Throughout the fifth season of Mad Men, our writers will dissect and discuss the happenings of each episode. These discussions will contain spoilers from the most recent episode. In other words, read at your own risk.
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Vinny Ginardi: People online have speculated that a suicide or death would occur this season because of constant references to death in episodes (Betty’s cancer scare, the empty elevator, and talks of jumping out windows). I never really bought into that theory so I was pretty surprised when Lane Pryce committed suicide in this episode.
When he first attempted to commit suicide in the Jaguar only for the car to fail to operate properly (a nice play on joke that Jaguars are unreliable), I thought it was a clever play by the writers to tease all the suicide theories out there (for the record most theories speculated that it would be Pete). But then Lane went through with it, hanging himself in the office building where he always felt under-appreciated for his work in what is sure to be one of the most discussed moments in Mad Men history.
Don and Lane’s discussion of Lane’s future was incredibly emotional. Although what Lane had done was wrong and especially disrespectful to Don, I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. Everything that he said was true. Compared to the rest of the partners, Lane has made several sacrifices for the company and the fact that he was in financial trouble despite being a partner is unfair. Now knowing that Lane does commit suicide, when I re-watch this scene I know Lane’s words of “please reconsider” will be that much more impactful.
Initially, I found it a bit unrealistic that Lane would commit suicide and it almost felt like a cheap trick by the writers to inflict an unfamiliar emotion within its audience. But looking back on the season, its not so far fetched. Lane has been unstable all season long (remember his debate early on in the season on whether or not he could be easily replaced) and has invested so much time, money, and energy into the company that his forced resignation made him feel like he had no future. What did you guys think?
George Morris: Lane Pryce easily was the most unappreciated character during his run on the series.
To go off of what you said, I felt so sad for Lane when he was pleading his case to Don. He was probably the most valuable person to the firm ever since the big move. Instead what happens? Pete and Joan become junior partners and Lane’s worth is diminished and even ignored. Lane never was the confrontational type (except to kick Pete’s ass in bare-knuckle boxing.) That proved to be something that handcuffed him and drove him to where he ended up.
What I was left with after watching the episode were two questions. 1. Would this have happened if Joan had taken him more seriously? I always felt like she was a confidant to Lane while keeping him a safe arms-length away. 2. What does Don do now? He knows the most about why Lane killed himself. Everything awful has been happening to him all season. Can he handle all of the stress and loss around him? For goodness sake, he let Glen drive the car all the way to Connecticut!!
Considering this has been such a monumentally engaging and heart-wrenching season, it makes sense that somebody died. What the writers did that was so clever was to make the death of a “major” character come in the form of them leaving SCDP (Peggy). The actual loss of a human life was in reality that of a second-tier character. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t important, but I felt Peggy’s “death” was more symbolic. It left us viewers sad and vulnerable, only to be hit with the real death.
Also, for the record, my call of Bert Cooper dying this season is in all likelihood incorrect. There is one episode left to go, though…
Michael Cresci: Just to go off one thing you said, Vinny, I don’t think Pete would ever kill himself. He’s miserable but stubborn and prideful to the point that he’d rather rot away bitter than seem like he quit on something. It’s what makes him so annoying good at his job despite the fact that noone he works with likes him.
Anyway, Lane. When his embezzlement plot first arose I complained that it seemed a bit out of nowhere and it would be easy for me to complain that Weiner and co. shoehorned this plot in to lead to a suicide. But the more I think about it this actually makes a lot of sense. Lane has always been a lonely isolated character whose ups and downs in adapting to like in America were very underrated stories. Season 4 introduced us to his father and that seems more and more like a major part of his arc. Lane’s English life (and British life in general) was so rooted in a class system and set expectations, that he never could truly escape them. Don tells him to start over (much like the hobo that inspired Don as a kid) and references that he’s done it many time. It seems that notion of self invention (one of the show’s core themes) is a very American way of thinking. Lane tried to reinvent himself but in the end this was too much.
Quick side note: How genius was the fact that he only left a boilerplate resignation letter? It’s a great little jab at Don but it also says so much about the show and its players. Work and life are one entangled mess for most of these characters and a resignation letter is a sort of suicide note for them in that their hopes, dreams and self-worth are rooted in their careers. Touché, Matthew Weiner. Touché.
VG: I’ll switch gears for a moment to discuss the topic that I’m sure George is eagerly waiting for…Sally Draper.
Throughout this fifth season we’ve seen Sally desperately try to be an adult. She’s tried to dress and eat like an adult and has vocalized on several occasions how she is no longer a child, only to become irritated whenever Don, Megan, Betty or anyone else treats her as a one. Well, in this episode, we saw Sally take a step toward womanhood.
What’s interesting is that in some instances she is ready to be an adult. She held her own in the conversation with Megan and her friend at the diner and was even served a cup of coffee. Still though, we saw that when she got her period that she is not fully ready to be an adult. This episode reminded me of the one earlier this season when Sally was eager to dress up and go out to the dinner part as an adult, only to be disappointed in the nights events. Sally’s eager to grow up (part of the reason being Glenn is a few years older), but has shown on multiple occasions, including her panicked reaction to receiving her first period, that she’s not emotionally ready.
GM: That’s a great point you finished with. I’ve really enjoyed the glimpse into Sally’s life this season because the 60’s were such an interesting time culturally. Young people were beginning to be more involved in the ways of the world than ever. The infusion of rock and roll played an enormous role in that; personal expression was really starting to flourish. However, being a teenager is still the same no matter what time period you’re raised in. Sure, Sally has more leeway than she used to (part of that because she has a woman like Megan in her life.) However, when things get tricky she still melts into a puddle and acts like someone her age, someone immature.
Sadly for Glen Bishop, he took the train into the city and saw it for himself. Those two had such a nice mirage of each other that when they finally were together it was wildly disappointing. Sally may sound tough and older on the phone, but she is extremely green when it comes to relations with the opposite sex. He must have really felt awkward when he realized how their age difference was so noticeable. If his pals at school were to get a story, it would be imaginary.
As a complete side note, I honestly don’t know what will happen in the season finale. So much has happened in just the past two episodes that could easily be a proper way to end a season. I am both scared of and intrigued by the possibilities.
MC: If I had a nickel for every time my first period ruined a museum trip…
Seriously though, I felt pretty bad for Sally in this episode. Her playing at being an adult got a little to real and she had the realization we all have at some point. Doing fun adult things isn’t the same as (and is a million times more fun then) being an actual adult. She’s learned several times this season that being an adult means shady morals quandaries, unpleasant physical changes and acting one way while feeling another. And she’s learning from some serious pros.
I’m with you on the finale, George. It could go in absolutely any direction. This season has been brilliant (especially the streak of episodes from “Signal 30″ through “At the Codfish Ball”) but oppressively sad. It’s dealt with the passing of time in a tough way; by taking characters we spent four seasons learning to love and then showing us as they began to decline (a process accelerated by the unprecedented size of the generation gap in the late 60’s). It’s brilliant because it twists viewer expectations while analyzing a unique moment in history. I’m up for whatever Mad Men wants to give me and I’m sad that my Sunday night is about to get a lot less entertaining.
VG: I’m not quite sure what will happen in the season finale either. As George pointed out, we’ve essentially lost two characters in the last two episodes. What could the writers possibly have in store for us next? What I’m most curious to find out is whether or not Don will disclose any of the information he knows about Lane to anyone other than Megan. Had Lane just resigned and moved on elsewhere, Don obviously wouldn’t have, but he now will be feeling somewhat responsible for Lane’s death, which will eat away at his conscious.