Sunday's episode of Mad Men, the second to last in the fifth season, brought the death that everyone's been waiting for. (Don't read on if you are averse to spoilers.) Throughout the episode there was also a theme of men struggling to become men and women struggling to become women, with success in varying degrees. The kids—Sally and Glen—are growing up, while the adults, even despite their intentions, remain much the same, plodding through life attempting to catch onto fleeting bits of happiness that only leave them wanting more. Remember when Glen asked Sally how the city was in a previous episode, and she responded "It's dirty"? The city still is dirty; dirty and particularly dark.
The death we got wasn't the death that's been predicted, though—that would be Pete Campbell's—but instead, the only man more desperate and pathetic than Pete: Lane Pryce. Lane has been embroiled in financial drama for the past few episodes: We saw him getting calls in the middle of the night saying he owed money; we saw him writing that bonus check and signing Don's name even though there were no bonuses to be had at SCDP. We knew it would all come to a head, but how it actually did is credit to Matthew Weiner and his writing team: It still managed to surprise, at least, this writer, even if some of the notes in this episode did ring a little heavy-handed.
We start out with Don Draper getting a haircut, a man in the quintessential little-boy role in the barber shop, except he's a grown-up, so this is business, and in comes a rival ad agency guy who tells Don that Jaguar is "a big win" for his "little agency." Shots fired. The balloon of Don's happiness over the Jaguar win thus punctured, he's suddenly more like the Don we used to know, fiery and spouting off-the-cuff ad wisdom and ready to take no prisoners. Meanwhile, Lane is starting off with a good day. Due to his great "fiscal track record," he's being offered a role as head of the 4A's Fiscal Control Committee. He's told, of SCDP, "You keep that place afloat." It's much-needed praise in Lane's drab, sad life, yet too soon everything changes drastically.
After a possible new fee structure is proposed by one of the clients and investigated by Bert Cooper, Cooper comes into Don's office showing him the cancelled check he's found, the one that Don ostensibly signed. Bert blames Don, telling him, "You can’t keep being the good little boy while the grownups run the business.” (Boy-man theme again here!) Don keeps quiet to Bert, though he knows Lane is behind this, and calls him into his office to confront him and finally to demand his resignation. Lane protests, saying he's never been compensated for what he's done for the company, that he can't go back to England like this, that he is deeply apologetic. Don says, simply, "I can't trust you." He gives Lane the weekend to figure out an elegant exit.
But Don is not Lane—their characters are fundamentally different—and doesn't and perhaps can't expect what happens next to happen. Don, the survivor, the guy who does what needs to be done, tells Lane, who says he's "lightheaded": "That's relief. I've started over a lot. This is the worst part." In Lane's head, though, there is no starting over, and that's not relief. He leaves Don's office and moves through the agency, a weird look on his face, offending Joan in a brief encounter, then going into his large-windowed office where he stares outside at the snow. It's obvious this will not end well.
Don, however, is all fired up about the business, heading into Roger's office to say he's tired of "this piddly shit, living this delusion that we're going somewhere when we can't even give Christmas bonuses. I don't want Jaguar, I want Chevy," he says. Roger reminds him of his old love of the fight, saying, "You used to love no. No used to make you hard." Don tells Roger to get a meeting with Ed Baxter of Dow Chemicals, Ken Cosgrove's father in law.
In the 'burbs, Betty and Henry and the unhappy fam are off for a ski trip, but Sally does not want to go, not in the slightest. A typical mother-daughter fight ensues, in which Sally basically wins: Betty will let her go to Megan and Don's instead, though she calls Don to ask, "I wanted to know if you'd have any problem with me strangling Sally." Don has to work over the weekend on his pitch to Ed Baxter, their meeting scheduled for Monday, and Megan has auditions—neither of them are thrilled with the unexpected visit, but Megan is particularly peeved, mostly because Don hasn't told her anything before Sally shows up. She confronts Don about it, but Don has bigger issues to contend with, the firing of Lane Price for one. (I do like the mini-work-equality moment in which Don says he has a lot of work to do as an excuse for not eating dinner, and Megan tells him, "So do I"—"You're going to have dinner with your daughter.")
Ken Cosgrove, the mild-mannered good guy of the former pact with Peggy, the possible-next-in-running for any Don Draper-style manhood (minus the womanizing; Ken seems the best guy in the bunch over at SCDP), has a meeting with Roger, who warns him that they'll be going after his father-in-law. Cosgrove is unexpectedly savvy, asking for a few things so that he doesn't "bring it up" to his wife, even by accident. He wants a promise that if they get Dow, he'll be on the account, and that "Pete doesn't go to the meeting, and Pete doesn't go to any meeting." This must be music to Roger's ears. "As you were," he says.
Back to the Lane Pryce story line—and this, alone with the 4As nod in the beginning for "fiscal responsibility" is where things get especially on the nose—Lane's clueless wife is eager to help him celebrate (and also to get out of the house herself). Though he's clearly drunk and unhappy, she tells him, "You had a good day that turned into a bad day." And then she presents him with, quite possibly, the worst present ever for him and his situation: A Jaguar. She wrote a check, she says, because he never spends money on himself. Lane's response to all this is to vomit. Things are dark, getting darker. But over at a restaurant, by contrast, Sally, Megan, and Megan's audition buddy Julia are just talkin' about boys, and Sally, attempting to be a grownup, orders coffee and offers up that she has a boyfriend (though she's not sure she likes him "like that") when Megan chides Julia for letting the talk get too "sexy."
We cut back to Lane, who can't manage to kill himself in the Jaguar because the engine won't start. Sally calls her "boyfriend," Glen, asking him if he wants to come and visit in the city. He agrees. Lane goes to SCDP and shuts himself in his office, where we see him typing something.
What transpires next is fast and has great consequences. First, Glen and Sally: Sally is all dolled up awaiting Glen's arrival, she's a woman in miniature, with go-go boots, a little dress, and her purse slung over one arm. Glen has a duffel and, apparently, a mustache. Chivalrously, he takes her to the Museum of Natural History, where they look at taxidermied animals and trade banter that's just on the verge of sexualized. Glen tells Sally that he's being harassed at school by "sadists" who pee in his locker, and that he might have told them he was coming to the city to "do it" with her—but that he thinks of her as his little sister, but smart. Sally tells him she's not sure she likes him as a boyfriend either, and says, wonderfully, "You have a mustache. I don't like it." Her stomach hurting, she excuses herself to the bathroom, where she finds out she's gotten her period.
It's the onset of womanhood for one paralleling the end of manhood for another (on the nose, again, perhaps, but definitely cinematic)...and in between, Don has his meeting with Dow, which bridges the Sally story line and the Lane one. The old-style Don, brutal and charismatic, taglines thrumming in his soul, asks Ed, who says he's happy with his current ad agency, "You're happy with 50 percent? What is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness. You don't want most of it, you want all of it. And I won't stop until you get all of it." They walk out of the meeting pleased, and Roger tells Don, "I’ll buy you a drink if you wipe the blood off your mouth.” Blood of course runs through each of the main plot lines in the episode in (very) different ways.
Sally returns to her mom's house, terrifying Megan, who gets home to find her missing, and thrilling Betty, who gets to play the good mom—she has been chosen while Megan rejected—for once. "I got my period, it started and I didn't know what to do," Sally tells Betty, hugging her. It's a rare moment of bonding for the two women, even if in the next moments Betty is delivering some horrifying view of womanhood. Meanwhile, Glen has showed up at Megan's to find Sally, or to get his bag, at least, and as Megan freaks out over what to do, she gets the call from Betty (I was a little bit surprised she even called, except how else to rub it in?) saying, “She became a woman today. She started. I think she just needed her mother.” Betty gives Sally a heating pad and lies down with her to explain that being a woman involves "a lot of responsibilities," including someday having her own babies—her period means that "everything is working." And if she's ever in trouble like that again, to ask another woman, who will understand. The club of womanhood is now open to her. Sally looks miserable, Betty looks smug.
At the office, Joan attempts to open Lane's door and finds that something is terribly wrong; he's hanged himself. When Don and Roger arrive to Pete, Bert, and Joan sitting at a table, waiting—they've sent everyone else home—Don says they can't leave him like that, still hanging, and Pete, Roger, and Don cut Lane down. They also find the note, which is just a boilerplate resignation letter. Clearly, it's a message to Don, who'd asked for the resignation earlier in the episode, but we're left wondering why not more, or less. Lane could have left anything in that letter, including blame upon Don. You can see in Don's eyes, though, that he blames himself anyway...he's now complicit in another death (remember, his half-brother Adam hanged himself as well). When he gets back to the apartment, Glen is there, waiting with Megan for his 7 p.m. train. Don offers to drive him back to Hotchkiss, a few hours away. Megan asks if he's OK and Don offers only, "I had a bad day, we can talk about it later."
In the elevator, however, the weirdly intuitive Glen asks, "Why does everything turn out crappy? Everything you want to do, everything you think's gonna make you happy, it just turns to crap." Don asks what Glen wants to do, what he really wants to do, and the episode ends in a bit of a parallel to how it started: Don in the role of the boy in the barbershop chair turns to Glen behind the wheel of the car, the only happy person in the entire episode...for a moment. An almost man. Don, a pained expression on his face, helps the boy steer.