So rarely is Mad Men so direct. Often, at the end of the episode, we’re all scratching our heads saying, “Why the hell did Joan sleep with that guy/is Pete obsessed with Rory Gilmore/did Roger survive that nine martini lunch?” After thinking about it for awhile, you can usually tease out an answer, something deep and profound that is even more enjoyable because of the effort it took to discover it. After last night’s episode most of the motivations made perfect sense. As for the ones that didn’t, well, I’m still scratching my head.
But we know exactly why Lane killed himself (spoiler alert). In fact, as soon as he closed his door and there was a long, silent shot of him taking stock of his office (and probably his life entirely) and staring out at the falling snow, I knew Lane was a goner. I thought he was going to be the falling man in the show’s opening credits (which everyone seems to think, for some obscure reason, is going to be Pete Campbell). Lane has always been a weak character. He was disregarded by his British colleagues and sent to America, he’s been looked over by the partner of his own firm, and even beaten into submission by his own abusive father. Every time he takes a stand or meets with some success (landing Jaguar as a client or being named chairman of the AAAA, which Google tells me is the American Association of Advertising Agencies) he’s cut back down by some indignity like a hooker’s gum in some pubes or his petty embezzlement.
I think Lane’s problem is that he has always blamed everyone else for his own problems. It’s either his wife who doesn’t like New York, his father who doesn’t like his black girlfriend, or his partners who don’t appreciate what he does for the agency. Even when he’s sniveling and trying to convince Don to keep him at the firm, he’s trying to show that everything he’s worth, trying to play the martyr, who has been losing money when all of them have been making money. But it’s a problem of Lane’s own creation. When he finally fesses up and tells Don that he needed the money for taxes Don asks, “Why didn’t you ask?” Lane wanted to spare himself the humiliation, but wouldn’t that have been better than the ultimate humiliation of being caught?
Don tells him that the strange feeling he feels is relief, but I don’t think it’s the relief Don meant. It seems to be the clarity that the only way to solve his money problems, his visa problems, his career problems, and his life problems is to kill himself. Always the weak way out. His wife makes a similar mistake when she shows him his new Jaguar in the garage and he throws up behind a pole. She thinks that he is sick from the booze (which, probably didn’t help) but he was really sick with the anxiety that he couldn’t disappoint his wife by telling her the truth about stealing the money.
Even Lane’s suicide attempt is sad. Sure, the car doesn’t start, but the saddest to me was that he breaks his own glasses. He takes them off, a symbol for his weakness but also his identity — a large accessory on his face that defined the way he looked to many people. He destroys that weakness, he destroys himself, but then he can’t get the car to start. The weakness is still there, all around him. Instead he goes into the office and leaves a nasty mess for everyone else to find. The strangest thing is that Joan is the one sobbing at the table and not taking care of things. Is this the same Joan who calmly took care of the British guy who had his foot mowed off? Why wouldn’t Joan be the one orchestrating everything, waiting for the coroner and cutting Lane down? Maybe it was because Don needed a way to show is “decency” to Lane one last time.
But the final stab is that Lane’s suicide note is a boiler plate resignation letter. He would rather hang himself in the office, taking a passive aggressive revenge on his coworkers, than try to deal with the humiliation of restarting his life or facing his embezzlement in the first place. I used to really like Lane, but after last night, I just pity him.