We have grown desensitized to death in our film, television, and gaming diet. Life is often cheap in entertainment. But sometimes the creators in media find a way to make a connection that goes beyond the norm and makes us truly feel. In this column, we share the deaths that hurt the most. The ones that stick with us long after they’ve moved past our eyes.
Previously: Roy Batty from Blade Runner
Few characters on Mad Men had the impact Lane Pryce did. And few events on the show were as heavy and painful and sadly real as Lane Pryce’s death. Like the passing of a real loved one, it’s a moment that sneaks up on you and kicks you in the gut. But his suicide hurt even more because it deftly examined so many of the ideas that made Mad Men one of the best TV shows of all time. With Pryce’s death, Mad Men was able to stay true to its characters and the series itself, all while knocking the wind out of you.
Before we get into the pain of his passing, a little about Lane Pryce. Lane entered the show as something of an antagonist. He was sent from the UK to oversee Sterling Cooper after his ad company, Puttnam, Powell, and Lowe, purchased them. He wasn’t well accepted at first, seen as a company man who would conspire against Sterling Cooper. After some stiff drinks, people warmed to Lane. There were few true friends on Mad Men – no one allowed others to get that close – but Lane was part of the crew. He was an engaging and likable character in the cast too. Jared Harris’s performance of Lane was colorful, different and wonderfully British.
Sadly, business went bad. Lane’s adjustment to America wasn’t as easy as it seemed. He was in over his head financially and made an awful choice: to steal money from the company right under Don Draper’s nose. It was the end of the road for Lane when Don found out. His world collapsed on him, he saw no escape, so he did what he felt he had to. After a pitch-black comedic scene in which he attempted to suffocate himself in his faulty Jaguar, Lane hung himself in his office. That was it for Lane. The man who once seemed to stoic and composed was discovered hanging from the back of his office door in the bleak early morning light.
The thing about Lane’s suicide was that it rang achingly true to reality. You’re never ready for the death of a loved one. Never. Even when they are taken by slow and heartbreaking sickness, the moment they pass shocks you. You hear that they’re gone but a large part of you refuses to grasp it. That’s how it was for Lane. The entire episode hinted at his death. Indeed, a long segment of the show was devoted to his attempts at suicide. We knew it was coming and yet willingly stayed in denial. We couldn’t believe this would happen to Lane. Surely something would occur, someone would jump in at the last moment and prevent Lane from making such an awful mistake. But then it happened, coldly and calmly. Even after the deed was done, a part of me felt that it was somehow a dream. The final breath had left his body and I was still trying to convince myself that Lane wasn’t gone. That feeling is one we all must face when a loved one passes on. The fact that Mad Men nailed that speaks to the power of the show.
But it was more than the emotions that made Lane’s death such a gut-wrenching moment. Lane’s passing perfectly summarized so many of the themes of Mad Men. Two of those themes were confrontation with hard truths and suppression. The death of Lane touched upon both of them expertly. Lane himself tried to suppress his problems from his co-workers and his family and ultimately himself. When it was too much to take, he decided to end it all. As suicide always is, this act was itself a form of suppression, a refusal to tackle issues. However, Lane’s suicide forced others to examine the uncomfortable depths of their psyches. His co-workers – who were also in the business of avoiding their problems – had to confront his demons as well as their own. It was unavoidable, his lifeless body was hanging there like a personification of their secret pains. He was forcing others to literally handle it. Unlike so many other instances, they couldn’t suppress.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Lane’s suicide was the way it faded from the forefront so quickly. On any other show, this event would have been a season finale twist, something that stayed with the viewers during the long offseason break. Not so for Mad Men. This was the penultimate episode of the season and, surprisingly, didn’t have too much of an effect on the finale. That’s true to the nature of the characters, though. As I said, they favored suppressing what should be processed and handled in a healthy manner. It speaks to who these people are. Even when confronted with the heartbreaking death of one close to them, they kept their head down and moved on without much time to dwell or grieve. The writers used Lane’s death as just another way to shine a light on the world of Mad Men.
The viewers missed Lane, though. We missed him terribly. There was never a moment like Lane’s suicide and it stuck with us. Like Don and the other characters on the show, it surprised us and shook us deeply. And like Don and the other characters, we never really dealt with it – the show never gave us the closure we needed. It left me feeling shaken, feeling helpless and down. It made me so sad for Lane and the desperation he felt. It also made me heartbroken for Don, Joan, Roger and the rest of the characters on Mad Men. They lived in a cold, lonely world. A world that chewed up people like Lane and spit them out. Lane was gone but they were forced to push ahead in that heartless world. As was the case far too often, they felt like they had to push ahead alone.