In the penultimate episode of the season, Mad Men gives us the return of Don Draper (Jon Hamm): Ad Man Extraordinaire, riding on the heels of a much talked about Jaguar win. But what is the cost of winning such business? For one: a deeply disturbing and shocking death of one of my favourite characters.
Let’s take a closer look after the jump.
First off – a big thanks to Cinephilactic for tackling last week’s recap while I was away. Commenting on this show is a difficult feat itself, even more so when you’re a couple seasons behind! So kudos for his thought-provoking write-up.
But on to this week’s doozy of an episode. We got the shocking loss of one of my favorite characters – Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). Obviously, there were other things going on in the episode, but for the sake of brevity, I’m primarily focusing on Lane, as I was the most affected by his storyline.
Although the writing was definitely on the wall considering his uncharacteristic behaviour a couple of episodes ago, there was no dilution of the visceral shock of seeing poor Lane’s corpse swaying in his office.
It all begins early in the episode, when Cooper (Robert Morse) discovers the infamous forged cheque and confronts Don about giving Lane his “bonus” when the partners had agreed to none. After downing a glass of signature Canadian Club whiskey, Don quickly calls Lane in his office and offers him a stiff glass of the sauce before very pointedly firing him. It’s a cut and dry argument: Lane embezzled money and simply cannot be trusted. Hamm is wonderful in this scene – Draper is calmly forthright with Lane’s dismissal, but there is a tinge of compassion in his delivery. At first, it’s unclear whether or not he’ll let Lane off the hook, but ultimately Don must look out for the business.
And Harris matches Hamm in the acting department beautifully. Lane tries to pull a Don Draper by denying the cheque’s shady origins: “You sign a lot of things” he says coolly, attempting to outsmart Don. But Lane is no salesman. After Don doesn’t buy it, Lane quickly goes through a gamut of emotions, from anger to ultimate helplessness. Don gives it to him straight – “You embezzled funds and forged my signature.” Even Lane knows he can’t talk his way out of this one. The framing of the scene is worth a mention: typical of Mad Men brilliance – the power dynamics are not so subtly alluded to as Lane meekly continues to look up at the towering Draper as he puts his foot down demanding Lane’s resignation. Despite Lane’s charming blubbering, Don tells him “I’m doing the most decent thing by letting you resign.” Ultimately, as much as I love Lane, Don’s completely right. He does show Lane respect by allowing him to bow out with as much grace and confidentially as is possible. Don even plays a bit of dime store therapist, assuring Lane that his next ventures will be better because “it always is.” What I appreciated about this moment is that at face value, it’s quite straight forward, but if we examine Don’s words, they’re quite telling of his own journey this season.
After coming home drunk to his proud wife, Rebecca (Embeth Davidtz), Lane discovers that he’s even more screwed as she presents him with a shiny new Jaguar as a surprise for all of his “successes”. With this new expense, Lane’s going to be even harder pressed to pay back the embezzled money and with the additional stress of disappointing Rebecca, it’s pretty clear that Lane doesn’t have the gumption to find a way out of this gaping hole he’s in. So it comes as no surprise that he sneaks into the garage in the middle of the night to try and asphyxiate himself in his new Jaguar. The rub? The new car doesn’t start. A darkly comedic moment that has typified Lane this season. It gave me hope that Lane’s fate might take a turn for the better.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. Joan (Christina Hendricks) tries to enter his office mid-day after Lane has neglected to show up for work, but can’t open the door. She goes next door where Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Ken (Aaron Staton) and Harry (Rich Sommer) are pow-wowing. Knowing something is gravely wrong, she tells them to peer over the top windows. They do and swiftly cower-back in shock and horror. Initially we’re not privy to what’s going on in Lane’s office, but it’s written all over their faces. Don and Roger (John Slattery) return from a triumphant meeting, only to discover an empty SCDP as the partners wait for the coroner to arrive. Don’s reaction is quite telling – demanding that they go in and cut Lane’s hanging body down. “We can’t leave him like that!” he proclaims – something that I found myself thinking as well. As much as I didn’t want to see one of my beloved characters in such a state, I think it was important for us to see what was in that office in order to give Harris a proper goodbye. I’m sure there will be some complaints that Mad Men is again opting to be explicit rather than using subtle allusions as it did in previous seasons, but I for one appreciated this moment. There was a horrid finality in seeing the disturbing image of Lane’s hanging body. In a sense, it allowed me to let go of the character by fully realizing his end. (Side note: Unlike Harris’ departure on another beloved show this year…)
There were no bells and whistles or fancy edits – we just had the camera lingering slightly longer than usual so that we felt the exact kind of sorrowful astonishment that Don, Roger and Pete had when entering that office. Did Don push Lane to this? Again, Hamm is excellent in the aftermath scenes, especially when Roger discovers Lane’s suicide letter – the resignation that Don had demanded earlier. I do believe that Don knows he couldn’t have handled the Lane situation any better, but there’s a suggestion of profound guilt evident in his face as we dissolve into the next scene.
So with this episode, we say goodbye to Lane Pryce. I appreciated this week’s offering didn’t necessarily “set up” anything for the season finale. It’s actually one of the things I appreciate most about Mad Men. We don’t necessarily get any cliffhangers to keep us in bated breath from week to week, but the show still fosters that kind of eagerness. It’s quite the achievement if you ask me.
Some other observations:
- Sally (Kiernan Shipka) had a very interesting arc in this episode as well, as she officially became a “woman”. It’s no secret that Sally’s been forced to grow up mighty fast this season, but I thought her discovery in the museum bathroom was quite fitting. After hearing from bad-teenage-mustache Glen (Marten Holden Weiner) that he’s told all his friends that he’s come into the city to “do her”, she very clearly tells him that she doesn’t quite see him in that way. It’s arguably the most adult decision she’s made – not succumbing to the whims of a teenage boy, which initially was what I predicted. (i.e. How many women have a horror story about losing their virginity because they couldn’t speak up as clearly as Sally?) I also found it touching that after Sally’s discovery, she runs home and back to the arms of Betty (January Jones) instead of Megan (Jessica Paré). It’s true – some times a girl just needs her mother.
- As mentioned previously – Don finally rekindles the passion for his work that has been waning these past two seasons. In his meeting with Ed Baxter (Ray Wise), Don exhibits a kind of arrogance that normally would get a man thrown out, but the good ol’ Draper charm means we’re likely to see Baxter dump his current agency and come running to SCDP by season’s end.
- I really missed Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) this episode, although I completely understand why she was absent. I believe this is motivated by my apprehension of whether or not Moss will be leaving the show for good (even though I think she’s likely stick around).
Only one more episode left this season. How are you feeling about the season overall? How did you react to Lane’s shocking death? Any guesses as to what might happen? I predict the return of Peggy in the final episode, but I think it’s too early to reunite her with Don. Maybe we’ll just get a glimpse into her new world. Or perhaps we’ll get some further insight into Don and Megan’s future? Let us know what you think might happen in the comments section below.
Mad Men will air its season finale next Sunday at 10pm EST on AMC.