This video essay and its accompanying text also appear today on Vulture, the blog of New York Magazine; the staff of Vulture asked Press Play‘s editors to contribute a piece on Mad Men, and this was the result.
[Editor’s note: this article and the accompanying video contain spoilers for all of season five of Mad Men. Read or click at your own risk.]
Now that Mad Men has drawn to a close and we prepare to spend the rest of the summer looking back on a particularly dense season, we can reflect on all the clues that led to one of this year’s biggest plot turns — Lane Pryce’s suicide. The show’s death obsession dominated recaps and comments threads throughout the last twelve weeks, and with good reason. Every episode contained one or more hints that a major character would die. Indeed, more so than any other season of Mad Men, this one earns the adjective novelistic. No single episode can be considered wholly apart from any other; each chapter replenishes the death/mortality motif in imaginative, sometimes playful ways.
This video essay, titled “A Death Foretold,” collects a few of the more obvious and subtle predictors from season five. The piece is a joint effort by me; writer Deborah Lipp, who recaps the show for my IndieWire blog Press Play and co-publishes the Mad Men–centric blog Basket of Kisses; and Kevin B. Lee, the site’s editor-in-chief and in-house cutter. It’s not meant to be comprehensive; we originally compiled a three-page list of death references, then realized if we put them all in one video it would have been as long as a Mad Men episode! But we hope it’ll offer the show’s fans another pretext (as if we need any) to pick apart the show’s narrative architecture and argue about whether a cigar is just a cigar.
A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for New York Magazine and a finalist for the Pulitzer prize in criticism. He has worked as a movie critic for The New York Times, New York Press, and New Times Newspapers, and as a TV critic for The Star-Ledger of Newark. His video essays about Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, Budd Boetticher, Wes Anderson, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann and other directors can be viewed at the The Museum of the Moving Image web site. Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door, a website devoted to critical writing about popular culture. His book-length conversation with Wes Anderson about his films, titled The Wes Anderson Collection, will be published in fall 2012 by Abrams Books.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.