Mad Men: The Five Stages of Loss

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Jun 04, 2012

Mad Men S05E12: “Commissions and Fees”

It was really only a matter of time before someone at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce discovered Lane’s forged check. A debate over Jaguar’s payment structure prompted Bert Cooper to look over the company’s financial statements, where he stumbled across the Christmas bonus check made out to Lane Pryce from Don Draper.

Supposedly.

As we all know, Don’s signature was a forgery born out of desperation when Lane’s portfolio in England was taxed beyond his means, but like a string of dominoes that the writers spent the entirety of this season lining up, Bert confronted Don about the bonus check and set in motion the complete collapse of Lane’s carefully stacked lies.

All of the little clues dropped throughout the season, from the uneasy tone to the hints at death, contemplations on the true nature of individuals, both real—Charles Whitman, Richard Starkey—and fictional, like Don and Pete, finally came to a head with Lane’s suicide. Lane lost so much more than his job when Don fired him. He lost his sense of purpose and I’m certain that his decision was made before he even left the office. The subsequent weekend between the request for Lane's resignation on Friday and the discovery of his body on Monday was a whirlwind trip through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s well-known Five Stages of Grief (or Loss). Though the stages are often applied to any type of traumatic event, such as a divorce, a rejection, or the death of a loved one, they were originally created to guide and understand the thought processes of terminally ill patients. Lane Pryce has struggled with feelings of inadequacy and failure for his entire life, illustrated in the strained relationship we observed between Lane and his father, as well as his regret that during World War II, his poor eyesight forced him into a desk job far from any combat zone, a “soft” job that he never felt was as heroic, noble, or important, as those on the front lines. On the Friday that Don asked him to resign, Lane’s disappointment in himself went terminal.

Denial:

When first confronted with the forged check, Lane’s first instinct was to deny it. He didn’t forge it. Don signed it and forgot about it. It happened all the time. They were busy, important men and sometimes they signed things without looking at them, thinking about them, or remembering them. Right, Don? Right?

Unfortunately, Don very clearly remembered never signing the check. He held firm to his decision to remove Lane from the company, but offered to let him resign, to make “an elegant exit,” in order to save face.

Bargaining:

Still desperate to save his livelihood and honor, Lane pleaded with Don to spare him. He would never do it again. He was trustworthy. He promised.

Maybe he wouldn’t have done it again. Maybe the embezzlement really was a one-time thing, an unfortunate necessity for survival. But later, when Don told Megan about what had happened, they both shared disbelief that Lane was capable of such an action. Megan said, “He seemed so honest,” and truthfully, for much of his tenure on the series Lane Pryce had always been just a little higher on the morality scale than his fellow partners. His attempts at philandering always felt forced and awkward, like he was trying to fit some ideal that appealed to him, but ultimately wasn’t his to embody.

He SEEMED so honest was an important line to have spoken, because Don, more than anybody, knows the lengths to which people can go to hide their true identities. Once Don Draper’s trust is shaken, it’s very difficult to win back, if it’s even possible at all. Don is a lie personified and he’s not delusional enough to think that he is the sole human on the planet capable of such a feat. Despite all of Lane’s promises, Don was firm: Lane had to go. He simply couldn’t trust him anymore.

Anger:

Sensing that he had lost, that there was no way to save himself, Lane lashed out with perhaps his first honest feeling in the entire exchange—anger. How DARE Don ask him to resign? He'd sacrificed more than anyone to start Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and time after time, felt disrespected, unwanted, and taken advantage of by his fellow partners. He'd liquidated his assets to keep the company floating after Lucky Strike pulled out and never fully recovered. He'd operated on a loss for the previous three years. In a way, his financial mess was due to his dedication to the company, so again, how DARE they ask him to leave?

Depression:

But Don didn’t budge. Lane walked out of Don’s office devastated and slid into the depression stage of Kubler-Ross’s cycle. He began to accept his fate and retreated to his office, secluding himself from his colleagues. The shot of Lane drinking at his desk—he was dwarfed by the huge window, the endless city outside, and the patches of the cold, gray sky of a Northeast winter—was stunning. It silently illustrated just how far Lane had fallen in a matter of minutes. He was once a very “big” man, a partner, an important man, like he always wanted to be. One poor decision suddenly made him very very small. He was overwhelmed. He had always been overwhelmed. And he no longer had it in him to fight against that anymore.

His exchange with Joan just prior to retreating to his office was also indicative of his depressed state. At first I thought it was illustrative of his anger, in the face of everything that she had done to win her partnership, and even a call back to that lewd cartoon that Joey drew of the two of them in a compromising position, but it was a hurtful comment Lane made about imagining her in a bikini. Lane had always been nothing short of gentlemanly and respectful to Joan. His decision to forego the formalities in the wake of his disastrous meeting with Don betrayed his thought process. He just didn’t care anymore. He knew he would never have to interact with Joan again, so why bother being polite? He had always considered himself something of an honorable man, but honorable men weren’t asked to resign from their prestigious positions.

Lane’s depression encompassed the majority of his final days. He drank himself sick twice and could barely muster even a false sense of joy when his wife gave him a new Jaguar. Ignorant of his sudden unemployment, she wanted to congratulate him for helping SCDP land the new account and thank him for everything he did for their family. She said that he never bought anything for himself, always thought of others. Her efforts were too-little-too-late to change Lane’s mind and only served to increase his depression.

Acceptance:

It became apparent that Lane accepted his death, having appropriately mourned his own loss, when he sobered up and settled down to “work” on “errands.” He put his affairs in order. He was ready. Perhaps attempting to show everyone the “elegant exit” that Don encouraged (though Don certainly didn't intend for Lane to take the actions that he did), Lane first tried to asphyxiate himself with carbon monoxide in the shiny new Jaguar that his wife bought him. He snapped his glasses in two as a final act of destruction against the undesirable parts of himself...but the infamously defective Jaguar wouldn’t start. It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. Fate or God or whomever couldn’t even see fit to let Lane die the way he planned. Instead, he was forced to make do with hanging himself in the office. There is nothing elegant about death by hanging, nothing dignified about a body decomposing in an office for possibly an entire day before being discovered. It was poignant that Pete Campbell was ultimately given the task of physically cutting Lane down after repeatedly cutting him down with words throughout this season.

However, despite being forced to improvise his own demise, Lane Pryce still managed to capture a modicum of elegance and grace in his grand exit. When Roger, Don, and Pete moved Lane’s body to the sofa in his office, an envelope fluttered out of his coat. Thinking it to be a sort of suicide note, Roger retrieved it and opened it in the hallway, looking for answers. Rather than offer a long explanation, personal message, or perhaps an absolution for those who he believed to have failed him, Lane left a simple, boilerplate letter of resignation. A boilerplate letter being a sort of template, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the letter opened with the phrase, “To whom it may concern.”

“To whom it may concern” has always been one of my least favorite phrases in the English language. I’ve personally always hated using it because to me, it implies that I don’t know who I’m writing to, that his or her name is unimportant. It’s very formal language and I’ve always thought stiff, formal language only serves to separate individuals from one another. It’s impersonal, intimidating, and often very cold. When I use “To whom it may concern,” I feel like I’m writing into a vacuum, shouting into a void, and all of that fun existential stuff.

Likewise, I’m not a big fan of receiving letters with that salutation, largely for the same reasons that I hate writing it. It makes me feel very small and unimportant. The writer of such a letter didn’t write the letter to me, he or she wrote it to a vague, nebulous idea of me. I, me, a person, is largely irrelevant in the equation.

By opening with “To whom it may concern” if Lane did, in fact, use it (and I’m leaning toward probably since it’s the standard boilerplate introduction) Lane effectively distanced himself from his peers not just in life, but in their thoughts. When I write “To whom it may concern,” I typically have very little faith that the person on the receiving end of such a letter will actually care what the letter says. Similarly, Lane knew, or rather, THOUGHT, that his co-workers held him in very low esteem, that they disrespected him and cared very little for his well-being. The use of a boilerplate resignation letter illustrated that Lane wanted the world to know that he quit—at both the firm, and at life—but he didn’t know who would find him or, more pressingly, who would even care.


Elsewhere, Sally’s storyline ran parallel to Lane’s and on a smaller scale, she also experienced the five stages. In her case, she lost her childhood. As Betty called it, “She became a woman,” by getting her first period and oh my god, Betty, could you pick a more awkward way to describe it? My OWN mother called it that and I just wanted to die. It was pretty traumatic. We were at a diner and she TOLD OUR FREAKING WAITRESS. I felt Sally’s pain. Anyway, knowing that something is coming doesn’t always make it easier to accept and Sally’s storyline this season has been largely concerned with her transition from Little Girl to Teenager. She has previously struggled with denial, by clinging to her spaghetti dinner in the beginning of “At the Codfish Ball,” and this week the "adult" boots she wasn't allowed to wear to Don's award dinner made a reappearance. There's been anger—a lot of anger—in Sally's rebellion against Betty and Henry and generally just being, well, an angry tween. She's taken after her father with the bargaining, exchanging good grades and behavior for TV time, where she tends, if you look closely, to watch some pretty adult subject matter, especially news reports about Vietnam. She has been depressed in the past, most notably illustrated by the end of “At the Codfish Ball” where she was disgusted by the more unsavory aspects of adulthood, but the onset of her monthly visitor, though initially frightening, seemed to push her closer to acceptance. I mean, it’s pure biology. There’s no point in fighting it.

Don was clearly devastated by Lane’s suicide and certainly blames himself on some level. We only saw the beginning of his own loss cycle, but he definitely aimed for denial by offering to drive Glen back to school after his not-date with Sally. He needed those few hours to process what he'd experienced before talking about it with Megan. However, Don didn’t completely ignore the guilt he felt over Lane’s death, though he definitely understood that there were more factors that contributed to it than just their meeting about the forged check. Perhaps seeing some of Lane’s disillusionment in Glen, a young man who we’ve watched grow from a confused child into a generally cynical young man, Don tried to give him at least one small piece of joy. He asked Glen what one thing would make him happy, which, apparently, was something as simple as driving. Glen looked so happy, and while Don didn’t exactly look HAPPY, he at least looked to be momentarily at peace.


What were your thoughts on Lane’s death? What do you think it means for the company? For the other partners?

  • Comments (55)
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  • mrivera Sep 06, 2012

    This is my favorite series but Sally and Glen really detract from it. Sally is a mouthy selfish b*tch and Glen is downright creepy. He's ugly, fat, and can't act to save his life. He got that part only because he's Weiner's son.

  • Ashok0 Jun 11, 2012

    Wow, finally an episode with about as much plot development as a trailer for Breaking Bad.

  • AZryan1 Jun 08, 2012

    While I thought it was done 'ok', Lane's end was nothing that hadn't been done before many times in many other movies or tv shows. I don't understand how people RAVE that this is the best show ever? It's done well, but not 'that' well.



    It was believable enough that Lane just chose to off himself, but really, he could've just asked the other partners for the money as a loan. Between all of them, it wouldn't have even been a big deal -as noted by Don saying he could've just given it to him himself. Also that the money owed was a relatively tiny amount in back taxes to England? That didn't exactly lend itself to seeing someone fall into a state of complete desperation.



    So the drama of it was pretty weakly set-up. They really should have done something to escalate his predicament. All he did was write one forged check he was going to pay back later on. It was one weak crime he was honestly going to repay before anyone hopefully saw it. I think they tossed in the wife giving him the Jag after he got caught with the check/forced to resign, just because he REALLY needed something 'more' to push him that far.

    I barely give the plot a 'pass', and note far better examples of 'tragic falls' from shows like The Shield, The Wire, even the brand new Homeland, lots more...

  • KennyCosgrove Jul 05, 2012

    You forget Lane is British. His pride and need to "keep up appearances" prevented him from asking for the money as a loan. He really had no choice but to do it the way he did.

  • CasaMal Jun 08, 2012

    The point of Mad Men is subtlety.

  • AZryan1 Jun 09, 2012

    'Subtley' isn't a 'point'. And neither was what you wrote.

  • MintberryCrunch Jun 08, 2012

    I disagree, the point was that Lane has been struggling finacially ever since he poured his money in to start the new firm. However being the good sport he is he soldiered on knowing that eventually his work would bear fruit.



    Then he is suddenley hit with this new expense which was more than 'a tiny amount in back taxes'. Now as you said he could've probably asked the other partners for a loan, but thats not Lane, he is too proud to accept that shame so he panicked and made a bad decision. Not unbelievable in my opinion, especially as he expected the christmas bonus in the new year.

    From there it spiralled out of control, the bonuses being cut completley and his wife continuing to live in ignorace of their new finiacil situation.

    Then the killer blow, he is caught and basically let go, suddenley all his money/work at SCDP is ruined and wasted. Not only that but his wife has added a Jag to the bills.



    Now the key here is Lane's pride, he would rather end it all than come clean to his wife and be forced to reutrn to England in shame and with nothing. Also there is the little note of life insurance for his wife to help her, at this point the best way he can provide finacially for her.



    So this is how he comes to his decision, hardly 'weakly set up'.



    Also Lane's death was obviously only a small part of what makes this show worth 'RAVE'ing about. Many people (myself obviously included) think it is currently one of the best written shows on TV.



    However i don't completley disagree, The Wire did indeed do some excellent 'tragic falls', but then again in my opinion The Wire is the best show i've watched, and surely any show which can draw comparitive discussion to that is doing pretty dam well.

  • AZryan1 Jun 09, 2012

    Mostly you just explain what happened on the show, which wasn't needed. Your point that he was 'struggling financially' was really just about those taxes.

    Other than that, he was 'getting by' as far as they told us. If I'm wrong, then tell me how much money he actually owed and to whom? If you have no real idea then you realize it's because it wasn't explained as anything more than those taxes being 'critical'.

    He was told he was actually getting a BIG break on that tax deal he got.



    Those back taxes were 'tiny' because one bonus he earned and 'almost got' would've covered it. I think they said $8K. For a top Madison Ave. partner in a major ad agency, he wasn't in crazy debt or in so deep into anything so tragic that he couldn't see any possible way out. He just 'gave up'.

    And people do that sure, but it was a weak 'push'.



    If he was 'that proud', then he would have solved the problem some other way. It was just 'giving up' at the end that was the big change, not 'pride'. And as I wrote, it was really just due to being fired for the one bogus bonus check. Don was right, Lane could've gotten another job, or couldn've been lent the money 'easily' once he'd LOST that pride and 'given up'.

    But 'some back taxes' just wasn't enough of a push, so they tossed in the wife buying him a Jag for a pretty not-subtle-at-all 'final push'.



    And just because I compared this to The Wire or The Shield doesn't mean that it makes this show 'any' better. You must not understand logic. You can compare things that are very over-rated to things that aren't and it doesn't make the over-rated things better because of the comparison. There are dozens and dozens of shows that are better than Mad Men.

  • MintberryCrunch Jun 09, 2012

    Yea I did re-cap what happened quite a bit, but I was trying to give my opinion of the thought process of Lane as his situation worsened, it seemed to me that your initial post ignored how his character would (and did) handle things and was more based on a general person's approach to everything, not Lane's.



    "Those back taxes....... He just 'gave up'." (<-in the interests of space)

    Fair point, the taxes may not have been huge, however this debt wasn't what made him choose suicide, the debt combined with his pride made him forge the cheque "why suffer the humiliation for a 13 day loan?!".

    Not until he loses his job is he financially broken "I owe taxes on my portfolio, which I liquidated to put $50,000 into this firm when we lost lucky strike.......I have never been compensated for my contributions to this company". So the assertion that "it was really just due to being fired for the one bogus bonus check" isn't correct. He is not just jobless and stuck with a $8000 debt, he has lost it all, his investment which was his worth.



    Fair enough, he could've got another job (of course in England as he said "I'll lose my visa") but he would have had to start lower once again and build back up.



    However the financial implications at this point aren't so important, losing his partnership and therefore his worth he would never be able to face his family, and I know I've laboured the point but that is due to his pride.



    The options you suggest he take just aren't available to him, that's his character and for me that was completley believable.





    In regards to my comments about The Wire and comparisons, they were somewhat joking in nature and weren't meant to be analysed too hard.

    I'm pretty certain I understand logic fine.

    "or The Shield doesn't mean that it makes this show 'any' better"

    "And people do that sure, but it was a weak 'push'."

    "because he REALLY needed something 'more' to push him"

    I'm not so certain you understand when to use apostrophes though.

  • AZryan1 Jun 11, 2012

    "-it seemed to me that your initial post ignored how his character would (and did) handle things and was more based on a general person's approach to everything-"



    Well it didn't do that at all. What Lane did, as I wrote, was 'realistic enough' (for what his character might do), but that's not a really well written character.



    Also, you must think this is an English assignment to not understand that I'm using apostrophes to HIGHLIGHT key words without using ALL CAPS like people hate. This is a casual blog post. You were taking a really silly shot there and again proving you're not terribly logical.



    Lane's road to ruin was so heavily based on his own stupidity (which you keep calling the far more honorable sounding 'pride'), that it WEAKENED his tragic ending a great deal. It made sense he killed himself, but his character arc was cheap and forced. And all to lead to the 'big shocking season finish'. It was too 'rigged up' and obvious.



    As I wrote, it was ok, but not great. I actually just read a Huff Post review writing much the same thing, so I may be in the minority, but I'm not the only one and 'pop opinion' is often wrong.



    Ironically, there was also a link to a list of tragic deaths on TV shows there, and there were so many better than Lane's, plus so many that didn't make it to the list, that it really illustrated just how gimmicky and forced Lane's demise really was compared to dozen and dozen before it.

    In pretty much every case the set-up to many other tragic deaths on a series were far better than this one.



    Again, my overall point is that this show is good, but more style over substance and over-rated. People are reading more into it than it's really presenting. The Joan's a big whore/full partner thing, dropping the Black Girl/Peggy/race issue elements, dropping the new Jewish guy's story they started to 'hint' at, Fat Betty's annoying silliness, Peggy was never seen talking to her new live-in b-friend about the change she was considering, so he just vanished at a point when it finally made sense for him to show up. The show just does tons of 'stuff' and throws it at all the walls.

  • ben45tpy Jun 07, 2012

    This episode was very powerful and this review was well written as always. As others have said below I think the 'to whom it may concern' thing is a bit off point. I also think that the whole five stages of grief motif is way off. Sure Pryce's talk with Don had elements of Denial, Anger and Bargaining but this was clear not Pryce's stages of grief, this was his desperate tactics for self-preservation, he was duplicitous and manipulative of Don. Pryce may very well have had well defined stages of grief but we didn't really see them in the episode and Sally had even less to do with the stages of grief so that was off point too. And Don's actions were not dictated by the stages of grief, his moment with Glen was nothing to do with denial over Lane's death, that suggestion was silly, it was however a lovely moment ; it's always great to see Don's tender side. It's strange to read a review around the five stages of grief when just a few weeks ago there was a Community episode that actually was specifically structured around the five stages, it's kind of surreal.

  • AZryan1 Jun 11, 2012

    I agree. She obviously just chose to use it as a framing device for an article. She thought it sounded clever, and no doubt a lot of people thought it really was.

    But these same people think Mad Men is tremendously clever as well..when it's often not.

  • MintberryCrunch Jun 07, 2012

    I think your paragraph about "To whom it may concern" is pretty needless as we don't know that is what it said, in fact we only know that the envelope said "To my fellow partners", hardly uncourteous. I think the letter was most to do with him not wanting to cause any fuss for anyone, the theory that it was a personal 'up yours' at Don is not Lane at all in my opinion.



    Great episode, incredibly impactful and top writing as always.



    I enjoyed your exploration of Don and Lane's conversation as showing the 5 signs of loss, but far too much of this article is just repeating what happened.



    More reviewing less recapping.

  • HelloStuart Jun 06, 2012

    "Richard Starkey?" As in Ringo Starr? Don't you mean Richard Speck?

  • JessicaDoty1 Jun 06, 2012

    Poor Lane, I liked him...and poor Joan who I know will feel guilt that her sharp rebuke of him somehow pushed him to commit suicide.



    Also, anyone else think Glen is creepy? That kid freaks me out, not just his looks but his awkward stiff movements...he just gives me the wiggins.

  • emmiegirl Jun 06, 2012

    Ok, I have to take a moment to recognize @ramoniia for totally predicting Lane Price hanging himself in the office, last week in "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" comments. I was still clinging to the hope that Pete Campbell would be put out of my misery.

  • alexccj1 Jun 06, 2012

    Sad to see Lane go. But his death may affect Don's work in a positive way for the company. We know that Don does a better job when he's not happy. Since he married Megan he's been happy and not contributed too much at SCDP, but Lane's death may spiral Don into some state of unhappiness which can lead him back to his old self in regards to work.

  • EngBlvd Jun 06, 2012

    It was a great episode and great season, but one question , is peggy olsen still on the show next year ?

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