What is it about a self-hanging that seems to make it the saddest form of suicide? The visual image of Lane Pryce’s death was arresting enough — his grey, bloated face, dangling three feet above the ground (I was actually slightly surprised by the fact that they showed his body) — but symbolically, a hanging is different from either a suicide from a firearm or, as Lane had originally planned in what has to be the most bleakly hilarious set-piece this show has ever produced, carbon monoxide poisoning.
One of my favorite books, Killing Yourself to Live, by Chuck Klosterman, explains this idea way better than I would ever be able to, so I’ll just reproduce the passage here:
“There’s something especially poignant about people who hang themselves. Since hanging is understood as a form of capital punishment (and because capital punishment is a means to mollify the living), one always gets the sense that individuals who commit suicide by this method are literally executing themselves; they want to show society that they deserved to be punished.”
In a show filled with desperate and pathetic characters, pimps, whores, adulterers, gluttons, weasels, bad parents and bad spouses, Lane Pryce has been under-the-radar the most pathetic, desperate, and definitely saddest character for the past two seasons. While Don moped and Pete whined, Lane has been cast aside by his job (remember that the SCDP firm began because the English firm Lane worked for was planning on sending him to India), beaten by his father, disrespected by his colleagues, considered a criminal by his home country, called a homo by his “friend,” and what finally did him in, caught as a thief by his colleagues, for forging Don’s name on a $7,500 check to pay for his back taxes.
Everything in this season of Mad Men has hinted towards death — the talk of the Richard Speck murders in Chicago from Episode 4, Pete’s life insurance conversation, the elevator void Don found himself staring into — and here it came, in the form of Lane Pryce hanging in his office with a noose around his neck. By coupling his suicide with only a boilerplate resignation letter (which was hands down the saddest part of the episode), Lane was making it clear: this was his punishment for everything he had done.