initial steps he took to secure Jaguar as a client, the sad truth is that Lane was obsolete. Compounded by his wretched financial predicament, his professional troubles became insurmountable, leaving him with few desirable options. Jared Harris turned in a tour de force performance for his Mad Men swan song – and he will be missed.

But life goes on for the rest of SCDP’s staff and their families. In the case of Sally, she reached a milestone in her burgeoning womanhood this episode – which was just what she needed to help repair her broken relationship with Betty, at least for now.

“An Elegant Exit”

A new client-payment option is presented at the partners’ meeting (which now includes Joan, maintaining her steely exterior following last week’s seamy ordeal), prompting Bert to look over the company’s books. When he finds a canceled check for $7,500 made out to Lane – and co-signed by Don – he asks Don what gives. Don summons Lane to his office, where the whole bloody truth comes tumbling out. Lane owes a multitude of taxes on his portfolio, which he had liquidated in order to pay his share of $50,000 back in 1965 so the business could stay afloat. But the reasons are irrelevant. Don demands Lane’s resignation on the grounds that he embezzled money from SCDP and forged Don’s signature. A thoroughly distraught Lane begs him to reconsider. Through tears, he argues that he’s never been properly compensated for the work he’s done. The more he pleads with Don, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him, even though Don is making the right decision (“I can’t trust you”). All things considered, Don was a hell of a mensch here, even empathizing with Lane’s predicament, because he’s started over plenty of times. “This is the worst part,” he says. But Don’s encouraging words will come back to haunt him in the coming days, especially when he suggests that Lane take the weekend to think up “an elegant exit.”

Things get worse when Lane arrives home and finds a dolled-up Rebecca – and a shiny racing-green Jaguar – awaiting him. This kind of elaborate purchase is what sends an already-drunk Lane over the edge, and he throws up the many whiskeys he evidently downed throughout the day.

By Sunday afternoon, a more placid Lane appears to have recovered from Friday evening’s alcohol-fueled desolation, but it’s only a sign that the worst is yet to come. That evening, he attempts to asphyxiate himself in the Jaguar via carbon-monoxide poisoning. But in a clever play on Bert Cooper’s opinion of the sports car from two episodes ago (“They’re lemons. They never start”), Lane’s plan is thwarted when he’s unable to get the engine going.

Instead of going back to bed, he shows up at the SCDP offices, ostensibly to type his resignation letter. The next morning, his office is locked and he’s nowhere to be found, so Joan goes to unlock it herself. There’s something blocking the doorway, though, and when she catches a whiff of an unpleasant odor she realizes this isn’t a just case of a jammed door. She goes to the adjoining office, where Pete, Harry and Ken are shooting the shit. The apprehension in her eyes is impossible to ignore, so Pete peeks his head over the wall divider. The fate of Lane Pryce is pronounced the moment Pete raises his hand to his mouth in shock.

That afternoon, a happily buzzed Don and Roger return to the office following a productive meeting with Ed Baxter (Ken’s father-in-law) at Dow Chemical. Don decided he wasn’t going to take Ed’s admonishment that SCDP had been blackballed by major clients in light of his New York Times tobacco letter. He wants big names (“I don’t want Jaguar, I want Chevy”), and he’s going to work his ass off until he gets them. So, galvanized by Roger (“You used to love ‘No.’ ‘No’ used to make you hard”), he marched into Baxter’s office, proved his knowledge of Dow’s products, and presented SCDP as a firm that won’t rest until Dow has the market cornered.

Their celebration screeches to a halt when they notice the office is empty except for Joan, Bert and Pete, who inform Don and Roger that Lane hanged himself. Because Don is the only one who knew the truth behind Lane’s situation, the guilt on his face is unmistakable. He insists that they go against the coroner’s orders and remove Lane from his DIY noose. As Pete cuts the rope and Roger and Don gently move Lane’s lifeless body from the door to the couch, the reality that SCDP has lost one of its founding partners begins to set in. And when Roger reads the note Lane left behind, which turns out to be nothing more than a “boilerplate” resignation letter, Don is crushed. 

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Sally

After an inspiring girls’ afternoon with Megan and her friend Julia, Sally – who persuaded her mother to let her stay in New York while the rest of the family went on a ski trip – invites Glen Bishop to meet up. Glen is initially hesitant – the first clue that he doesn’t think of Sally as his “girlfriend”; notice she calls him and not the other way around? – but eventually agrees to take the train down from Connecticut. He arrives wearing prep-school chic, while Sally sports her hair in a flip and the white go-go boots Don told her to lose in “At the Codfish Ball.” They head over to the Museum of Natural History, but their date remains pretty platonic, which winds up being for the best. Glen confides that he told the boys who have been bullying him that he came to New York to have sex with Sally, even though he thinks of her more as a little sister. Sally isn’t fazed by this, mainly because she doesn’t have any romantic feelings for Glen either – and because she gets her first period right there in the museum.

Abandoning Glen by the caribou exhibit, a panicked Sally takes a taxi back to Rye. Desperate for some maternal comfort, Sally tells Betty, who’s back from the ski trip, her news and tightly wraps her arms around her. Betty is startled at first that her daughter is actually reaching out to her, but soon enough she’s stroking her hair and assuring her everything will be all right. Still, Betty doesn’t hesitate to rub her triumph in Megan’s face. When Betty calls Megan to let her know that Sally got home safe – and that she “became a woman” – she concludes the conversation with “I think she just needed her mother.” Betty could not have been more right, but I have to wonder if her enthusiasm in guiding Sally through this momentous occasion – even going so far as to climb into bed to hold her daughter – was more because she felt like she “won” the first wife vs. second wife battle.

Meanwhile, Glen ends up back at the Drapers’, awaiting his evening train back to boarding school. When Don arrives home after his particularly trying day, he relishes the idea of taking Glen himself because it will mean a few hours of precious escapism. As they ride the elevator together, Glen, whose cynicism this season has only multiplied, asks, “Why does everything turn out crappy?” Don doesn’t have any answers for him, but he at least fulfills one wish: He lets Glen do the driving.

Wrap-Up: Lane’s suicide may have resolved one story line, but it opened a brand new one in its wake. Will Don’s guilt cause another downward spiral? And will he take a detour before returning to New York from his Connecticut road trip? With only one episode left this season, the questions continue to outweigh the answers.

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