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SPOILERS – DO NOT read ahead unless you have watched Episode 12 of Mad Men Season 5!
The last two episodes of Mad Men before the finale have seen two main characters of the great Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office (which almost became Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Harris nee Holloway Cosgrove in the penultimate episode) bow out.
One – Peggy – left in uncertain triumph, by the elevator, to a new life. The other – Lane Pryce – left in much more tragic circumstances, hanged, ghastly grey, and almost certainly in a body bag.
Some time ago I predicted that either Lane or Pete would be getting the firing treatment, but I never imagined that Lane would end his time in America so regrettably. He certainly wasn’t my favourite character – us British could hardly ever find ourselves warming to such a tallyho over-the-top accent, even with the recent Jubilee celebrations. His face also had the misfortune of often resembling that of a confused puppy that had been chiselled out of a craggy rock face.
But to see him give up everything because of a moment of weakness reminds us all that Mad Men, whilst faltering in this recent season, still can pull the punches. Anyone who’s read Arthur Miller will recognise the familiar tropes of a man who without his work is nothing. With Matthew Weiner, it’s given that extra knife in the ribs when even his first mode of suicide and recently added office account – the Jaguar car – is unable to perform the required duty.
Peggy’s future, although a lot brighter and well, more realistic than Pryce’s, still is tinged with a strange dread. Although she went out in a blaze of The Kinks and a smile on her face, one couldn’t help but wonder whether there was something forced about this supposedly happy exit. Perhaps it was because of the suddenness of it all – we’ve all seen her threaten to leave many times before, so when she actually did it, it came as quite the shock. I can’t imagine this will be the last we see of Peggy, but will it ever be the same? Perhaps it’s also the fact that once she walks out the door of SCDP, writer Weiner can no longer control her life – once again as her career stops, so does her plot line and thus her need to exist. In fact, the worry is more that, as the series moves on and away with the lives of the office, if we do see Peggy again – will we care?
I mentioned faltering in this season and there certainly has been some. Betty has become an obese ghost to the Draper household and her scenes now lack the depth (but not the girth!) that they once had. Don himself has started to look old, tired, without the sharpness of before. Characters and plot lines have been picked up, then never followed through (the opening concerning the black rights movement and the hiring of a new black secretary was made a big deal of then never mentioned again). The drinking got strained rather than frivolous. Even taking LSD was beautiful and controlled rather than reckless and daring.
But all this may change for the finale. Lane’s suicide will no doubt have a sizeable impact on Don – don’t forget that this is the second hanging that he’s had a part in – the first being his own brother in season one. We’re already starting to see glimmers of the old Draper, bursting into Ed Baxter’s office and offering all he’s got. If a career really is all the workers at SCDP exist for, then let’s see how far Don – wild, reckless and vicious – can go.