As the Emmys approach (September 23), Vulture reached out to nominees to pose the question, “What was your favorite episode from the last season of your show?” Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, The Good Wife’s Christine Baranski, Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, and Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever have weighed in. Today we have Mad Men’s Jared Harris.
The Episode: “Signal 30”
It was a too-brief moment of triumph, but Lane got his where it counted. After Pete mocked his having tried and failed to land a luxury automobile client for the firm, Lane called him out for being a “grimy little pimp” and then socked him. “The room was packed for that rehearsal,” Jared Harris told us. “I mean, people who weren’t in that scene, who weren’t due on set, showed up just to watch.”
It was a short fight but a carefully choreographed one. “[Mad Men boss Matthew Weiner] wanted Lane to have that old-fashioned, standing-very-upright style of fighting, almost all the way back to the eighteenth-century prize fighting where you invert the way your fists are,” Harris says. (The actor was very familiar with what Weiner wanted, having boxed off and on since he was 7 years old.) “I would do that, and Pete would do the American bob and weave style. The important thing, though, was that we both be fairly crap at it. Two nerds squaring off with each other.”
The win, however fleeting, was welcome. Lane’s ambitious fantasy life had become overwhelmingly cringe-worthy in the show’s fifth season; viewers watched him hold on to that picture of a pretty girl he took from a stranger’s wallet and then fail spectacularly at trying to channel Roger’s slick salesmanship with Jaguar. “You can see really clearly that he is trying to become one of the big boys, and the bean-counting thing is just not sexy,” Harris says. And so, Lane’s triumph over Pete is followed up with an awkward kiss with Joan. “John Slattery directed the episode and his note on that scene was that she shouldn’t stop the kiss,” Harris says. “Lane lunges for her in that very inexpert way that never works out. There needs to be some sort of warning, doesn’t there? ‘Incoming!’ He just can’t get a break.”
Harris saw his sad end coming earlier in the season: “At one point, Lane tells Joan that she could do his job, easily. I think one of Matt’s operating principles for the characters is that they have to be vital to the health of the company. Once I read that line to Joan, I thought, Uh oh. The writing’s on the wall.” But the actor tells us, happily, some viewers really sympathized. “My girlfriend and I were at a bar in the Charlotte Street Hotel recently and a guy sent over a drink. I went over to thank him, and it turns out he was the chief financial officer at an advertising agency in London. He wanted to commiserate with Lane’s position. He said, ‘You know, no one understands how difficult this job is. No one really thanks you!’”
In the end, Lane never could accept going unacknowledged. “He’s a very uncomfortable character,” Harris says. “He was just not happy in his own skin. I think the sad thing is what he liked about America is the idea that you can reinvent yourself. He recognized that possibility, and he tried to, but the old habits were so deeply ingrained. The most difficult thing to change about himself was himself.”