Mad Men: The Rise and Fall of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

Life is just like an episode of Mad Men: It goes along swimmingly until—out of the blue—all your mistakes and regrets come to terrorize you into submission. Finally, everyone pays for their lies.

Everything on Mad Men is predicated on lies. Not only is the agency of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in the business of spinning them—or at least warping the truth—to sell product, but the main character, Don Draper, is built on a lie. Just like one of his campaigns, his whole identity is a sweet fabrication, a kind of candy floss spun out of opportunity, innuendo, and straight-up falsehood. The funny thing about Don's identity is that, since the viewers know most of the sordid details of his rise from a penniless farm boy and army deserter to glamorous ad exec, it doesn't really seem that bad to us anymore. We're so used to Don getting away with it that it doesn't seem like such a big deal. We start to worry about the details of his personal and professional life, forgetting nearly everything about the history he created basically out of thin air.

As these things go for people on the run, habitual liars, and mobsters in the witness protection program, the dangerous truth has a way of whipping back at you when you least expect it, and the circumstance is as dire and dreadful as ever—maybe even worse so, because it shocks the liar out of the complacent lull he's allowed himself to be fooled into.

That is just what happened to Don last night when he discovered that FBI agents were investigating him because of some work SCDP is doing with North American Aviation, which has something to do with space and NASA and very fragile government secrets that Cold War Americans want to keep hidden deep in a bunker somewhere. The G Men show up to interview Betty and start asking questions about Don's past. Of course she is one of the few people—along with Bert Cooper, Pete Campbell, and the real Don Draper's wife Anna (RIP)—who know the secret of Don's identity. Betty, to keep up the front, lies.

I found this very curious. All season Betty has been nothing but cold (and in this episode, practically slovenly!) to Don expressing at times her downright hatred of him. Why wouldn't she take this opportunity to rat him out? It seems like the petty and impetuous thing that a spoiled child trapped in a Suburban Splendor Barbie's body would do. She doesn't, though. She keeps up the facade. Betty is nothing but surface, keeping up her (formerly) well-coiffed exterior at any cost. Maybe it was because she didn't want to look stupid that she was married to a man for 11 years and didn't know who he really was. Maybe she still has some fondness for Don. Maybe she lived the lie so long that she still believes it. Maybe she doesn't want the pretty illusion of her former life to be sullied any more than it currently is. It's probably all of these. Whatever it is, she knows it's bad and calls Don.

That night she is in bed with Henry, her new husband, and she tells him about the visit from the Feds. She says she doesn't want there to be any secrets between them. Betty is constantly trying to forge a better bourgeois idyll for herself with her new marriage. After she freed herself from Don's lies about infidelity and his identity, it makes sense she would would total honesty with Henry. But then she doesn't tell him the truth about Don. For all her hope of a clean slate, she's still playing dirty when it's convenient for her.

Wait, weren't we talking about Don? Yes. So, he's all in a tizzy that the feds are going to figure out that he's been lying about his identity for all these years and, even worse, that he committed a crime when he deserted the Army in Korea. Like he said, there are three lies in the eight questions on the simple questionnaire he his secretary had to fill out to get his security clearance. Naturally he is edgy, taking precautions to provide for his business and family in the event that he has to disappear into yet another new identity. He is drenched in the sweat of the guilty.

When Dr. Faye shows up at the office to find out why she hasn't heard from Don, he is so shaken, that she takes him home. When he sees two guys in fedoras and suits (the classic uniform for J. Edgar Hoover's men when they weren't wearing fishnets and stilettos) snooping around his apartment building, he launches into a full-on panic attack.

This is the behavior of someone who is caught with no escape. Don has gone to great lengths to forge his false identity, but there are more holes in its construction than in a pair of J. Edgar Hoover's fishnets. When those men find out, what seems like the petty crime of borrowing someone else's name could become serious indeed, especially in a time when G Men were more concerned with honesty and loyalty to the American way than anything else.

At first, when he's lying in bed and says that he's sick of running, I felt Don was like a junkie who survived an overdose. The junkie says, "That's it, I'm giving up smack for good. I've learned my lesson," but then after a brief respite from heroin, he goes right back to the drug and forgets about all the horrible experience. But then Dr. Faye convinces him to tell her what is wrong and he unleashes the truth about who he really is.

This arc of this season seems to be the integration of the Don Draper persona with his true identity, Dick Whitman. While he's been working toward this in his private life, especially after Anna died, it seems to have filtered into his romantic life. Now more than ever Dr. Faye is a conflation of the two types of women that Don Draper loves, the bombshell blonds that he only wants to have sex with and lies to, and the smart women who he wants as friends and will tell the truth. But can Dr. Faye be trusted? She pretends to be married to make her life easier, what other secrets does she have? Is her father is deeper in with mob than she lets on? On Mad Men every decision, large and small, comes with a consequence. I have a feeling this could turn out to be a major blunder for Don.

Don's fabricated existence has gotten so deep that it's now pulling other people into it's void. Not only did Betty lie to the Feds, but Pete Campbell is trying to put a stop to the investigation into Don. In season one Pete intercepted a package from Don's brother and found out the truth about his identity. He tried to use it to blackmail Don, but his ploy failed when Bert Cooper didn't seem to care about the lies. Of course last season Cooper used the truth to blackmail Don into signing a contract, so he wasn't entirely benevolent.

Anyway, because Pete knows the truth and stands to gain the most from landing North American Aviation as a client, he is forced to be Don's accomplice. Initially, all Don can think to do is run away and tells Pete that he could run the agency without Don. Please. We all know that is sort of like Oprah telling Gayle King that she's going to retire, but she can just take over her show and it will be as successful as ever.

When it turns out that Don's review hasn't been flagged and that the investigation can be called off, Don makes Pete ditch North American Aviation and their $4 million in billings. How must he do this? He is forced to lie, of course.

Here is Pete waxing righteous that someone's else's lies are messing with his life. After all, Pete is no angel. He's cheated on Trudy more than once, tried to blackmail Don, and behaved like a spoiled dickhead on more than one occasion. Maybe Trudy having this baby (god, she looked like a giant pile of cotton candy in that pink ruffled maternity dress of hers) is starting to awaken something good in Pete. Maybe he will grow up from being the impetuous man-child he always was and become a full fledged adult. When Trudy has him rub her pregnant belly and says, "Everything here is good," we believe her. With something else to fight for, Pete may end up doing the right thing.

Of course he's not lying for Don altruistically. If he doesn't then the business he's trying to build goes all to shit and he can't provide for that gigantic bundle of joy that is taking over Trudy's whole body. What was strangely selfless though was the excuse he gave the other partners about why he had to sack the account. The old Pete would have made up some lie about how Don fucked it up and forced Don into accepting responsibility for losing the client. New nice Pete takes the blame all on himself and even incurs Roger's misplaced wrath for messing up the account. He's still lying though and, considering three of the six people in the room knew about the truth, the time to back up his self-righteousness with action was then—and Pete missed it.

But Roger isn't really mad that Pete didn't do his job, he's mad that he didn't do his. Lee Garner Jr, the closeted asshole who runs Lucky Strike, fired SCDP. Of course, as Don says, clients come and go, but this was the one client they needed to stay.

Is it bad that the first thought I had when SCDP got fired was, "Are they going to bring back Sal Romano now?" I didn't feel that bad for Roger, I just wanted the beloved gay art director, who was fired at Lee's insistence, brought back into the fold. Anyway, Roger asks that Lee give him 30 days before announcing that they've been fired so that he can possibly drum up some new business or to mitigate the disastrous news once it gets out. He convinces him to do this by saying, "How many times have I had to lie for you." In this world it seems that a lie is a good repayment for another lie. Oh, and does that mean Roger knows that Lee's in the closet?

When I did feel sad for Roger was when he went back and started thumbing through his Rolodex trying to find replacement clients for SCDP. It turns out all his old contacts are dying. Roger is officially a relic. He only has one simple client (one he inherited from his father) and now that it is gone, he is incapable of finding new ones.

The right thing to do was to tell everyone, but after Pete announces that he lost his aviation client, Roger just laughs and keeps the news to himself. I want to say that Roger was going to tell everyone but Pete's lie begat another lie and these untruths compounds themselves in a poisonous way. But he might have been ready to lie about it all along. Who knows, but this truth is going to be devastating.

Joan starts off the episode with some devastating truth of her own. As many saw coming, her little tryst with the very potent Roger Sterling has begotten a child. I've always praised my Joanie for being able to handle any situation that comes her way, but there was something so cold and distant about her all episode. Perhaps she had to shut down all her emotions to deal with the crisis at hand. When she tells Roger, they decide that they have to "take care" of the situation, because there is no way that the baby could be Doctor Rapist's baby, because he's been away at boot camp for too long.

But still they discuss the possibility of keeping it. At the old diner where they used to go to hook up—there's Roger living in the past again—they talk about the possibilities. Well, Roger talks about the possibilities—she could keep it and say it's Greg's, she could keep it and say it's Roger's, but they could only do that if they get married, she could abort it—the whole time she seems like she has mind made up that the last option is the only option.

And then Joan has a strange run in with a sad mother at the abortion clinic.

The mother of a 17 year-old who is getting a "procedure" assumes that Joan is there with her daughter as well. After all, why would a grown woman, a grown married woman, need to get rid of a baby? We know that Joan has terminated a pregnancy in the past (possibly more than once and possibly to get rid of another Roger Sterling Jr). More than anything Joan wants to move on with her life, into something bigger and better than being the office tramp, and this stranger's incorrect assumption shows her that she hasn't really progressed from that role. What does she do? She lies.

And that's when things start to get ambiguous. We see her on the bus ride home, happy and placid. But what does that mean? And then we see her at work the next day, seemingly fine physically and emotionally. I don't know much about how these surgeries were done in the mid-'60s, but I would imagine there would be some bad after effects. Does this mean that Joan is lying again? I have a feeling she kept the baby. Wouldn't that make sense? The only reaction to that woman in the waiting room is to show that she is something more. She is a wife and, subsequently, a mother. She is no longer the woman who aborts Roger Sterling's babies, she's the one who keeps them and raises them. We know she's been trying to get pregnant so having another abortion would probably be devastating to her anyway. Oh, Joan. What do you have in store?

Now that we're on the subject of parents, let's get to Lane's crazy father. His name may be Robert, but we're going to call him Crazy Daddy. Lane is expecting his son to come for a two-week visit, but instead his father arrives unexpectedly. He wants Lane to come home and reconcile with his wife. We don't know a ton about Lane, but he's very private and seems to prize decorum and the appearance of having everything in control. We always thought this was a British trait, but it seems like it's something that he inherited from Crazy Daddy.

Now that he's in town, Lane takes CD out for drinks at the Playboy club and invites Don along for the ride, possibly as a buffer between Lane and the hostile demeanor of his father. They aren't there just to drink whiskey sours and stare at bunny tail. Lane wants to introduce everyone to a beautiful black lady, who it turns out is Lane's girlfriend.

He is desperately in love with her (and it seems she with him) and he wants his father's approval. When his bunny honey, Toni, tells Lane if he wants his father to meet her, then he should take them all out to dinner, he does just that. However, Crazy Daddy refuses to go and instead we get a surprisingly intense scene of familial strife.

Holy shit, Lane's dad just clocked him with a cane and then held him down on the floor! Since he couldn't assert his dominance just with his words, Crazy Daddy had to resort to violence, something we must assume has happened Lane's entire life. That means that his whole persona as a stodgy British man who keeps everyone in the office in check is a bit of a lie as well. Deep down he really has no control at all. Crazy Daddy holds all the power, and when he his father insist that he return to Britain and break up with his "negro" girlfriend, he does just that. Of course he couldn't pick a worse time to go to London for a month because when he gets back Lucky Strike will be gone, Don might be in jail, Roger might be going through his second divorce, and Joan might be showing a little bit. This is the beginning of the end.

And when Pretty Megan brings tickets to see The Beatles for Don and Sally into Don's office, we're not sure where everything stands. Everyone in the office is lying, to themselves and to each other, and even those who can accept the truth eventually have to lie about something. And here are tickets to The Beatles, which symbolize the future—one which Don is going into reluctantly with his earplugs. Yes, The Beatles are going to be what define the next generation, the next big thing. Don looks at the tickets and he looks out on Pretty Megan, putting on her lipstick.

What is he thinking? Is he thinking that Megan too is the future? Is he thinking that now that Dr. Faye knows the truth he can't be close to her anymore, that he needs to revert to his old behavior and have meaningless sex with her to destroy the good relationship in his life. Is he thinking that he doesn't need to have sex with her because his future is Dr. Faye and a positive relationship with his children? What is he thinking? He's thinking about the future, but the future isn't even written and it can shift in a second. The future is just another lie we tell ourselves.