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Foreshadowing death and other stuff

June 14, 2013

Regular readers of this blog know I watch Mad Men, and though my love of the show has cooled somewhat this season, it still gives me plenty to think about when it comes to the craft of storytelling. The show’s per-occupation with death is nearly as enormous as its fascination with sex, drinking at work, and attention to historical detail. The death obsession started with the opening sequence of the very first show, in which a man–presumably protagonist Don Draper, falls from a skyscraper.

Last year’s pre-0ccupation with death ended with Lane Pryce–played by Jared Harris–hanging himself after being caught embezzling money to cover tax debt. The obsession continued from the beginning of this year, including this shot of Donny Sunshine sleeping.

One of the the most recent harbingers of doom was a picture of Don’s wife (for now) Megan. The scene was jarring, because the outfit wasn’t typical for the character–or any character on the show, for that matter–and because she was outside in her underwear.

If I were a little older, I might have found the image jarring for a different reason. Actress and model Sharon Tate took a picture wearing the same shirt the year before she was murdered as part of the Manson family murders. The image isn’t suitable for this blog–the t-shirt is white, after all–but you can see it here. In a dream sequence, Megan tells Don she’s pregnant. Ms. Tate was pregnant when she was murdered. Among the Mad Men corner of the Internet, Megan’s toe tag is nearly complete.

From its beginning Mad Men has used tools like this to foreshadow events. The following image evoked images of Jackie Kennedy in Dallas later in 1963 (the image comes from 1963).

Early in the series, Don called his wife Betty Birdie. The episode in which it became obvious that the inevitable end of their marriage was coming soon featured the musical Bye, Bye Birdie.

The question for you as a reader and writer is whether these types of hints work for you–if you notice them. Do they enrich the experience or do they distract you?

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3 Comments
  1. June 15, 2013 6:14 am

    I absolutely think these instances of foreshadowing enrich the story. When they are done artfully, they create a feeling of unease which the reader or viewer may or may not be able to pinpoint the cause, but feels nonetheless.

  2. June 15, 2013 3:39 pm

    Matthew Weiner and crew are such skilled and inventive writers, I think Mad Men will surprise everyone who is making predictions. I sure hope it does, anyway.

    The very best and most gratifying foreshadowing for me as a reader is the kind that doesn’t make what’s going to happen next obvious or predictable, but makes total sense–in a clever “I should have seen that coming” kind of way when I look back. Foreshadowing shouldn’t call attention to itself.

  3. Chris Hamilton permalink
    June 15, 2013 6:25 pm

    From my Facebook feed…Odds of someone buying it on Mad Men this week:
    Megan: 9-5
    Betty: 2-1
    Sally: 3-1
    Silvia: 5-1
    Bert: 7-1
    Arnold: 9-1
    Pete: 10-1
    Bob Benson: 12-1
    Someone else: 15-1
    Peggy: 17-1
    Roger: 20-1
    Smitty the doorman: 25-1
    Joan: 35-1
    Don: 50-1

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