In the wake of Mad Men’s Season 5 Finale, I can’t help but feel that the proceedings were distinctly anti-climactic. The previous two episodes paid off on the season’s slow burn, seeing Joan prostitute herself for the team, Peggy finally saying goodbye to the agency, and Lane…well…damn.
A moment for Lane Pryce’s departure from Madison Avenue…that was certainly unexpected. And it was unexpected throughout the episode, even as things unraveled, even after his first horribly ironic failed suicide attempt, right up until the point Joan tried to open his office door Monday morning. And then the shock of actually seeing the poor man, the frantic debate over the dignity of the deceased, Don’s secret remorse. It was all brilliantly done and all tragically in-character for a man who gave his all to any company he worked for and only fell when he took some for himself.
That said, his unfortunate death is probably to the show’s benefit. Mad Men has a huge cast of characters at this point and there just can’t be enough time to adequately explore them all. Lane’s story arc since his role in Season 3’s daring jailbreak has sputtered and whimpered and it was clear that these usually-masterful wordsmiths didn’t quite know what to do with this British pencil-pusher.
Peggy’s departure, on the other hand, is troubling. It is really difficult to imagine the series without her, it’s hard to see her crawling back to SCDP (SCD, now?) for a realistic reason, and it’ll be tricky to juggle yet another regular character off at some other place. But she really had outgrown her role as Don’s protege, and wasn’t given a lot to do this season. Doubly unfortunate because what she was given she did remarkably, actress Elisabeth Moss at the very top of her game imbuing Peggy with delightful warmth, wryness, and comfort with herself that we’ve never seen from the character before. I hope that we’ll be able to continue to follow Peggy’s adventures, but it will likely strain the framework of the show.
Don’s season-long arc as The White Knight seems to finally come to an end as Megan gives him ample reason to no longer respect her. He had genuinely fallen in love with the formerly-independent, driven, and talented young woman, but she somehow morphed into another version of Betty; another failed actress/model riding her husband’s coattails. And his guilt over the role he played in Lane’s suicide conjurs up a hallucination of his dead brother, Adam. The question for Don in Season 5 seemed to be “Are you being too good for your own good?” The finale answers, “Yes, yes he was.”
But in general, the finale doesn’t set up much. Past finales have been near-cliffhangers, leaving us in the midst of dramatic changes. This one was mostly the aftermath of the changes and, as a result, felt more like a series finale. Where Season 6 will go is pretty up in the air.
Overall, while still one of if not THE best show on television, Season 5 was a let-down. Widely-scattered characters with less and less to do hurt the focus and thrust of the storyline. And Season 4 would be a hard act for anyone to follow, especially after a 15-month hiatus. Still, it’s going to be another long, painful wait until we can see Draper & Company suit up again.
And a final parting word to Mr. Lane Pryce: Thanks for being the first, if not the last, person to beat the shit out of Pete Campbell.