The Pryce of Success
Caution – You’re About to Enter a (Black-Shrouded) Mad Men Spoiler Town
There’s something about a favorite character dying that jars me a little. I think about the books and movies I loved as a child and how I felt when someone important lost their life. I would read those passages and watch those scenes wide-eyed and white-knuckled; desperate for a beloved character to make it out okay and angry that they met their fate because of literary or cinematic forces beyond their control.
So I’m sitting here irritated, because Lane Pryce was one of my favorite people to watch on Mad Men – his charm, his graciousness, his tenacity – it was a joy to see Jared Harris on screen. Many people thought it would be Peter Campbell to go, and the writers did a good job of making us think that could happen. We saw Campbell’s life slowly unravel until it didn’t seem like a stretch to think about him using that much alluded to shotgun. But instead we saw the end to a different man – and his downfall, to me, was a little rushed; which is why I think I’m so disturbed by it.
At the beginning of “Commissions and Fees” Don’s getting his sharp haircut resharpened when a rival walks in and condescendingly congratulates him on the Jag win, saying it’s a big grab for Don’s “little company” as Lane’s getting breakfast with a man from the Four A’s who asks him to head the fiscal control committee. Viewers see the irony in his request, as we know that Lane’s slightly fudged the numbers at SCDP to cover up embezzling almost $8k from the company to take care of a tax evasion charge back home in England.
Don’s on the phone with a frustrated Betty when Cooper walks into his office – Betty’s trying to get the kids ready for a ski trip and Sally’s being a total bitch about it. She wants to go stay with Don and Megan, so she’s dropping Sally off and they can keep her until Monday. Don hangs up and Cooper tells him he was looking at the books and found the check that Lane made out to himself with Don’s signature – Don covers for Lane, telling Cooper he’ll handle it.
He calls Lane into his office and asks if this is the first time Lane’s taken money. After some shucking and diving Lane finally admits what he did and begs for Don’s forgiveness. Don forgives him but says he no longer trusts him – he should’ve just come to Don in the first place (which is what we’ve all been saying). He won’t say anything about the check fraud, and gives Lane the weekend to come up with a reason to turn in his resignation.
Still upset about Lane, Don asks Roger why they do this – “For the sex.” Ha! But Don’s frustrated –he’s tired of “piddly shit” – tired of the small-time accounts. He wants bigger: Chevrolet not Jaguar, American Airlines not Mohawk, Firestone not Dunlop. Roger suggests going for the bigger grabs and Don reveals what Ed Baxter told him earlier about the Lucky Strike letter poisoning the waters. Roger thinks that’s bullshit and tries to get Firestone on the phone immediately to arrange a meeting but Don doesn’t want Firestone he wants Ed Baxter himself – he wants to try and nab DOW Chemical’s. Roger worries Ken will get in their way and Don says to fire him if he does. Roger meets Ken for dinner in the same silver glitter-covered restaurant where they pitched Cool-Whip – is there only one restaurant in this fucking town? Ken says that he’ll sit back and let them go for it on a few conditions: he wants it to be clear that he fought against it and he doesn’t want Pete involved at all. Roger agrees and sets the meeting up for the following Monday. Don’s upset at the short notice but Roger’s hoping the fast deadline will light a fire in him.
Don comes home to find Sally watching TV and Megan pissed that she was dropped on her like that. Is it me or is Megan getting really snappy lately? Ever since she decided to leave SCDP it’s like every little thing that could mildly inconvenience her is suddenly a huge deal. She practically snarls at Don several times over the episode – she lightens up a little and takes Sally out to lunch later, but simmer the fuck down, girl, damn.
Lane comes home to find his wife all dressed up to go to dinner. He’s upset, drunk, and definitely not in the mood for a fancy dinner. She coaxes him out anyway and in the garage surprises him with a new Jaguar. Of course his first question is how she paid for it, and of course she says she just wrote a check. Instead of the crazy gratitude she was probably hoping for, he pukes. That night he wakes up and quietly gets a hose, a rag, and a drink before he plugs the car all up, runs the hose from the exhaust to the window and gets ready to off himself in the car his wife just bought him (nice touch) except the car won’t start! He then shows up at the office in the middle of the night and begins typing a letter…
At the Draper’s that same night, Sally calls Glenn and asks him to come see her. The next morning when Megan leaves for an audition Sally jumps up from the TV and gets ready for her creepster-visitor. She’s wearing the gogo boots Don hates, and way too much makeup. But instead of it getting weirdly sexual or something Glenn says he wants to go to the museum. They talk about their lives and their feelings for one another – strictly platonic – suddenly her stomach starts to hurt and she goes to the bathroom where she finds out its pierds time!
Don comes out swinging at the DOW meeting: Baxter brings up the damn letter again but Don nips that in the bud and says they’re settling for 50% of the success they could have if SCDP took over their advertising and gave them 100%. DOW can’t be complacent by accepting the service they’re currently getting from McManus because there’s always a thirst for more: “Happiness is the moment before you realize you need more happiness.” He totally nails the speech and it’s amazing to see the Don we all love back in action – they leave and Roger quips, “I’ll buy you a drink if you wipe the blood off your mouth.”
Still upset from getting her period, Sally ditches Glenn and takes a cab home. At first Betty’s about to yell at her for running away, but Sally confesses she ran home because her period started and she was scared. Betty, touched that in her time of distress Sally reached out for her, loses her anger and says she’ll be okay – Sally hugs her hard – and Betty holds her, comforting her daughter and smiling a little in happiness at being needed again. She calls Megan to let her know what’s going on and says a little smugly that Sally just needed her mother, then gives a curled up and moping Sally “The Talk.” She actually does an alright job of explaining the biology of what’s going on in her body – would’ve been good to also throw in a “Don’t give the milk away for free” talk as well but it’s Betty, I can’t be picky.
At the office, Joan tries to put the financials in Lane’s office after the new girl couldn’t get in the locked door. She unlocks it and finds the door blocked by an overturned table – through the crack she smells a stench in the room and goes to Campbell’s office next door. The guys look in the window above the partition and discover what Lane’s done. An elated Don and Roger get back to a silent office – a stunned Joan, Cooper, and Campbell are waiting for them to talk about Lane. They’ve literally left him hanging in his office while they wait for the coroner to cut him down which upsets Don – they break in and find Lane gray and pallid, his throat raw-red, hanging by a rope behind his door. Roger finds a resignation letter at his feet. The camera focuses on Don’s reaction, as unbeknownst to the others, the letter was his request.
Here’s my problem with the Lane Pryce storyline: he went from a mild-mannered gentleman to a broken one in just a few episodes – before this season his biggest problem was whether or not his family was as happy as he was in America. But from the start of season five he’s been increasingly discontented with his role at SCDP. There was no warning that he was neglecting to pay his taxes back home, we just found out about it a few weeks ago when he decided –completely out of character– to embezzle funds from the company to cover his debts. His reasoning behind not simply asking Don or Roger if he could borrow the money – the logical decision, given their proclivities to shirk the law when it suits them – seemed out of place. He tossed it off as a matter of pride, however that same proud nature didn’t seem to carry over to his decision to make a cowardly exit. For all the claims he made about loving his wife and family, he thought nothing of leaving them to deal with the financial mess he’s left behind.
Perhaps it’s the lit-nerd in me that’s so unsettled by Lane’s demise. The death of a good character is hard to swallow but their exit goes down easier when it’s well done. I just feel unsatisfied with this. Much like Lane’s treatment of SCDP’s bank account, I can’t help but feel a little cheated.