Was Mad Men's Tragedy Not As Shocking As It Could Have Been?
For someone who adamantly hates spoilers, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has pretty much been telegraphing Sunday's episode all season long.
(And speaking of spoilers, this is where you should tune out if you haven't seen "Commissions and Fees.")
True, Weiner and his team of writers would probably prefer the word "foreshadowing." But ultimately, Lane Pryce's suicide — while haunting, powerful and sad — didn't really catch us off guard. We knew Lane (Jared Harris) wouldn't live to see the end of the episode as soon as Don asked him to resign. In fact, Lane's fate was sealed the moment he forged that check — and perhaps hinted at even earlier.
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Rumblings of a Mad Men suicide actually date back to Season 4, when fans just knew that Roger Sterling (John Slattery) would off himself after losing Lucky Strike. When the show finally returned from its 19-month hiatus, Roger seemed to be in a better place, but the show seemed obsessed with death — suicide in particular.
This season, Don (Jon Hamm) violently choked a former lover to death in a dream. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) noted that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's life insurance policy will still pay out, even in the event of suicide. (And of course, there was all the talk about Pete's gun during his dinner party, the same episode that ended with a broken Pete crying to Don in the elevator, "I have nothing.") And let's not forget the time the elevator opened, but there was no car inside, leaving Don to stare frightfully into the abyss. Don was even doodling a noose on a piece of paper during a meeting earlier this season!
With so many obvious symbols, for us, the question was: Who? When Lane plotted to steal from the company to pay his back taxes in England, the question became: When? And after Lane's duplicity was revealed to Don, the question was: How?
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Borrowing some of Breaking Bad's dark humor, the show first had Lane fail to suffocate himself in the new Jaguar his clueless wife bought him. Ultimately, he hanged himself in his office, right next to his Mets pennant, which was perhaps a reminder of Lane's true motivation to take his own life: He loved America and was unwilling to go back to England (and to his father) as a failure.
Jared Harris, as usual, was magnificent in the episode. He showed Lane's defiance, rage, desperation and resignation in a matter of moments in Don's office. And even if we knew his death was coming, the show did a wonderful job of building to the dread, both with Joan's panicked attempts to open Lane's door and with Pete & Co. staring over the transom to discover the deed. Special points should also go to Mad Men's makeup team for the unsettling gray pallor of Lane's skin when we at last see his body, particularly since we expected that horror to remain off-screen.
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But Don couldn't let Lane hang there. Perhaps it was an eerie echo of the self-inflicted death of Don's half brother Adam (Jay Paulson) in Season 1. Although the situations are different — Adam wanted Don's love, not the money he offered him; Lane was too proud to ask for Don's money — Don rebuffed both men, who eventually both ended up in a noose. We're not suggesting Don caused Lane's death, but we understand the gut-punch it must have been for Don, perhaps more so than for the rest of the visibly shaken partners.
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The foreshadowing of Lane's death felt, like many of this season's thematic episodes, a bit heavy-handed. The episode still struck a deeply emotional chord, but we wonder how much more effective it might have been without all the warning signs.
Maybe now we understand why Weiner hates spoilers so much.
Were you shocked by Lane's suicide?