How do you feel about suicide?
Can you imagine the pain, the despair, the utter helplessness a person about to take his own life must feel? Can you imagine that the only way out of your problems is to cease to exist? That you’ve done something so shameful, so embarrassing, that your only option is to kill yourself? Have you been there?
Probably not. You’re still here, aren’t you?
I don’t mean to make light of suicide. I don’t know you. Perhaps you have been there. Perhaps you’ve tried to take your own life. Perhaps you were saved by someone who found you before you slipped into the hereafter.
I imagine you’ve thought about suicide–about what it would be like. About how you’d do it, and why. To put an end to your misery. To show someone how much she’s hurt you. Because you’re tired–so goddamn tired that living seems like too much unpleasant work. Because you’re desperate, and that light of happiness you’ve been chasing your whole life has ceased to even flicker.
Of course, we’ve been waiting all of Season 5 of Mad Men for a violent, probably self-inflicted death, and we got it in Episode 12, “Commissions And Fees.” It’s been reasonably clear for a few episodes that our perpetrator and victim was going to be Lane Pryce.
And yet, when it happens, it’s so awful that it casts a pall over the entire season, if not the entire series. We didn’t need to see this.
In particular, we didn’t need to see Lane hanging by his tie from the ceiling of his office at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The camera lingers on the horrific sight of Lane hanging inert against his office door while Don and Roger and Pete figure out how to cut him down.
But it happened. What’s the camera supposed to do? How’s the camera supposed to make sense of anything?
Lane’s suicide makes sense from a story standpoint: if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen it coming. All the signs were there, as they usually are when it happens to someone you know.
So let’s dispense with all the other stuff that happened in Episode 12. Glen ditches school to visit Sally in the city. Sally has her first period. Don wants the Dow Chemical account. Various characters make pronouncements about the fleetingness of happiness. Peggy is still gone. Stay tuned for scenes from next week’s Mad Men.
And let’s talk for a moment about appropriate responses to suicide:
Shock. That’s the first one, isn’t it? Even with all the signs. It’s difficult to imagine someone you know actually following through and killing himself. It’s paralyzing.
Confusion. Why would anyone believe that the only way out of his problems is to die? Other than the fact that it’s true? We’ll always have problems–that’s life–but most of us eventually see that today’s problems will seem minor and distant as early as tomorrow. Despair is as fleeting as happiness: when you’ve hit bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Anger. Suicide is a cowardly, selfish act. It’s total abandonment of responsibility. No one is better off if you’re dead: every suicide I’ve ever known has scarred people for the rest of their lives. If you imagine the world is somehow better off without you, you’re wrong. If you think somehow you’re saving people from the shame of your scandal, you are one stupid motherfucker. Also: remember that suicide is murder.
Compassion. We can only imagine the pain–or, perhaps, the numbness–the suicide victim must feel (or not feel). Not to mention the pain he’s left for his family. How will Lane’s wife ever recover? His son? What of Don Draper, whose request for Lane’s resignation after he finds out Lane is embezzling from the firm is the straw that breaks his partner’s neck? How can you not feel for the people who are hurting–and the one who was hurting so badly that life didn’t seem worth living anymore?
Acceptance. Because what else is there to do? The awful thing has happened, and life goes on.
And Mad Men goes on. But it’s difficult to appreciate the show’s dark humor in the face of such a grisly development. (Difficult, but not impossible. The fact that Lane’s new Jaguar was so undependable that he couldn’t kill himself in it was pretty funny.) I for one am glad there’s only one episode left in Season 5. It’s been the best of Mad Men and the worst of Mad Men, and I need a break.
Not a permanent break. It’ll get better, right?