Mad Men, Season 5

Are Lane’s Money Troubles a Red Flag?
Talking television.
March 26 2012 6:05 PM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Roger Sterling probably never realized black people read the Times.

Mad Men Season 5
Jane (Peyton List) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery)

Still by Ron Jaffe/AMC.

Patrick, I think you quoted the second-best exchange between Roger and his glamour-puss. I give top prize to this one:

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Jane: What time is it?
Roger: Shut up.

You make a great point about our heroes suddenly seeming outmoded—the same goes for their work product. In the past, we’ve often seen the firm pushing cautious clients in daring directions: London Fog, Glo-Coat, Jantzen. The bean ballet took advantage of cutting-edge technology—“micro-photography”—but it was conservative in its approach: a ballet set to a waltz. Peggy notes that it’s a joke on ballet, but it’s not much of a joke, and clearly not hip enough to pass muster with a client who wants something that will speak to the ketchup kids. But with help from Abe and his friends in the underground press, I’m confident Peggy will catch back up with the zeitgeist. I look forward to Stan’s mock-up of a sit-in-themed campaign for Secor laxatives.

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I think another fissure we’ll see open up this season is between the haves and the have-nots. Roger conspicuously threw cash at all of his problems in this episode: bankrolling the Y&R prank, bribing his co-secretary to pay attention to him (“why don’t you buy yourself a fancy hat—or a mask”), paying Harry to switch offices with Pete (“Eleven hundred dollars, Harry. That’s more than a thousand”). Lane, meanwhile, doesn’t want his wife writing checks to the grocer, never mind the bursar of St. Paul’s. In the Comments, reader Mark Lyons argues that the point of the wallet subplot was to suggest the source of Lane’s money troubles: his wandering eye, which we first saw last season when he and Don went out on their New Year’s Eve bender. “The money man has money problems,” notes Mark, and predicts that it won’t be long before Lane is making off with the petty cash. Julia, I’ve always thought that one essential role Lane plays is that of the responsible grown-up: It would be a little hard to believe that a fledgling venture like SCDP could survive in a competitive marketplace without someone being hawkish about the budget. If reader Mark is right and Lane can no longer be trusted to mind SCDP’s finances, that would make for a dramatic development indeed. For now, though, it was the picture of Dolores, not the cash, that Lane tucked into his blotter.

The wallet subplot also made possible a moment of casual racism to complement the more portentous bookend scenes at Y&R and SCDP. The black cabdriver offers to return the lost wallet, but Lane seems not to trust him to do the right thing. Perhaps he’d have felt the same way if his hack had been white, but the implication was that his reservations had more to do with race than class.

On the subject of race, I asked Tanner Colby, who predicted in a pair of Slate essays that the civil rights movement would echo through the hallways of SCDP this season, what he made of Roger’s little Y&R stunt and its aftermath. Tanner writes:

When pressured by civil-rights groups, the response of most advertising agencies was, appropriately, to take out an ad—“diversity advertising,” we’d call it today. Most of those ads, then as now, were just pro-forma, disingenuous ass-covering. Some, however, were taken out by agencies that were absolutely sincere about the cause and bold about taking steps. Perhaps the best equal opportunity ad of all time came from Laurence Dunst, senior VP at the Daniels & Charles agency. His headline simply read: “Who says there are no Negroes in the advertising business? I’ve heard of five.” Brilliant, self-aware, and spot on. Dunst’s ad received hundreds of inquiries the next day.

The disingenuous ads got hundreds of replies, too, and that was the problem. Black applicants showed up expecting corporate America to make good on its bullshit promises, but when the old boys on the executive floor made clear that they were only interested in window dressing and tokenism, the integrationist hopes of the civil-rights era soured.

So the fact that Roger Sterling took out a diversity ad—not even a disingenuous ass-covering ad, but a practical joke that he didn’t think would be taken seriously—and the fact that the ad accidentally produced “a lobby full of Negroes,” well, that’s just high satire at its finest. A brilliant send-up of the casual, dismissive racism that pervaded the “more civilized” branches of white society. Roger Sterling failed to see the consequences of his prank because it probably never even occurred to him that black people read the Business section of the New York Times.

Roger Sterling is also the SCDP executive who is currently without the services of a full-time secretary. This ought to be interesting.

Is it in poor taste to suggest that we place wagers on when Dr. Greg Harris will catch a bullet in Vietnam? Six thousand Americans will die there in ’66, and I’m convinced Joan’s husband will be one of them. I say he has a run-in with Charlie a few clicks from the DMZ in Episode 504.

The Domino Theory is not a joke,
John