This week on AMC’s hit show Mad Men, the penultimate episode of the show’s fifth season, we saw our season’s first big change. While last week saw Peggy Olson leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, marking perhaps the loss of our first major character, there are still doors left open for her to return. This week, however, sees the exit of a character who shall sadly be making no return.
At the company, the lies and the lack of communication all fold in on themselves and someone has to take the fall for it. This week’s episode is surprisingly pared down as we are left solely with the series’ main characters: Don, Roger, Joan, Pete, Megan, Sally and Lane, with a couple of the supporting performers nipping in their every so often. It takes it right down to the bear minimum to create a far more intimate and emotional installment, leading to a devastating conclusion which, as always for Mad Men, is quiet, subtle and suitably low key.
This is a chilling episode. Framed by falling snow and tetchy temperaments, a metaphorical winter has arrived at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce where associates can only come to realise business has not picked up and is just as stagnant as usual, where the attempts to do right are corrupted by the worst of deeds and where loyalty suddenly doesn’t mean much anymore. There is a very melancholy nature to the proceedings and we get very little humour. Even Roger can’t seem to make one humoured remark.
We open in very humble territories. Don is getting a haircut only to be interrupted by someone from a fellow agency, complimenting him on the success of claiming the Jaguar account. Don rebukes him with pessimistic views on how working with Jaguar could become an annoyance, which are silenced when the man brings up how great they thought Pete Campbell was. In a breakfast diner across the city, Lane meets with a business head offering him a job as a fiscal consultant for an unnamed firm, which he accepts.
Meanwhile, across the city, Betty and the rest of the Francis clan are preparing for a skiing weekend, which Sally refuses to go on. Instead, she remains in the city, adamant to stay at her father’s until Monday. This comes as a surprise to Megan, who is totally uninformed on this matter, annoyed at Don for having not told her.
But Don’s day at the office couldn’t permit him to allow family calls, Cooper comes to him with the cheque that Lane forged a few episodes back to cover his taxes. Cooper knows nothing and assumes that Don forwent the decision to give out Christmas bonuses and went behind everyone’s back to help Lane out. Don knows this isn’t the case as he didn’t sign it, and he brings Lane into his office only to fire him. He goes onto tell him that he has the whole weekend to elaborate a lie and come Monday morning he must resign.
Feeling positively withdrawn and blown back by Don’s decision, Lane goes home drunk, having to face his wife with the possibility of moving back to England and the embarrassment of telling her that he has lied and is in trouble. She has a more celebratory attitude in mind however, she plans to go to dinner but first she insists on showing off the new car that she bought. Her reasoning: Lane never spends enough on himself or treats himself.
Lane’s betrayal puts the fire in Don’s belly. He goes to Roger and opines about the company remaining second rate, as he puts it: “I don’t want Jaguar, I want Chevy”. He wants bigger companies and with that he asks Roger to set up a meeting with Ed Baxter’s company Dow Chemicals, Baxter being the man who previously told Don that no one would touch SCDP because of the Lucky Strike rebuke in the New York Times. But now Don is back and presumably has found his ambition again.
Of course, this causes a problem for Ken Cosgrove, as Baxter is his father in law and he doesn’t enjoy doing business with him. When they get the meeting with Dow, Roger talks to Ken, who lays down his own set of conditions: Ken is on the account and Pete doesn’t go to the meeting or any other meetings (whatever that means). Could this have more effect the further along we go? Possibly, but not during this episode.
Before the weekend is out Sally discusses with Glen Bishop the possibility of meeting up on the Monday, considering both her father and Megan will be out. Megan has an audition, while Don has the meeting with Dow. The two of them meet up and head across town to the museum, however Sally suddenly feels sick and runs off to the bathroom where she discovers that she has had her first period. Stunned and sickened she runs back home to her mother, leaving Glen to go back to the Draper’s apartment alone and pick up his bag. Upon his arrival he is met by Megan who invites him in and offers to take him to the station when his train arrives.
In the meeting with Dow, Don impresses with a speech about how he wants to reach for 100% with a company, he strives for the best and that’s what he gets. It’s clear that he has ambition to provide the best service possible and this is again another sign of Don getting back that drive that many had thought he lost. This however comes at a price.
After returning from the meeting and a few drinks, Roger and Don return to the office to find it empty, with the partners sitting in the creative room after having sent everyone home. They break the new to Roger and Don: Lane hung himself in his office.
With what could be guilt washing over Don, he goes into Lane’s office and cuts him down. On the office floor they find a resignation letter addressed to the partners, no explanation as to why the suicide but we all know why. He couldn’t lie anymore.
In the final moments of this episode, Don returns home to be met by Glen. Don insists on driving the boy home and in a quiet moment together, Glen turns to Don and asks the oblique question: “Why does everything turn out crappy?”
Who knows? We are in dark times with Mad Men recently, and we have one episode remaining? Where do we go from here?
Come back next week for our review of the season finale of Mad Men.