Monday, September 21, 2009

Foreshadowing with Recurrent Images

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. :)


Anonymous said...

Me, I want to point out that Joan (about the only character I really like) saved the day (if not the foot) with the quick first aid.

So is Roger being shunted aside? He's right-- they deliberately left him off the flow-chart.

Wynter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dara Edmondson said...

There might be a little foreshadowing in Joan's dress, covered in blood. Or that Peggy couldn't stand the sight of blood without fainting. Maybe she's not so ready to tangle with the big boys. Roger, on the other hand was unaffected by the gore.

Edittorrent said...

I think Joanie is shaping up to be the most interesting character this season. I read somewhere -- forget where, but it might have even been in our comment threads -- that season one was about the men, season two was about the women, and season three is about the children.

If this is true, then Joan might be the true grown-up. She certainly has the mature and appropriate response for everything. She's capable. Her ego is in check. It's sometimes hard to remember that she's the same woman who had that dumb affair with Roger.

That shot of the ad men standing there, slack-jawed and blood-spattered? File that one under, "a picture is worth a thousand words." I'll never get that image out of my head. And Joan had not just the right emergency response, but the right post-trauma emotional response. "He woke up this morning on top of the world, and then some secretary ran him over with a lawnmower."

Roger had some good black humor moments, too, ("It looks like Iwo Jima out there. The guy lost his foot, and he had just gotten it in the door.") At first I thought we were being led to see that Joan and Roger were actually right for each other -- same humor -- but then I changed my mind. He was joking from a place of coldness, and she was joking from a sad warmth.

Gotta love Joan.

But is Grandpa Gene a dead snake?


Edittorrent said...

Dara, yes, Peggy fainted, and that shows she's got her weaknesses-- good call!

T, I kinda liked Gene, and the idea of naming a baby after a newly dead dad... creepy, but this is the 21st C. Back then, they thought of that as an honor, I guess. Sally seems like she's reacting the way WE would, and so maybe she's our stand-in.

As far as Gene as the snake-- he's the real rival for Betty's affections. So even if he didn't mean to be a problem, as long as he was around, he gave Betty (and Sally) another male ideal, maybe?

Adrian said...

I was a little confused by Sally waking up screaming in the middle of the night. I thought she had awakened and saw that the doll had returned to her room and assumed that it had been scary baby Gene or the ghost of Grandpa Gene. (Remember, this is just about the time Twilight Zone aired the creepy Talky Tina episode ("Living Doll"): November, 1963.) But that wasn't mentioned as the trigger, so I'm not sure what caused the spontaneous outburst.

There was also a color thing going on. Joan wore a green dress for her going away. They mentioned that she was moving onto "greener pastures", which, of course, is where the green lawnmower belonged. And, depending on your color wheel, green is the complementary color to the red blood that splattered everywhere, including her dress. Symbolic of her ruined green pasture?

Edittorrent said...

Ooh, Adrian, good catch on the color thing. I hadn't thought about that. Now I want to go back and find other uses of green and red in the episode!

I do think the doll was the trigger for the screaming. The doll is symbolic of baby Gene/dead Gene on some level, and Sally threw the doll into the bushes. Just as she rejected the baby and refuses to go near him, she rejected the doll.

You know, I forgot to mention this, but I loved the use of fairies to explain the note card on the doll. In the earliest fairy myths, fairies are the spirits of the dead. So there's another conflation of the two Genes -- dead Gene the fairy wrote the note card for the baby Gene.

Interesting stuff.


Edittorrent said...

I remember an amazing short story (well, of course, not the title or author) where a little boy recently lost his mother. He has misplaced a beloved toy, and his father, not wanting him to feel more pain, hears him praying to God that the toy would be recovered. Well, Dad goes out and gets him a replacement toy and tells him, "I found it!" and the boy thinks his prayer was answered. Then Dad hears him praying to God that his mom will come back.

Great use of irony and pathos-- and "wrong thing for the right reason" action. (Anyone know this story? I'd love to use it in a class.)

Anyway, Don did the wrong thing for the right reason, but at least he is trying!

I think what is traumatizing Sally is death. And how weird that her baby brother is the "reincarnation"-- death is scary enough.