Mad Men season five blog: ‘Commissions and Fees'

And so, after a whole sixty-four episodes, Mad Men has finally killed off its first major character. And if fans were to have guessed beforehand the character most likely to take his life, no doubt most would have predicted correctly Lane Pryce. He has always, and especially this season, suffered from complexes relating to his work colleagues and a frustrated romantic life, and following Don’s request that he resign upon discovering his forged signature, the Englishman’s unhappiness came to the fore


We commented in the blog two weeks ago how despite his cringe-worthy antics Lane was an endearing character, so to see him meet such an end was truly tragic. If the death of a main character is a rarity in Mad Men, the explicit image of Lane’s corpse hanging in his office was something else. We first become aware of his successful attempt through seeing the stunned expressions of his colleagues recoiling having peered over his office wall, but later, straying away from the show’s tendency to implicate rather than explicitly show, we are greeted full-on with the grizzly site of the dead body swinging violently as the partners open the door to cut him down. Despite some reviewers’ concerns about the tragedy’s predictability, the graphic image of Lane’s body (actor Jared Harris was heavily made up for the scene) truly brought home the scene’s horror.

After last week saw the worst of the SCDP partners as they supported the prostitution of Joan to land the Jaguar account, their shocked response at seeing their friend’s death brought out their more human, sympathetic natures. Guilt concerning the suicide however seems set to land mostly on Don shoulders, who will doubtless struggle to shrug off that it was him who discovered Lane’s theft and told him to resign. Sure enough Lane even typed up a resignation letter in place of a suicide note, in keeping with his proud nature (I doubt he’d wish to reveal his unhappiness and complexes even beyond the grave), and perhaps could be read as a bitter swipe at the agency.

Prior to his successful attempt to take his life in the office, Lane had tried to do the same in the jaguar his wife had brought for him earlier that day, but failed as the car was unable to start. Aside from the pitch-black comedy of the supposedly luxurious car presenting its well documented unreliability, this scene again brings into light the symbol of the jaguar car. Last week it was the object of the sales pitch: ‘at last, something beautiful you can truly own’, a metaphor for male attitudes towards women, whilst this week cars function more broadly as a symbol of dreams and happiness. Lane, reaching the end of his life, fails to be enthused by his wife’s present and instead views the car as a reminder of his failure and unhappiness. But Sally’s friend Glenn – who made an appearance in Manhattan this week not just down the phone but in person to visit Sally – was cheered up at the end of the episode after Don allows him the chance to drive a car. Achieving the oh-so American dream of driving an expensive car still remains alive and renascent in his young mind.

Another at the beginning of her life is Sally Draper, who during Glenn’s visit had to rush home upon having her first period. Curiously it was her mother Betty whom she chose to seek maternal solace in, rather than Megan who she openly stated to prefer for letting her ‘do what she wants’. But ultimately Sally is not ready to delve into the adult world just yet, as she chooses her mum over Megan and her gossipy girlfriends, and potential boyfriend in Glenn. With the doom and gloom in the adult world is as strong as it was this week, perhaps there is solace to be found in the innocence of childhood. ‘Happiness’ may not be a tangible concept, but it certainly does not seem to exist in the adult world of the Mad Men.

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