The Pryce of Success

by: Michael Shields

Our second character obituary in as many posts remembers Mad Men’s fussy British accountant, a man will we regretfully venture into Season 6 without…..

I tend to gravitate to the oddballs.  Those that just don’t quite fit in, regardless of how hard they try.  If I were, by some chance, a puzzle piece – I believe I would be one of those doomed to life in the miscellaneous box, the box that houses all the lost misplaced pieces just in case (you never throw a puzzle piece away – that will come back and haunt you), and I would be close acquaintances with all the other miscellaneous pieces – not just because of shared circumstance mind you, but because that is who I tend to relate to the most – those lost in limbo, far from their puzzle.

Lane Pryce, the fussy British Financial Officer who has been a mainstay on Mad Men the past three seasons, could easily be described as one of these odd birds we are talking about.  Lane was implanted into Sterling Cooper by the British Agency who acquired the successful firm, and although as pleasant a man as you will find, he struggled to gain acceptance until the day he took his own life.

Lane ((Played magnificently by Jared Harris.)) was born into a upper-class household in London and grew into a strong man under the tutelage of his father’s ever so watchful, and cane-wielding, eye.  Lane, after serving as a supply assistant at the Rosyth Royal Navy Dockyard, was lucky enough to meet the girl of his dreams, Rebecca, and eventually these two young lovers wed. They were later blessed with a son they christened Nigel.

He earned a degree in Advertising, and was plucked from amongst a sea of talented candidates to join the prestigious ad agency Puttnam, Powell and, Low where he excelled at reducing overhead and increasing billing.  This made him an ideal candidate to send overseas on the fateful day PPL purchased the New York based Sterling Cooper ((In the episode “Out of Town” – Lane’s first appearance.)) to handle all financial matters.  Lane Pryce served PPL loyally, and later went on to become a Junior Partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. He will fondly be remembered as one of the most compelling and enjoyable characters Mad Men will ever present……

Don Draper is no saint.  But regardless of his corrupt and immoral behavior, he is also not a villain. He is a tragic hero; one whose past unmercifully haunts him and because of this he is incapable of realizing true happiness ((“What is happiness?  It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” – Don Draper)).  He is an internally tormented man who attempts to fill his emotional voids with booze and woman, which surprisingly does not provoke us to despise him, but to sympathize with him.  Don Draper is also the type of man who knows exactly when another man necessitates a night on the town….

In the episode “The Good News” Don finds Lane in the office reeling from the fact his wife had left him.  Don persuades Lane to join him for a movie, dinner, and a prearranged visit with a pair of call girls ((Lane graciously thanks Don the next day, stopping by his office to pay him for the “welcome distraction.” Don should have thanked him in return for the brilliant Texas belt-buckle gag.)).  This evening was not only exactly what the doctor ordered for Lane, but it was also responsible for some of the more memorable moments in Mad Men history.

As Lane’s life spiraled out of control he found the time to do two things that every warm-blooded male dreams of.  The first was that he, while in the office conference room, engaged in fist-a cuffs with that “grimy little pimp” Pete Campbell ((In the episode entitled “Signal 30.”)). Roger, while asking if he was the only one who wanted to see this occur ((The answer is emphatically NO!)), lit a cigarette as the confrontation commenced, and stood front row with Don and Bert Cooper to watch Lane “address the insult” and give Pete his “last piece of advice”, defeating him soundly to the delight of every last one of us.

The second jealousy inducing moment of Lane’s downward spiral occurred immediately after the altercation with Pete, when Lane misinterpreted Joan’s desire to comfort him as affections of the heart, and he kissed her.  Joan did not kiss him back, but nor did she run from the room; rather she remained with Lane, forgave his action, and consoled him by letting him know that what he had done to Pete is what everyone in the office has wanted to do for some time.  Lane and Joan had an unlikely friendship.  Whether it was because she pitied him, or genuinely thought he was a good man, Lane and Joan frequently sought each other out in times of need.  They were a true odd couple as friends and a reminder that we all need people in our lives, to help us walk through this often wicked world, and it’s sometimes surprising who that person turns out to be.

It’s fun to think that maybe Lane’s bucket list was two items long – Kiss Joan, Knock out Pete – and then his work here on Earth would be done.  But the sad truth is that Lane dug himself into financial ruin.  When it all came crashing down upon him in Don’s office ((In “Rites of Passage” – an episode that displays Jared Harris’s magnanimous talents. “I can’t go back to England like this.  What will I tell my wife?  What will I tell my son?”)) Lane saw no way out.  Through forging checks and then lying to Don ((Who, we can all agree, had no choice but to fire Lane.)), he had unwittingly chosen a path for himself he could not bear to live with. And his constantly homesick wife hammered the last nail into the coffin when she bought a Jaguar ((A blatant symbol of his failure.)) with money they did not have. Lane did not know how to ask for help, or from whom.  The cross he bore was far too heavy for him, and although there is always an answer, and although there is always a solution, Lane could not find it – and chose to leave the world before his time.  Leaving those of us left in this Lane-less universe yearning for that eccentric who usually kept his head tucked deep within his shell, but when he let his hair down he was a cheeky bugger, and a hell of a good time ((Don gave him the weekend “to think of an elegant exit”, although not elegant he sure crafted an unforgettable one.)).

It is important not to forget that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would not exist without Lane (thus the Price of course) ((Lane was left out of the loop when PPL resold the firm to McCann Erickson forcing his hand.  On December 13th, 1963 Lane freed Don, Bert, and Roger from their contracts allowing them to all start their own company.)), and his legacy will now haunt the office halls for years to come.  Don will surely dwell on his role in Lane’s death ((Lane’s suicide, in Don’s eyes, could be looked at much like Adam Whitman’s – who Don dismissed and drove to suicide in Season 1.))  and unfortunately Joan is already wondering if this could have been avoided if she had accepted his advances ((“Why didn’t I give him what he wanted?” she asks Don in “The Phantom’”.)).  Lane’s passing has left a perpetual stain at SCDP, and his death also serves as a warning to his fellow co-workers – that the game they play can have dire consequences.

Lane was the American Dream – and an example of how it can shatter so very easily.  He adamantly desired to escape England (and his father) and to be remade new again in America. Although often unappreciated, isolated ((“I’ve been here 10 months and no one’s ever asked me where I went to school.” – Lane Pryce in “The Color Blue”)), horny ((Few can forget the Playboy Club days, and Toni.)), and burdened with debt he truly could be found each week doing his best and trying to figure it all out.  He was the portrait of a man who yearns for so much more, who desired to be free, and just did not know how.  He endured a relentless pursuit to fit in at the all-American boys club of SCDP, and ultimately never succeeded.

The viewers who have related to his struggle will miss Lane, as will those at SDCP who knew he was not a bad man – but rather a casualty of the struggles of everyday life. For those who feel a bit out of place sometimes – he was our guy, and it is a shame that when Season 6 premieres this weekend that we are without the man who when told that he was fired for “costing this company (PPL) millions of pounds” and “for insubordination” and “for lack of character” responded cheerfully – “Very good. Happy Christmas!” ((In the episode “Shut the Door, Have a Seat.” – one of the finer episodes of any television show to date.))

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