What does a death by hanging say about Lane Pryce?
In hanging-by-government, the length of the rope and the fall has determined standards that all but guarantee a man will break his neck during his last plummet on earth. In most homegrown cases, however, a person who has hanged himself will not break his neck, usually because the rope is too short or the fall not sharp enough. In these cases, the man will merely strangle to death.
After what is hopefully a mercifully short time, the man will pass into unconsciousness and then expire. From the furrows in Lane’s neck, he seems to have used a rather strong cord, leading to those unsightly bloody gouges and protruding tongue that confront our SCDP folk with the singularity drawing near.
What else did we notice from our friends’ reactions? A certain indication of olfactory unpleasantness, resultant from a hanged body’s evacuation of the bowels upon descent.
Why did Lane hang himself instead of other possibly less grisly options? There’s a rich literary history perhaps the old British schoolboy in him couldn’t resist:
The Greeks had a storied tendency to hang their heroes, for one thing. (And to take their lives thusly in real life, as well.) Sophocles, in his take on the classic heroine Antigone, sent her off to a death by hanging, replete with righteousness:
"When I have suffered my doom, I shall come to know my sin; but if the sin is with my judges, I could wish them no fuller measure of evil than they, on their part, mete wrongfully to me."
Perhaps that’s what leaving that resignation letter was: a gesture of spite to his judges. The effluvia served that purpose well, too!
We’ve had a palpation toward suicide for the whole season, as discussed inter alia. Remember Don’s little drawing on his notepad from earlier this season (pictured above)? It certainly set the tone for the season. In any case, we know exactly why Don reacted so badly to Lane’s hanging. Poor Adam Whitman.
In the end, maybe Lane hung himself simply because it is the most handily available form of suicide. Virgil referred to hanging as “the coil of unbecoming death.” Making Lane’s body not the only one with an unfortunate visage, clearly.
RIP, Mr. Pryce. I remember seeing a preview in the New York Times for the upcoming season describing our vaunted firm as Sterling Cooper Draper Bryce. Poor thing.
So unbearably sad was this scene that I was hoping Don would sweep the whole thing under the rug and give Pryce a chance to make amends, even though I knew it would be the wrong decision for the firm. That right there speaks of some powerful acting on the parts of both of these gentlemen.
**Massive spoilers follow for last night’s episode of Mad Men**
In psychology there is a concept called the locus of control. The idea refers to one’s perception over their ability to influence their own fate. A person’s locus can lean toward the internal, meaning the person feels they have control over their own life, or external, meaning the person feels largely controlled by the world around them. Generally, it’s better to have an internal locus of control than an external one. But there are certain situations where that isn’t the case.
Chief among those situations is when somebody does something terrible in reaction to your words. It doesn’t matter if those words were completely justified. It doesn’t matter if the person brought the repercussions upon themselves. It doesn’t even matter if the incident would have happened even without intervention. Just knowing that you were involved, knowing that somewhere in that web of awful, fucked up misery there is a string with your name on it is enough to generate the kind of guilt that irreparably degrades your soul.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the Don Draper we see from now on will not be the Don Draper we have seen for the last five years. The suicide of Lane Pryce, and the fact that it directly followed his dismissal by Don, isn’t something that will be fixed by Don’s normal strategy of forgetting it ever happened. This is Don’s most defining moment since he pulled those dog tags off the real Don Draper’s corpse, and considerably more impactful than the death of his half-brother, who he had long since cut out of his life.
It has nothing to do with whether Don deserves this. By any reasonable evaluation, he doesn’t deserve any blame at all. He was entirely in the right in asking for Lane’s dismissal. And Lane had been in a downward spiral for quite some time without any interference from Don. But going forward that’s irrelevant, because the character of Don Draper is all about control. The ability to control his image, control his life trajectory, to gain as much control over his domain as he possibly can. And now he either needs to admit that he has no control over the world or that his actions, however inocuous, led to the death of a genuinely decent human being.
All that matters is that Don will now forever be haunted by the ghost of a sad, pitiable Englishman. And every episode of Mad Men will be haunted along with him.
I’m rereading old AV Club comments from “Commissions and Fees” to test the waters about how I feel now about the way Don fired Lane, and now that enough time has passed, there’s clarity, most exquisitely phrased in the last few sentences here.
This in effect is, however, subtle, Don’s next and final self-reinvention. It’s extraordinary that the show marks it by letting us be gulled—just as Joan was last week—once again (maybe for the last time?) into mistaking Don for ‘a good one.’
And of course you know that Don’s reinvented himself again because every time he does that, somebody’s got to die.
Someone else has to give their life so that Don can have a new one.
Probably the most astute thing anyone has ever realized about this show. I just hope that at some point, the writers force Don to take a long hard look back over his various incarnations and examine how each is paired with a fresh victim of his ravenous selfish desire to move forward in the name of his success and happiness alone.