Last night on Mad Men, we saw a great example of foreshadowing by repeating images.* I want to briefly look at how they did it.
First, Lane (the miserly, uptight Brit currently running Sterling Cooper's offices) is given a stuffed snake in a basket. His bosses mean it to represent his promotion to head of an office in India. But because Lane knows he's being shunted aside, it's symbolic of power and failure all in one glance. This dangerous snake can't bite anymore.
Next, in the context of a private meeting to discuss business, Conrad Hilton shows Don a pair of cartoon ads featuring a mouse. When Don points out that nobody wants to think about a mouse in a hotel room, Conrad admits the mouse is his idea. We're meant to conclude that Don is better at this than the guy on the cover of next week's Time magazine, but the cartoon character mouse is also symbolic of something else, I think, something juvenile, something to do with immature -- as in not fully grown -- concepts.
Finally, Don attempts to explain his lack of greed by telling a story: Some snakes can go months without eating, and then when they finally catch a mouse, they are so starved that they can eat too quickly and suffocate to death on their meal.
That's it. That's his story. Snake eats mouse and dies.
We don't need next week's preview to let us know that the Hilton account will go badly because of Lane's poor stewardship, do we?
But here's the question I haven't been able to answer yet. When you have paired symbolic objects like this -- two snakes, two mice -- those pairings are not accidental. So. We also have two Genes. Grandpa Gene and baby Gene. This was a big issue in last night's episode. Young Sally is all freaked out because she thinks baby Gene is actually Grandpa Gene. Wakes up screaming, ditches her gift-from-Gene Barbie in the bushes, all sorts of troubled-child behavior.
And there's already a suggestion of immaturity with the mouse, and of death with the snake.
How do the two Genes fit in with the two snakes and two mice? Do they?
*This isn't quite the same as motif (recurrent images or statements used to develop theme), leitmotif (pairing two unique items so that the presence of one always indicates the presence of the other -- think dun-dun music and the shark in Jaws) , ordinary symbolism (an object used to indicate an abstract idea), or "Chekhov's gun" type foreshadowing (which allows for no unnecessary objects, such as stuffed snakes in baskets). But those are posts for different days. :)