If "Commissions and Fees", Sunday's episode of Mad Men, were a short story, it would have been called The Quiet Demise of Lane Pryce. I say that because some part of us knew Lane was going to die this season-he was in too far over his head-and even though we knew, we still wanted to see how or if. The title as an ending point, would not have ruined the story.
We never really knew Lane that well. Sure, we knew he enjoyed the Mets, his black Playboy club girlfriend, steak, America and practicality, but that was it. He held himself with the dignity and distance of an Englishman, but because he became attached to America, he avoided standing on ceremony like St. John Powell and other rich Englishman that held him down for so long. He had a wife whom he was estranged from for awhile but with whom he had since somewhat reconciled. He had a son Nigel in an expensive boarding school and a hard ass, Churchillian father that clubbed him in the face with a cane. He was one of my favorite characters on the show and his night out with Don in "The Good News" remains the show's best display of the virtue of camaraderie even among hall-of-fame scenes between Roger and Don and Don and Peggy.
From what I have read and watched in my life, Lane Pryce has perhaps one true antecedent-the character Stoner from John Williams' novel of the same name. This was a man who made decisions, who was seemingly involved in his life, but never truly had control of his own life. Lane had a successful career; he was good at what he did and he seemed to enjoy what he was doing. However at PPL he was just an errand boy, a good little boy who did as he was told and was then told to do something else while other men got far richer than him. At SCDP, he was the rock that kept the business financially sound and prudent, but he was treated with disdain-a constant outsider.
As Todd VanDerWerff wrote on Monday, Lane Pryce is one of those people who "has the ability to give and give until there is nothing left to take" and who can't accept the love and respect he so desperately craves when someone tries to give it to him, like his wife Rebecca tries to do so gently in "Commissions and Fees." Whereas Don wants to figure out ways to take and take, to obtain not fifty percent, but one hundred percent of anything, Lane was willing to give, because that was his life and because he didn't know any better. He was involved in his life, but his involvement was an act of giving away and never truly knowing how to stand for himself. Sure he fought Pete and screwed over PPL, but he also allowed his father to strike him down and allowed himself to be put in a position where Joan could easily "do [his] job". I loved Lane because he wanted to do a good job and he wanted to constantly give, because doing that is one of the keys to life. However, one of the other keys to life is knowing when not to be pushed around and knowing how to impose your image on your own life and on the world. Lane lacked that latter half.
Don on the other hand has never had a problem taking control of his life; as he told Lane, he's started over many times. Don survives, he knows how to "move forward, he knows the "Hobo Code." He knows that "you aren't happy" and he doesn't want fifty percent, he wants one hundred percent. Yet in this episode he found himself in a position of giving. Earlier this season, he gave Pete advice only to have it thrown back in his face. Here, he thought he was giving Lane a chance to exit the company gracefully and continue his career in as dignified a way was possible in the wake of comitting extortion. But, like so many times before, Don doesn't completely comprehend what the other person is feeling or what they are facing because he is Don Draper; everyone else is just who they are. And so, Don's actions lead to a second man hanging himself. First it was Adam Whitman and then it was Lane Pryce.
Don's sketching of a noose in "Signal 30" turned out to be the accurate clue the the death premonition game that has been played all season long-we should have known after what happened to Adam Whitman. Despite the elevator shaft, the driving accident movie, the attempted asphyxiation, and even Don answering Betty's complaint over Sally with "Well, if you think killing her is the answer.", it ended up being the noose we already knew from Season 1.
Meanwhile, Don is failing to see how another person feels-his wife, Megan. In "Commissions and Fees" Megan is constantly in the position of being forced to give. She gives Sally her time and attention when Don doesn't tell her that Sally will be spending the weekend and she makes Glen food and lets him stay at the apartment after Sally gets her period and runs back home to her little girl world with Betty. When Megan tries to protest about Sally or about Glen, to voice her wants , Don comes back with the trump card, "that he had a bad day". Now, to Don's credit, he had two terrible days at work, but using the work card to trump someone else's feelings, especially your wife or the person you love, is always a selfish and terrible move to make. Don wants one hundred percent of everything, but he still comes and goes as he pleases and doesn't take into account one hundred percent of Megan's feelings. Megan has already hinted at him not thinking about her perspective when it comes to the realities of acting, but this episode shows that he is thinking less about her whole life than we originally thought. And that is nothing but danger for their marriage.
There is one more episode left in the season. We are getting glimpses of where the show is headed: Don wants bigger accounts; Don is neglecting Megan; Pete and Ken are silently feuding; Joan remains in uneasy moral standing as a partner; Sally is developing increasingly manipulative, but still perceptive behavior; and there remains the ever-looming rise and backstory of Michael Ginsberg.
The episode ended perhaps a little bit too much on the nose with Glen Bishop's statement that "everything you think's gonna make you happy, it just turns to crap," however, you can't fault that image of Don helping Glen drive as "Butchie's Tune" by the Loving Spoonful plays. The image of Don driving alone, with some acquaintance or with a stranger perhaps sums up the tone and atmosphere of Mad Men for me better than any other image. This show is about Don's search for happiness, its about what we look for when we drive alone in the rain at night or about what Gatsby wanted on that West Egg dock. Don will never be happy and maybe none of us will either, but we can try and learn and there is nothing that says learning to me more than driving in the night with a melancholy, twangy country gem playing in the dark.