The offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are losing employees left and right. Last week, Peggy Olson put in her resignation to join rival firm Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough. This week, the departure is not nearly as bloodless.
It’s clear from the moment Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) is called into the office of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), there is only one way for all of this to end, especially with the various visual cues operating throughout the season: the empty elevator shaft Don nearly falls through, his reckless speeding after his test drive with Joan, even the opening credits themselves are an image system communicating the threat of suicide. Do we necessarily expect anyone to die? Not really. “Mad Men” isn’t the kind of show that meets cast exits at the same level as most network primetime fare. Big dramatic death scenes aren’t the norm for a show this layered, this subtle. It can also be said that, perhaps more than any other show on television, no one ever truly leaves. So it’s hard to truly worry about the likelihood of our seeing these characters again when we’ve already encountered a variety of departed employees return in some form or other, from Freddy Rumsen to Paul Kinsey to Duck Phillips (though I’m still irrationally mad at the lack of Sal Romano in my life. It’s like a sassy vitamin deficiency over here).
It’s the biggest reason Lane Pryce’s suicide is such a punch to the gut. The show recognizes that this is the expected outcome, even perhaps from the moment Lane started embezzling funds to pay his back taxes. There was just no way this would end well. It would have been too drastic a subversion of the show’s ethos for Lane to get away with it. Yet we still find ourselves hoping against hope that Don will change his mind and give Lane a second chance, even though Don is right to dismiss him, even merciful in allowing Lane the opportunity to resign. Even though his name is right there in the firm’s name, it’s easy to forget how crucial Lane was in the creation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, firing Don, Roger, and Bert Cooper from Putnam, Powell, and Lowe in order to void their contracts and allow them to create a firm of their own in SCDP. To see him reduced to fitful sobbing is as heartrending for the viewer as it is uncomfortable for Don, yet Don’s advice is on point, as he advises Pryce to tell his family that his career in the states just didn’t work out, because it didn’t, but that the next venture will be better, because it always is.
The words seem to calm Pryce and put him in a lighter spirit, but as the episode continues, we see that Lane is hardly less desperate, especially after his wife reveals she’s purchased a new sports car for him. Lane makes a first suicide attempt by intending to fill the car with exhaust. The car won’t start, and this seems to deter Lane for the moment, but as Joan attempts to enter Lane’s office at the episode’s conclusion, only to find the door barred by a chair, the horror sets in as thick as it would have even if the outcome had not been as inevitable as it ultimately was. Joan, for whom Lane carried a considerable torch, is understandably inconsolable. Pete Campbell seems numb, Bert Cooper just seems resigned, and Roger is simply confused, incapable of comprehending what cause Lane could possibly have for ending his own life. Yet it’s Don’s reaction that is the most telling.
Jon Hamm has never won an Emmy for his portrayal of Don Draper, mostly due to having contend with Bryan Cranston every year for “Breaking Bad” and Kyle Chandler for the final season of “Friday Night Lights,” but tonight’s episode exemplified the criminal nature of this slight, as all of Don’s grief, guilt, and shame play across his face in a matter of moments. It’s rare to see Don so clearly affected, though the poignancy of his show-closing moment with Peggy Olson last week is not forgotten. The vehemence of Don’s frustration with his partners for leaving Lane’s body hanging is both distressing and telling. It’s as if Don intends to rectify cutting Lane loose from SCDP by cutting Lane down. Yet as he and Roger lay Pryce’s swollen, purpled corpse on the couch on which Lane once kissed Joan in a fit of ardor, Don can see that the truth is no less gruesome from this vantage point. It’s a tremendous bit of acting from Hamm, and I would strongly argue this episode as his Emmy submission.
In other news, Sally gets her period. Or, in less blunt terms, Sally takes the first step towards authentic womanhood. It’s a moment foreshadowed when Sally is sent to stay with Don and Megan for the weekend when she refuses to go on a skiing trip with her mother. Megan takes Sally to a restaurant and Sally orders a coffee. Megan responds that they likely won’t serve it to her, given her age. Yet she’s served the coffee anyway, leading Megan to quip that perhaps Sally ought to try ordering a drink. Her response? A giggled “I don’t want anything to drink,” while pouring copious amounts of sugar in her cup. Here is a girl who is biologically ready for womanhood, but is ill-prepared emotionally, as evidenced by her misunderstanding of what constitutes a “boyfriend.” She is taken aback by Glen’s admission that he told his friends he was coming to the city to have sex with Sally, though she doesn’t register disgust at the notion, instead simply replying that she isn’t sure she likes Glen that way.This diffusion of the situation is parried by Glen with the awkward, transparent line that he sees Sally as a little sister. Pfft, kids…
Sally couches her maturity in acts, such as defying her mother, ordering coffee, and sneaking out to meet a boy. However, her biological maturity sends her crashing back down to girlhood. Glen couches his maturity in the biological, boasting to his friends about possible sexual exploits with Sally, and sporting a small wisp of a mustache (which is naturally rejected by Sally only moments before being forced to come to grips with her own biology), yet it isn’t until Don allows Glen to take the wheel on the drive home that Glen seems to see the world the way Sally does: that adulthood, in some ways, is reflected in the things you can do that you couldn’t do before as a kid. The episode closes here, on a young boy discovering the simply pleasures of adulthood, and a grown man wearied by the responsibilities and tribulations of such a state.
Lost in all this is week two of The Triumphant Return of Don the Pitchman, as he follows up last week’s pitch to Jaguar with a stunning challenge to the head of Firestone to employ SCDP, arguing that though Firestone is on top for now, SCDP could keep Firestone on top for good. I’ve missed the hell out of Don the Pitchman, and these past two weeks have gone a great length in satisfying that bit of longing to this end. Yet both weeks came at the cost of a valued employee of SCDP. Though I have no doubt we’ll see Peggy Olson again, it genuinely saddens me not to be able to say the same of Lane Pryce.
R.I.P Lane, you’re retching up English muffins and brandy in Heaven now.