Lane was always “you”
Mad Men Season 5 Episode 12 recap
There's only so long I can procrastinate before bellying up to the truth - I don't want to write this Mad Men recap, because there's little joy to be found, and because the show said almost everything that could be said, in a relatively dialogue-light episode. But that doesn't mean there aren't things to unpack here, and generally finding the reason behind the discomfort tells me something. So, onward ...
Where last week was about events - big, dramatic happenings - this week was about eventualities. The small ones, like the fact that Ken Cosgrove was eventually going to have to examine his “I don't work anywhere near my father-in-law's business” policy, and the ones that were much, much larger.
Let’s start with the happiest ones we can, and go from there.
I know it's a sport to hate on Betty Draper and it's not like her character has had a whole lot to do this year but can I just point out how much I love the conversations between her and Don as co-parents? Whatever animosity they have about their failed marriages and subsequent new spouses, that phone call she made to Don sounded like any frustrated mother dealing with an infuriating tween, and I loved it. Even more real, his response: "Well, if you think killing her is the only way to go..." Yes. These two have made countless mistakes in the parenting arena ("she lets me eat whatever I want") and I'm sure there are more to come, but Betty's exasperation with her fresh daughter felt really real. That, and I loved the moment where, when yelling upstairs about Sally's sour puss, she had the delicacy to cover the mouthpiece. Don also accepts that Betty's probably right. They may fight, but it's not about who's doing what to the children, at least, not on a daily basis. Nice realism here.
So Sally wants to be a grownup, of course, and experiments with it, and gets what she deserves. Sorry. I don't actually believe that, but there was a definite “be careful what you wish for” tone here, and this is around the time when “the curse” was pretty popular slang for your period. Her experimentations with Glenn are, of course, very tentative; though I remember even talking on the phone to be a bigger deal than Sally lets on, she's clearly nervous. When her maybe-swain shows up with a dirtstache and a story about what he said he was doing with his Manhattan girlfriend, well, that's as good a reason as any to fake sick and kill the endeavour right there. We realize, of course, that she wasn't faking but I'm willing to bet some of her stomach-ache was from non-biological circumstances.
There's a whole lot going on here outside of a couple of kids trying to have a date and not knowing why it's uncomfortable: Glenn calls Megan “Megan” to her face and refers to “Betty” while Don is a lot less distressed about his daughter missing and driving Glenn back to Hotchkiss than I'd have expected for a man who has flown off the handle for less. It follows a theory that I've heard that he'll save his rage for Sally, for Megan - until recently, for Peggy -and that people save their anger for people they're sure won't, or can't, leave them. Just like his daughter does. Sally spends a lot of time throwing abuse at her mother, but when push comes to shove, she wanted her mother. The scenes between them were really, really sweet and made all the more poignant by the fact that Kiernan Shipka's getting taller; when they spooned together, I got a little teary. I even enjoyed the restraint Betty showed when she called Megan to rub it in that her daughter needed her mother; the implication being that they both know it's a situation Megan wouldn't have been ready to handle. I love Betty this week, what's wrong with me?
Of course, what's wrong with me is that I have to take my warm moments where I can get them. Don saves his expectations for the people who will stay with him, and when he needs to feel like he has some fight left in him on a professional level, he begs for a meeting where he knows, as Roger points out, that he'll be eating sh-t. And he does, and he deals with it. The people he wants to deal with are repugnant so can there be any joy in it if getting the work is about revenge instead of creativity? I don't know. It does mean Don's going against his earlier instincts - usually not a plus where Draper is concerned. But there would be a case for him to ditch his instantaneous reactions, too, after this week.
I've never really loved Lane Pryce. I wasn't really supposed to, of course; with all the vibrant characters we love on this show, his mutedness was pointed. He pointed out to us last week that he's never known to ask for what he really wanted. That was obvious here as Don pointed out that Lane could have simply asked for a loan. But the visible weakness was a bridge too far for Lane, so this is the result. His lack of communication with his partners and his wife meant, for him, anyway, that the only real outlet he had was to kill himself. That he resorted to hanging after the unreliable Jaguar failed him seems appropriate, a final f-ck-you to the men who weren't there for him, rather than a horrifying surprise in the car for the wife who was finally beginning to love him the way he needed to be. That his resignation letter wasn't a suicide note is even more pointed - he wanted the partners at SCDP to know, in death, if not in life, that they had driven him to this. That Don did. Because, of course, he's the only one who knows why. He'll either have to confess it and seem a monster in retrospect - even if it’s what they all would have done - or remain silent and live with the knowledge that had he done even one thing differently, this wouldn't be the end result.
It's been implied that Lane's failings, ultimately, aren't solely because of the person he is, but because of the English he is, or at least the way the British cultures and mores affected him. “Stiff Upper Lip” is a clam, but Lane's shown over and over again that he will subvert his own feelings if it seems like they're ridiculous, rather than go against the grain. Fighting Pete Campbell, even though every one of them wanted to do so, didn't gain him any particular points; kissing Joan got him rebuffed - we got a reminder of that again last night - and let's not forget what happened to Lane, a grown man, when his father found out he was carrying on with a Bunny Of Colour.
If I seem flip, I'm sorry; the seemingly unending portrait of Pryce as a man who couldn't get his head above water was touching, at times - how often did he cry this year? - but somewhat predictable. If I were a gambling woman, I would have gone with his wife leaving him first, but either way, what happened here wasn't so much a shock as it was a logical conclusion. We've heard that this business will eat you alive and here's the literal representation. But of course, Lane was always “you”. He was never, truly, one of us.
Will they rebrand the agency name? Or does Lane's wife become a silent partner?
Photos courtesy AMC