Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)
Don (Jon Hamm) sketching a noose during a meeting, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) blatantly brandishing a hunting rifle, a narrowly avoided empty elevator shaft, references to suicide clauses in life insurance contracts and of course, the much-discussed falling man of the show's opening credits sequence. All of these things, cleverly dispersed intimations of impending suicide, have sent Mad Men viewers into a "Who'll do it?" frenzy throughout this current season. And it's all culminated just as envisioned (and with whom we predicted, just two weeks ago). Lane (Jared Harris) has taken his life, and being right has never felt so wrong.
Lane Experiences The Five Stages Of Grief
Lane's death is deeply unsettling, both for us and within the Mad Men landscape, for a multitude of reasons. His moral character has taken a bleak nosedive—the season's first episode, in fact, began with Lane taking pains to return a wallet to a stranger. Lane's storyline then reached a darker place, with Mr. Price embezzling funds from SCDP, a means to his untimely end.
Ultimately, Lane's death seems unfair, avoidable even, like watching a horror movie where the character being chased by the killer chooses to remain inside, locking themselves in a closet when they should be running out the door. Lane boxes himself in by lying to his wife about the dire state of their finances, which results in increasing pressure from unmet expectations, and leads to her buying a Jaguar for Lane, a warm gesture that leaves him literally cold. "You never spend on yourself," Rebecca argues, unaware that Lane's selflessness is born of necessity. When she writes that check and spends money that doesn't exist, the green Jag serves as physical manifestation of Lane's dishonesty and impending demise.
Lane also entraps himself when he fails to ask for Don's financial assistance, assistance Don himself admits he could have easily provided. When Don confronts Lane about the forged check, he addresses our question: "If you needed it so badly, why didn't you ask?" Lane vacillates between an impressive range of emotions and excuses, initially lying and rationalizing before bargaining, apologizing, eventually begging and sacrificing the one thing that led him to this very moment all along—his heavy sense of pride. Ultimately, it is hubris leads to his very Shakespearean undoing.
It's tempting to assign blame on Don, who inspired his own brother's hanging with his emotional neglect in season one, but here we see Don offering what is fair in a truly sympathetic fashion. Lane acknowledge's Don's kindness, saying, "You've always been the most decent to me."
Don is a man who intimately understands desperate means in desperate circumstances, and who has been granted redemption a number of times from a number of people, including the real Don Draper, Anna, and Bert Copper (Robert Morse). Lane's character however, has never been quite as lucky. Don is as kind as possible, offering Lane words similar to those he offered a post-pregnancy Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) in the hospital: "I've started over a lot ...this is the worst part," adding, "You'll tell them the next thing will be better because it always is."
For more resilient characters like Don, Peggy and Roger, and even for SCDP itself, rock bottom is the last stop before success. All are able to use discord as a springboard, but that is not the case with Lane. Even Lane's suicide is botched when he attempts carbon monoxide poisoning and the Jaguar doesn't cooperate. It's both a cruel joke referencing Jaguar's notorious inability to start and Lane's own inefficiency, even in ending his own life. Attempting to fix the car's engine so that he can complete his suicide mission, using half of his broken glasses like a monocle, Lane appears as the very essence of unlucky.
Don Knows Happiness Is Fleeting, At Best
Even before Don receives the worst news, he's burdened by Lane's feelings of scraping by. He storms into Roger's (John Slattery) office lamenting about SCDP's inability to dole out bonuses, pointing to the fact as evidence that the agency needs to think bigger, and chase bigger accounts. Don hasn't been as hungry as he once was—but between the inability to adequately compensate Lane and the barbershop comment about Jaguar being a "big win for your little agency," Don once again wants more. To Roger's surprise (and delight), he sets his sights on Dow Chemical (in spite of Kenny) and revisits last episode's theme of perpetual wanting in his pitch. "You're happy because you're successful, for now," Don preaches. "But what is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness."
Don's forceful pitch, which essentially claims happiness is ephemeral, is personally motivated by a universal sense of longing he's able to cobble into a relevant pitch. He's pitching life's misery (that happiness is, by nature, short-lived) as a motivator for change, in this case, for changing agencies from McMannis to SCDP. But his idea, as it often does, speak to larger themes on Mad Men as a whole.
Sally (Kiernan Shipka) also experiences a life-altering change. She takes a step towards adulthood (or at least, towards being a bonafied teenager) by secretly arranging a physical meeting with Glen (Marten Holden Weiner) after a year and a half of intense phone chats (remember those?). Glen has sprouted a creepy mustache and Sally finds him different, while he finds her unchanged (despite donning the very mature white boots Don forbid her to wear). Of course, mid-date at the Museum of Natural History, she has changed. Her first period succinctly marks her entrance into womanhood, despite what Glen does or doesn't see.
Don believes our dissatisfaction results from "desperate need of change," and in this episode, many characters find it. Don kicks his hustle into high-gear, reverting to a former self Roger (and we) admittedly missed. And Sally involuntarily experiences a life-affirming change that brings her closer to being an adult, and closer to her mother (January Jones).
In contrast, Lane opts to give up on attempting change, instead choosing to resign from SCDP, his wife, oppressive father and stifling financial situation. And if the absence of change really does equate to death, as they say, it's Lane's inability to reinvent himself that leads to his demise; i.e., death by self-hanging in his SCDP office.
Amidst all of this, no one is left with a clear idea of what happiness is. Lane's "boilerplate" resignation makes no mention of what was missing. Even teenage Glen knows that "everything you think is going to make you happy just turns to crap," leaving Don to wonder how anyone can scratch at that elusive emotion. Don asks Glen, "If you could do anything, what would you do?" Glen is invigorated by the idea of driving, of being able to physically control your own direction, and Don is more than happy to oblige him the opportunity, to give someone anything that resembles happiness.
Other Points Of Interest
- Was Lane's final stab at solace, imagining Joan (Christina Hendricks) "bouncing in the sand in some obscene bikini," rebuffed thanks in part to the unsavory deal he helped secure? There seems to be no room for sexual banter anymore; It reads as a cruel reference to the role Joan's sexuality played in her success.
- Lane's prematurely offered position as the "Head of Fiscal Control" at the American Association of Advertising Agencies is sadly, and painfully, ironic.
- Betty's bewildered expression when Sally hugs her is priceless. The concept of parental affection seems to initially overwhelm her, but by the end of the episode, she finds affirmation in her daughter's embrace.
- And, to end on a note of welcome comic relief, Roger's response to Don being deterred by the difficulty of acquiring new business: "Jesus, Don. You used to love 'no'! 'No' used to make you hard."
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)