Mad Men S5 Reflections: Lane and the Jaguar…

Now that Mad Men’s dynamic and powerful 5th season has come to a close on AMC, Cinedork writers take a look back at one of TV’s most brilliant dramas to analyze where Matthew Weiner chose to take his characters, and as a result, where the Mad Men creator chose to take us as an audience. In this Season 5 reflection, Chris Blondell reflects on the demise of Lane Price.

Warning: Majorly Spoiling Spoilers ahead.

Lane Pryce was a creep this season. That isn’t a stretch for most characters on Mad Men, but when the only admirable character (complete with a charming British accent) starts embezzling checks, forging Don Draper’s signature, and creepily flirting with a the wife of a man who lost his wallet, you know something’s up. This entire season has flirted with death in one way or another, but when Lane actually went and hung himself in his office, it was still jarring, disturbing, and sad. Mad Men suddenly felt very real: Lane Pryce, the man who was dropped into Sterling Cooper, turned it around, and sprang free to launch the promising Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is dead now.

Jared Harris' tortured British gentleman, Lane Pryce

Lane’s day begins on a good note. He’s offered a position to run the Fiscal Controls Committee for his success in keeping Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce afloat after the loss of Lucky Strike. Things may be looking up for Lane, who has struggled financially recently. But nearly ten minutes into the episode, Don learns of Lane’s embezzlement, as well as the forgery of his signature, and promptly fires Lane by asking for his resignation letter. Don is in the right in this situation. He reacts hastily, but we don’t judge him for it; however, Lane won’t be humiliated out of SCDP. Lane has gotten his comeuppance. Don, however, leaves Lane with only one piece of advice: “I’ve started over a lot, Lane. This is the worst part.”

We as Mad Men viewers agree with this considering how well we know Don, and we understand it as the best advice Lane could have received in his moment of shame. However, Lane knows nothing of Dick Whitman. How can he absorb what he does not understand? Perhaps if Lane knew of Don’s rough past, and of Don’s own struggles to start over, he may be alive.

At first, it appears Lane (played extremely effectively by Jared Harris throughout the 5th season) is going to go through a rough patch for a while, indicated by his drunken stumble home to his wife. At home though, his wife starts encouraging him to celebrate his previous successes, and with that we feel the knife that’s being twisted into Lane. He feels anything but successful in this moment. More fraudulent than ever, and it’s embarrassing.

And then things get worse. When Lane and his wife turn the corner in their parking garage, Lane finds himself a brand new Jaguar that his wife has bought for him with money they don’t have. What does Lane do? Well, besides first asking how she bought such an expensive car, he promptly vomits. Is it from the booze he’s gulped all night? Or is it from the sudden financial stress that continues piling? Seeing that car he can’t afford threw him over the edge. He had kept his sick down through the day, but that green car spewed it all up. Lane was now out of control.

He spends the beginning of his weekend working. We’re thinking, maybe he’s going to get it together; maybe he’ll figure something out. There’s a feeling that Lane might return to England, and by proxy, might never return to Mad Men. But what comes next sets the stage for an entirely different exit.

What does Lane Pryce do? He hops out of bed in the middle of the night, and sits in his Jaguar, but not to take it for a spin. He stuffs the exhaust pipe, feeds it into his window, breaks his glasses, and starts the car. Lane’s plan feels too well orchestrated: Lane Pryce, killed by the very car he struggled to get for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce! What a dramatic and ironic way to exit TV’s greatest drama!

…only the car doesn’t start.

We’re immediately reminded that Jaguars are terrible cars, with unreliable mechanical problems. Now, Lane hovers over the engine, holding half of his broken glasses, trying to fix the car that he hopes will kill him in a very, very darkly comedic moment. Mad Men can certainly be funny, but it’s never felt this awful to laugh.

And then Monday morning comes. High-ranking members of the office quickly discover that Lane Pryce has hung himself in front of his office door. By the time Don learns of Lane’s fate, he instantly feels responsible. And, in a way, he is. But before we can judge Don for his hasty reaction, Don redeems himself when he learns that Lane is still hanging in his office, and runs to cut him down.

It’s sad to see Lane go. Lane was a man beaten by life. He has always been pushed around by others: First by British company PPL onto Sterling Cooper, then back to his briefly estranged wife by his emotionally (and physically) abusive father, and finally by Don out of the company he helped create. And in the moment where Lane finally had control over his own life, he was unable to handle it, and he checked out in the only place he knew: work.

This season of Mad Men has been a transition season for company, culture and characters. We were ready for this transition too, a show can’t just keep doing the same thing it’s doing for the first few seasons; it needs to evolve with its audience. If Don had just stuck to life with Betty, drinking and sleeping his way around while Peggy struggled for recognition, Pete smarmed his way through life, and Roger just drunkenly added his witty remarks on situations, people would be bored of Mad Men. But creator Matthew Weiner clearly likes to take risks, and he took a huge one when he ended Lane’s life. Mad Men isn’t afraid to kill off characters (i.e. Don’s brother Adam, who also, coincidently, hung himself per Don’s rejection), but most of these characters have never enjoyed the comfort of winning the audience over enough to be emotionally invested. In a way, this feels like the first real character to be killed off. Although Lane was relatively new in the Mad Men world, he felt just as important as Peggy, Roger, or Pete; and that’s what makes his death so sad. Despite Lane’s creepiness this season, it’s never been sadder to watch a character depart from such an engaging drama.

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