There are those television moments that stay with you for days after the first viewing. I’m thinking the end of The Wire, Season 4. The fate of Randy, all alone and the target of merciless bullies in the group home, haunted me for at least a week. Dee’s sudden suicide on Battlestar Galactica had a similar effect. And now it’s another suicide, one that I think a lot of us saw coming from the most recent season premiere, that bothered me all day and will continue to do so for awhile.
Megan treating Sally like a grown-up at the diner, Sally’s strange but beautifully filmed date with Glen, and Sally getting her first “monthly visitor” then rushing home to a smug and self-satisfied Betty aside, this was Lane’s episode. I know I say this a lot when it comes to the Mad Men actors (and I’m not discounting the work this season of Vincent Kartheiser and John Slattery), but Jared Harris should really get some major Emmy consideration for his work in “Commissions and Fees” alone.
Cooper of all people discovering Lane’s crime is just more evidence that he’s not entirely useless (there’s been a fair amount of that this season). Then again, Lane’s plan is so foolish that someone was bound to learn the truth eventually. That leads to a crushing Don/Lane scene. Don is not quite the same the bastard who fires Sal for failing to prostitute himself to Lee Garner, Jr., but he’s still cold and unwilling to absorb Lane’s reasoning and completely unable to put himself in the other man’s shoes. And that’s always going to be the problem for Don. Even now that he has Megan (and it’s only a matter of time before he screws that up), the fact is that Dick Whitman is so busy wearing Don Draper’s skin that he has little time for other people’s. But back to the man of the hour. In the span of five minutes Lane goes from apologizing to explaining to arguing to pleading. And after all that, when all Don can offer Lane is the chance to stage an “elegant exit” (bet that’s going to haunt Don), Lane is broken. Should Lane have stolen the money? No. But SCDP would not exist without him, and I think everyone left is going to think on that for a long, long time. Lane’s attempt to flirt with Joan comes off as crude, so he slinks back to his office to stare at the city he’s grown to love and is terrified of leaving (I almost thought Lane would throw himself out the window right then and there).
But instead he goes home to his wife, and her gift of a Jaguar is just too much for Lane to bear (at that point I really thought that he would just jump in the car and drive into a wall to end in his pain). Not yet. Lane sets about getting his affairs, what’s left of them, in order, and once his wife falls asleep, he heads down to the parking garage to breathe deep the carbon monoxide. And the damn car won’t start. It’s almost comical, but it’s also indicative of how Lane has lived much of his life. He couldn’t stand up to his father, he couldn’t get the mistress thing right with his “chocolate bunny,” he bungled Jaguar when he tried to handle the account on his own, and so on and so forth. Of course this man would make a mess of his own suicide. The first time.
Lane returns to the office, the place that he prophetically said he would spend “the rest of his life.” You knew from the second Scarlett voices her concerns about Mr. Pryce leaving the ledgers on her desk that Lane was gone. And then Joan’s unable to open the door. Then Pete looks over the wall, horrified. And then Don and Roger return, triumphant after their meeting with Dow Chemical. The triumph is short-lived.
Again, Jared Harris was nothing short of amazing in this episode, but Pete, Joan, and Cooper having to tell Don and Roger what happened set in motion the most devastating scene in Mad Men history. From Joan’s tears to Roger offering to take her home to Don’s horror at the realization that Lane was still hanging, just waiting for the coroner to arrive. Don may have played a role in driving Lane to his untimely end, but he would be damned if he left the man to be found like that, to be cut down by a stranger (Jon Hamm was just so tortured in these moments, and letting Glen drive his car at the episode’s end is the only thing that soothes Don following the awful day). So Pete and Roger follow Don, and all three men push their way into the office. I expected Lane to be hanging from the ceiling (which makes no sense in retrospect as someone would have noticed sooner given the way the SCDP offices are set up), so it was a shock when the door swung close and there was Lane, dead. The others having to cut him down, Roger finding and reading the suicide note to the surviving partners… have we ever seen Pete or Roger so scared, so confused? For Don it’s just more guilt he can add to his list. Cooper understands the severity of the situation but is oblivious to the fact that he set Lane’s final act in motion. And Joan’s lost a friend. You saw it coming, and yet it was just so sad. And like I said, Lane’s fate kept popping into my head all day long.
They found Lane hanging on the door, looking out the window one last time. Lane loved New York, loved his life in New York. Returning to England just wasn’t an option. At least he went out looking at the buildings of the city that he could not bear to leave. What were his last thoughts? Fear? Anger? A twisted kind of peace? I think not. I don’t think he wanted to die in the office. He didn’t want the others to see him like that. But he had nowhere left to turn, so as Lane cleaned up others’ messes and put out fire after fire, now his co-workers must do the same for him. And that, combined with so much of Lane’s life, adds up to one final, tragic emotion. Regret.