This Girl is a Woman Now: Rites of Passage on Mad Men, Season Five, Episode Twelve

by sweatermanifesto

Editor’s note: Every week, our resident free-market apologist, Harlan R. Teller, offers his unique perspective on the most recent episode of Mad Men.

Throughout this dark and ominous year of Mad Men episodes, there was an air of domestic foreboding about so many things—Don’s tempestuous second marriage, Pete’s profound discontent in the suburbs, Joanie’s shaky hold on her Army captain (and world-class jerk) husband, Betty’s continuing battles with her weight and her tweener daughter, Roger’s attempts to remain relevant and needed in a firm where he had increasingly become simply a name on the door.

For many in the blogosphere, suicide was in the air, but it was generally the smarmy Pete Campbell who most of us saw buying it, probably taking the place of a basted turkey in Trudi Campbell’s oven, or some other appropriately suburban way out of life. But in a classic bait and switch, it’s actually CFO Lane Pryce, done in by his own fraud in an act of desperation, who finally pays off on our expectations, only after first trying  (to no avail) to use the product that supposedly will change the fate of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) as his weapon of self-destruction.

We should have seen it coming. A stranger in a strange land, Lane never quite fit in.   First as an interloper from a conquering agency, then as simply an Englishman in New York, always as one of those “bean counters” the creative types and account men look down upon, Lane had the aspect of a guy who wanted to be with the other guys, but didn’t quite know how to do it. You get the sense that if he tried to snap towels at people in the shower after a rugby game, they’d just fall limply to the floor.

Last week, we found out Lane felt he was undervalued and underpaid; in essence, the “Pryce’ for Lane’s services was wrong. Rather than come to Don or one of the partners for a loan to pay off Her Majesty’s taxman, his pride led him to the ultimate fall. When Don learns of his perfidy (from Bert, no less, who has only recently roused himself from a semi-comatose state) and tells him that he has to resign, Lane loses whatever tenuous hold he had on his dignity and self-esteem, and with his wife continuing to believe he is the superstar adman who the agency couldn’t live without, he decides he can no longer live with himself. The fee that Lane pays in this episode, titled “Commissions and Fees,” is his life.

So, first Lane tries to do himself by suffocating himself in a Jaguar, but in an ironic turn that is part and parcel of the Mad Men universe, he can’t get the engine to turn over. His tinkering with the engine is reminiscent of the financial tinkering that he did for several years to keep the struggling agency afloat. A much lower tech solution—hanging himself from the rafters of his soon-to-be-vacated office—becomes a much more effective option, to the horror of his co-workers who find him there.

One wonders, by the way, who’s now going to mind the store, given that the senior partners need to have a tutorial at the beginning of the episode about how ad agencies make money in order to deliberate over Jaguar’s request that they pay the firm on a fee basis. I’m assuming that Pete and Lane’s explanation of the commission and mark-up system is more for our edification than Don’s, but one can never be sure, given how little Don seems to care about that side of the business.

While Lane’s rite of passage is out of life, Sally’s more predictable rite is that of passing from girl to “woman,” as Betty characterizes it. I could almost hear Gary Puckett and the Union Gap singing one of those creepy sixties paeans to (very) young womanhood when Betty pretentiously tells Megan that Sally “became a woman today.” In perhaps the most obvious, telegraphed plot point in the show’s history, Sally realizes that while she likes to act like a woman around Megan, she needs her mommy when she begins to menstruate. Her reversion to a childlike state in the face of her period and coming home to Betty for some motherly attention (which Betty triumphantly provides, for once) is heavy-handed and obvious. As is Betty’s not-so-subtle way of sticking it right in Megan’s face.

Perhaps the most entertaining rite is that of Glenn, still creepy and no less weird as a teenage prep schooler, being allowed (by Don) to drive back to school at the end of the episode. Complaining to Don after his ill-fated sojourn in the big city that “everything good turns to crap,” Glenn might be rewarded for coming up with what is possibly the tagline and epitaph for the entire season. Maybe Don sees future ad stardom in the kid. Or perhaps by this simple gesture he wanted to give the lie to Glenn’s pronouncement, in the process expiating his sins, most recently being the trigger that brought on Lane’s demise. Or, maybe he just didn’t want to do four hours of driving to and from Hotchkiss.

Whatever the motivation, he now has to live with yet another lie, to layer onto all the other lies forming the tapestry of his life. The difference is that this lie—the fiction that Lane went out on his own steam and at his own volition—is an honorable one. Lane heeded the advice that Don gave Peggy those many of years ago after giving up her baby: he “moved on.” And now Don has to live with the tragic consequences, no matter how defensible his own position was with regard to Lane’s conduct.

Writer’s note:  In 35 years in the PR agency business, I’ve used a variety of stratagems for winning business, but “pissed off and angry” has never been one of them.    This is, of course, dramatic license, somewhat like the end of the famous Carousel pitch in season one, when, rather than asking questions (like about the creative approach, the budget, who’s going to work on the business, will Don be in charge of the creative, why did you use your own wife and kids in the slide show, where can you find the best deli in the neighborhood), the Kodak clients left the office in an awed trance.    Whether Don is exercising reverse psychology with the Dow Chemical people at a much higher level than I know how to exercise, or simply Don being “Don on Steroids” (not much different than the day-to-day Don), I don’t know, but if I were the client I would have been tempted to call security.     However, since this is Don, and it’s Mad Men, I fully expect the gang to be working on the napalm business by the end of the season finale.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller