17 June 2012

"Pragmatism Refreshed" ends: so does Lane Pryce

Final entry for this blog. From this day forward, I'll be blogging at Jamesian Philosophy Refreshed, and the URL will be http://jamesian58.blogspot.com/ So for now, let's say something about Mad Men, which has also of late been about endings!


Episode 12 will be dominated in the mind of most viewers by the death of a character who has been a mainstay of the show since the beginning of the third season, Lane Pryce, as played with uniform greatness, by Jared Harris.


This death, a suicide, happens as most of the office continues to float on a sense of elation about landing a big automotive account: Jaguar.
The writers bring these two facts: Lane’s despair and his co-workers’ elation, into several layers of collision. We see for example that the Jaguar of the time was mechanically a rather shoddy piece of work, and this in fact dooms Lane’s first effort to kill himself, by asphyxiation. He can’t get the ignition to work when he needs it to!      


When Lane does manage to kill himself, it is with a noose, in his office, and after typing out what should have been a suicide note but was in fact just a “boilerplate” letter of resignation.


Why not pills, Lane? The thing about pills is: they leave some room for doubt. The coroner may call it an accidental overdose rather than a suicide, which may make a difference to grieving relations and their insurers.  A noose, though, doesn’t leave any doubt. So does that mean that a real suicide note would have been, in methodical Lane’s eyes, redundant?
Also, the events leading up to the suicide are designed to leave Don feeling as guilty as possible. Don demanded that resignation, after discovering Lane’s embezzlement. He thought that Lane would and could recover from this and make a new life for himself back in England. Indeed, he said as much. “I’d had to start over a couple of times in my life. This is the worst part,” he assured Lane.
Well, no. Don is not Lane and neither of his start-overs seems analogous. Don learns how badly he had misjudged the matter with that chipper assurance only when he sees the body.
Likewise episode 13, the season finale, will likely be dominated in many minds by one scene – that in which Don encounters Lane’s widow, Rebecca. Indeed, the title of this episode is “The Phantom,” indicting I think that the writers meant for Lane to hang over the whole of it. Except of course there is another “phantom” involved. The titles always have multiple meanings. Don thinks he sees his dead brother.   
But let’s get back to Don and Rebecca. He gives her a check meant in effect to buy out Lane’s share of the partnership. She accepts it, but wants Don to know that however this may alleviate his own sense of guilt, it does nothing to make matters square between them. She blames the agency for giving her husband “ambition.” She appears to see him as always having been a frail reed, always best shielded from ambition and other potentially sharp things.
Also, it is in the course of this confrontation that Rebecca discloses she found the photo of a mystery woman in Lane’s wallet.  The photo brings us back to the start of the season.
I’ve wondered through this season why the writers would introduce that photo (and the trouble to which Lane went to keep it, and the single phone call he made to the woman it represents) without doing more with it than they have. I still wonder.  Will Rebecca start looking for her? Is that one respect in which Lane’s phantom will continue to hover next season?
Strong season over-all. The series' best since but not inclusive of its first.  

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