Why does everything turn out so crappy? It’s a fair question that Sally’s creepy friend, Glen, poses to Don at the end of tonight’s episode of Mad Men – at the very moment Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce finally appears to be starting to make it, they are brought to their knees by the tragic demise of one of their partners, Lane Pryce. The Englishman – who came to New York to be Putnam, Powell and Lowe’s financial officer when they acquired the old agency of Sterling Cooper – took his own life to escape from money troubles, and the shame he felt about them.
This storyline had been building up throughout the season: Lane had been late paying the tuition fees for his son’s school; owed the equivalent of $8000 in taxes in the United Kingdom; and then wrote himself a check – forging Don’s signature – to claim an early bonus to clear that debt. Pryce explained himself to Draper by saying that he had foregone what he was owed for the good of the agency and had liquidated his stock portfolio so that he could provide $50,000 in capital to SCDP when Lucky Strike pulled their business. But the true cause of Lane’s downfall was not finances, rather his own pride. When Pete Campbell – not the most humble of characters – was unable to come up with the cash, he confided in Don and the senior partner covered Pete’s share, as well as the $100,000 he was required to invest. Money is not an issue for Draper, nor is it for Roger Sterling, who has been handing out cash and apartments this season, and if Lane had reached out to them for help, they likely would have come to his aid. This was the man who freed Sterling, Cooper and Draper from their contracts at PPL to allow them to create their own new agency – though he may have complained that he never received a monetary reward for this action, had he simply been honest with the men, they undoubtedly would have repaid this favour with one of their own.
Yet Lane was a very proud man, someone who could not stand up to his father, yet rolled up his sleeves and fought Pete in the conference room over a slight about his value to the firm. It was Pryce who made the first contact with Jaguar – albeit fortuitously over a steak and kidney pie after England’s world cup victory – but the sad irony is that had the agency never won the car company’s business, his embezzlement might never have been discovered. When he was in need of a Christmas bonus to pay the tax bill, Lane approached their bank manager for an extension of the overdraft and that was granted prior to winning of the new client – but when Jaguar came on board and requested a different fee structure to the usual rates, Bert Cooper awoke from his four-year long slumber to study the books and found the cancelled check. If the English car makers were a part of the reason that Pryce’s scam was uncovered, their lack of reliability – noted earlier in the episode by Jed Covington in the barber shop to Don – prolonged his life by just a few hours, since when the engine would not start in the new Jaguar his wife had bought for him, Lane was forced to find a different method of killing himself.
By hanging himself in his office, the Englishman chose to commit suicide in a manner that had the biggest impact on his colleagues – in particular, Don Draper. Don was the only person who knew that Lane had defrauded the agency and had insisted that he resign from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – a move that would have resulted in him losing his visa and return back to Great Britain. While that may have been something Pryce considered to be too shameful to consider, he should have recognised that Draper was incredibly decent in the way he handled the situation: Don was chided by Bert for not being adult in the firm’s affairs; told nobody else at the company of Lane’s crime; and allowed him to leave on his own terms, rather than being fired and perhaps arrested.
Sadly, the way that Lane chose to exit was at the end of a rope and Draper may regret that he insisted that the Brit resign or face further embarrassment, taking some of the blame for his suicide. When someone takes their own life, those around them will often have feelings of guilt, anger or frustration that they were not able to prevent it from happening and, in the 1960s, there was even less understanding of mental health issues than there is today. How Don handles this next week will be interesting to watch – will he reveal the depth of Lane’s financial problems and thus provide an explanation to the other partners, or keep his former colleague’s secret, even after his passing?
Away from the demise of Lane, this week’s episode also saw Roger and Don attempt to regain control of their own agency by winning new business, without any assistance from Pete Campbell. Draper has become frustrated at the lack of big thinking at SCDP, wanting them to pursue clients like Chevrolet and American Airlines, as opposed to Jaguar and Mohawk. Sterling is motivated by the fire in his partner’s belly and sets up a meeting with Ed Baxter – an executive at Dow Chemical and Ken Cosgrove’s father-in-law – so that Don can give one of his legendary pitches and win a customer who had no intention of leaving their current agency. What Draper delivers is a monologue along the lines of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech – telling Baxter and the other executives that he would not settle for less than complete domination of a market and that “happiness is the moment before you want more happiness” – hell, the man can even make Napalm sound good. After he spent the first half of this season more interested in seeing inside of Megan’s shirt than winning new business, it looks like the old Don Draper is back to Sterling Cooper Draper
Pryce Campbell Harris née Holloway.
The other storyline in this hour focused on Sally Draper’s maturing from a girl into a young adult. At the start, Sally is arguing with Betty as they are preparing to go on a ski trip and aggravates her mother so much that Mrs. Francis drives her down to the city to spend the weekend with Don. As he is busy preparing for the Monday morning meeting with Dow Chemical, it is left to Megan to entertain Sally for much of the weekend and she takes her for lunch with her actress friend. Because she sees her step-mother as younger and more in-tune with her, Sally wants to act more grown up in front of her – telling Megan about Glen, who she describes as her boyfriend (but misses out the word “creepy”) and ordering a coffee to drink. However, when she starts her first period while on a date with Glen at the American Museum of Natural History, it is Betty who Sally wants to go to – rushing home without a word to either her boyfriend or Megan. After feeling like she had been replaced by the young French-Canadian in both Don and Sally’s life, Betty uses the opportunity to score points over Megan by pointing out that her daughter had wanted her, not anybody else, at her time of need.
The events of the previous episode were hardly mentioned; Peggy’s departure from the agency was not discussed and Joan’s promotion to partner was not big news, although the latter move did get a couple of comments – Don, going against the new fee structure idea for Jaguar, wondered if once he had voiced his opposition, he should leave the room and allow the others to do whatever they like; and Ken told Roger he had no interest in being partner as he had “seen what was involved”. With next week being the season finale, all the fallout from Peggy and Lane’s respective exits is likely to be wrapped up, as well as Roger and Don’s push for new clients.