And here we thought that last week's corporate prostitution was a water-cooler episode! Last night, a season's worth of dread and anticipation culminated with Sally stumbling into adulthood and Lane renouncing it.
With so much macabre and foreshadowing throughout this entire season, we knew someone had to die, and that it would probably be a suicide. And it wasn't a fake out either. Caught in a mess of financial pressure that led to embezzling money from SCDP, Lane Pryce took his own life—in his office. It only made sense, since he had given that company everything he had and couldn't imagine his life without it.
And as if that weren't enough action to propel the story, Sally got her period! As we've watched her age before our eyes, we knew this was coming. And all the signs of her hormonal turmoil were there: The bitchiness; the mother hate (the personalization of Sally's barb of "She lets me eat whatever I want" was indicative of how she's honed her skills at warring with Betty); the yearning to act like an adult by experimenting with gogo boots and coffee. In fact, when she went to the museum with Glen and he was being his usual weirdo self and mentioned how he had told his classmates that he was going to "do it" with Sally, I feared for an instant that the storyline might actually go there, but then I said aloud, "Wait, she can't have sex, she doesn't even have her period yet!" Almost immediately Sally excused herself because she didn't feel well, and I knew what had happened. I wonder if she felt like she was about to have explosive diarrhea. That was how I interpreted my first cramps (and all of them since then).
So why would the writers bury such a huge moment in Sally's life with such a huge moment of death? Well, I think that menarche serves as a really great allegory for one of the fundamental understandings of adulthood that Lane didn't seem to grasp: Sometimes things get messy and painful, but that's just part of life. As Betty reassured Sally in a rare—and long overdue and completely welcomed—spot of commendable mothering as they cuddled together on the bed, getting your period might suck, which is a negative, but it means your body is working, which is a positive. It's complex, this existence of ours. Good things and bad things happen simultaneously.
And that's how it went in the last few days of Lane's existence. His day started out great when he was asked to be the head of the fiscal control committee for the 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies), who had recognized his accomplishments at SCDP, even if his partners did not. It was a little ironic, since he secretly had put his company in financial peril by secretly extending their line of credit, but it was still an honor.
Later at the partners meeting, Pete mentioned that Jaguar had requested pay SCDP a fee instead of a commission. Lane proved his worth once again by being the only one in the room who understood what that actually meant and why it wasn't a good idea. It was the topic of "commissions and fees" (the name of last night's episode, actually) that proved to be his downfall. Bert Cooper, who seems to only show up at the office for the danishes instead of any real work, was moved to understand this new billing issue, so he started looking though the company's financial records. That's when he found the cancelled check for $7500 on which Lane had forged Don's name. Bert confronted Don about it, who in turn confronted Lane.
Ever the gentleman who values discretion, Don didn't tell anyone what Lane had done, but he also couldn't allow Lane to continue working there. This wasn't anything like the personal issues that affected his employee's performance at work that he'd let slide in the past, like a secret pregnancy or a divorce. This was fraud—and it's not wise to put the company's finances in the hands of a man who was so quick to embezzle it. (In 1967, $7500 would be worth about $50,000 today.) Another tragic aspect of the story is that Don would've willingly lent—or given—the money to Lane. He gave the same amount of money to Pete (covering his share of the money the partners needed to pony up to save SCDP's ass).
After Don asked for his resignation, which watched Lane slowly unravel. He sobbed then got drunk then offended his closest confidant in the office when he sexually harassed Joan. The icing on his shit cake was when his well-intentioned wife wrote a bad check to purchase him a Jaguar. He puked. The next day he seemingly got his affairs in order before he went into his parking garage and attempted to kill himself by means of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, the Jaguar—which everyone had knocked in the past few episodes as being "unreliable" and "lemons"—wouldn't start. He failed at living life and he failed at ending it. It was the last insult he could endure. Lane put on a suit, headed into the office, typed up a boilerplate resignation letter instead of a suicide note and hanged himself, a final "Fuck you" to the partners he felt had used and abandoned him with very little regard.
Everyone was deeply affected by the tragedy, but none more so than Don. He couldn't have known that Lane would kill himself, but it makes sense that a man who was too proud to "suffer the humiliation of a 13-day loan" would be completely unable to face the humiliation of losing his job and partnership because of embezzlement.
In the end, Don returned home from his good (a meeting with Dow!) and bad (he bear-hugged the corpse of the guy he fired) day to find his wife with Glen and his mustache. Eager to do anything but have to think about the tragedy and what part he might have played in it, he jumped at the opportunity to drive Glen home. In the elevator Glen addressed the underlying theme of the episode when he asked, "Why does everything turn out crappy?"
With the kind of day that he had, Don didn't have an answer for him. But it was within his power to prove that theory wrong by letting Glen end his day by doing something that was the opposite of crappy: Driving a car. And in this moment Don—a character who has been defined by his discontentment with life—was directly responsible for someone else's happiness. And that was really satisfying.