Jordin Althaus/AMC
Adam B. Vary
June 04, 2012 AT 11:57 AM EDT

Mad Men

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss

Holy crap holy crap holy crapMad Men has a history of the penultimate episodes of the season being The One You Absolutely Do Not Want To Miss. (Season 4’s had The Letter; season 3’s had the J.F.K. assassination; season 2’s had Joan’s rape; season 1’s had the full reveal of how Dick Whitman became Don Draper.) But after last week’s humdinger of an episode, I hadn’t the first clue how Peggy quitting, Joan sleeping her way to a partnership, and Don landing the Jaguar account could possibly be topped.

This is how: Lane Pryce’s limp, lifeless body hanging from his office door, his head drooped like a rag doll, purple and black from rot and lividity. Just because we could all see this coming like a passenger train toward a collapsed bridge didn’t make its impact any less devastating, or its approach any less filled with sickening dread. Lane was just about as far from a well-adjusted character as one could get on this show — at least Pete isn’t burdened with a crushing sense of honor or duty. But Jared Harris always imbued the SCDP money minder with a boyish charm, a sense of a man stumbling into his own mistakes and then stumbling even further — irrevocably so, as it turned out. I will most certainly miss him.

Lane’s final hours on this Earth started off so well, too. The 4As — i.e. the American Association of Advertising Agencies — was so impressed with how Lane had kept SDCP afloat after losing Lucky Strike that they invited him to head their fiscal control committee. “To those of us at the 4As, everything about you is American,” said the organization rep. Sweeter words could have scarcely graced Lane’s ears, since he’d be damned if he received that kind of respect at his own firm. After droning on about the difference between commissions and fees — hey, whatcha know, that’s the episode’s title, “Commissions and Fees” — he was met with the customary blank stares and snark from Roger.

But wouldn’t you know it, for the first time, someone was paying attention. Investigating Jaguar’s proposal of paying SDCP through straight fees instead of a 15 percent commission, Bert did something at the office, and combed through the books. There he found Lane’s canceled $7,500 check to himself, with Don’s signature.

Bert confronted Don, and Don confronted Lane. For a man so consumed with worry about being treated honorably — a man who would ultimately take his own life rather than live with what he believed to be a permanent stain of disgrace — Lane’s reaction betrayed his craven need for self-preservation above all other things. When Don placed the check in front of him, Lane buckled; you could almost see the color drain from his face. He tried to convince Don that Don had forgotten signing the check: “We all sign a lot of things.” Don wouldn’t budge: “Is this the only one?” Lane feigned outrage: “I won’t sit here and bear this interrogation.” Don pushed back: “You want a professional to do it?”

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NEXT PAGE: Lane comes clean

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