After

After discovering that he committed forgery and embezzlement, Don Draper urges Lane Pryce to 'think of an elegant exit.' And how. (Photo: AMC)

Commissions and Fees, the penultimate episode of Season 5, managed to trump the The Other Woman in shock value -- while viewers are still reeling from the unseemly turn of events that won Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce the Jaguar account, and Joan a partnership.

Within the first several minutes, it's pretty clear that Lane Pryce's days are numbered - Bert Cooper finds the canceled check with Don's forged signature, but he presumed Don greenlit the bonus. Don mercifully lets Cooper believe he indeed signed the check and assured him that he will take care of it. But taking care of it, of course, means letting Lane go: despite the junior partner's desperate protests, Don insists he can no longer trust him, adding that he's doing Lane a favor by letting him resign. In the short scene, an unhinged Lane races through a spectrum of emotions: Despair, shame, hope and indignation.

I have never been compensated for my contributions to this company, Pryce exclaims, once it's made clear that Don is serious. Including my role in its very existence. Who would ever have dreamt of the word Jaguar?

He has a point: Though Lane's coworkers ultimately got Jaguar to sign on the dotted line, there never would have been a deal to close without Lane and his ex-pat connections.  But there is no excuse for stealing from the company, and the best Don can offer him is a heavy pour of whiskey and some advice that he undoubtedly wishes he could take back: Think of an elegant exit.

'This is the worst part.'

Don's assurances that starting anew is a less daunting prospect than it seems are lost on Lane, who returns home, drunk, to find an almost comically painful insult to injury: His wife Rebecca, who is oblivious to their financial problems and only wishes her husband would reward himself every once in a while, presents Lane with the 'gift' of a racing green Jaguar - which she bought with a check. The next night, Lane sneaks out of bed and heads to the parking garage with the sights set on carbon monoxide poisoning. But alas, he can't turn on the ignition. Instead he arrives early to the office the next morning, writes a 'boilerplate' resignation letter, and hangs himself.

Last week I suggested that Roger Sterling might be an alternate candidate for an SCDP suicide, but I was way off: Roger is alive and well - and killing it. He's sleeping with a 25-year old coat check girl from Long Island (or is it Rhode Island?) and lands Don a coveted meeting with Dow Chemical, even managing to get Ken Cosgrove's promise of a nudge in the general direction of his father-in-law (Dow Chemical's Ed Baxter). Imparting congenial words of wisdom everywhere he goes, Roger is suddenly the picture of vibrancy and efficiency - just when we thought he had put himself out to pasture. But we're glad Joan rebuffed his day-late-and-a-dollar-short offer to take her home after the gruesome discovery.

Now a partner -- and definitely not  a silent one -- Joan, too, has reason to feel guilt over Lane's demise: Her last words to him, which he deserved, are orders to take the party elsewhere after he makes a leering, tasteless reference to Joan's physique during an innocent enough discussion of her vacation plans. While Joan may have had some ulterior motives in chatting about her Easter break in the first place- reminding Lane of just how much she's earned some time off - she has no idea that his life just came crashing down around him.

Though the partners are carrying on as though have put Joan's prostitution scandal behind them, no one - least of all Don - will soon forget why she's no longer taking minutes at the partners' meetings.  Arguably the episode's best drawn scene takes place at such a meeting, as Joan teeters precariously between the old and the new: With a fixed smile, she does her best to act as though she's been where she is all along, but must repeatedly come to the rescue of the hopelessly out-of-her-depth secretary who has taken her place.  When Don fears his veto of an unwelcome client request will be overturned, he can't resist a dig: I already said no, he barks, seeking out Joan's eyes. Or should I leave so that you can all do whatever you want?

Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon

Sally Draper has become so unpleasant to be around that Betty forces her on Don and Megan while the rest of the family goes skiing for a long weekend. Since Don and Megan both have better things to do than drive Sally to school that Monday morning, the 13-year-old gets the day off - and the opportunity to meet up with her sort-of boyfriend Glenn, who is at boarding school a couple of hours away. A trip to the museum leads not to a fumbling makeout session back at the penthouse, but Sally's horrified discovery that she's started her period. Panicked, she ditches Glenn and hops in a taxi back to Rye and the arms of her mother - who's as perplexed as we are that she would seek comfort there.

Betty wastes no time in doing her victory dance, immediately calling Megan to let her know where Sally went - in case anyone had missed her. I guess she just needed her mother, she says. And the score is now tied.

As if being saddled with one teenager wasn't enough, Megan finds herself looking after a dejected Glenn for an afternoon while he waits for his train. When Don comes home early from work, he jumps at the opportunity to turn right around and drive Glenn back to school. In the elevator, Glenn's unsolicited commentary sounds a lot like what Don must be thinking: Everything you want to do, everything you think is going to make you happy, it just turns to crap.

After last week's one-two punch of Peggy's departure and Joan's prostitution, Mad Men is starting to feel dreary for dreary's sake.  How is Weiner going to eke out two more seasons of storyline from this carnage?