This season of Mad Men is all about death. "Lady Lazarus" was no exception. Named after a Sylvia Plath poem about the art of dying and rebirth, the episode depicts Megan's death in advertising and her rebirth as an actress. The hauntingly empty elevator shaft that opens after Megan says goodbye symbolizes her final separation from the office, a death in the severed ties (or wires).
Even before it began, the controversial falling-man-promo poster inflicted a sense of impending doom on the upcoming season. Taken from the opening credits, the falling man has always been a representative image of the series, but this isolated frame left us wondering who we might see fall out of the Madison Avenue window. After the most explicitly death-filled episode, "Signal 30," in which a beaten-up-and-down Pete declares he has "nothing," many critics speculated it would be him. Among others, Salon and Jezebel predict Pete's death, while Vulture addresses the death-obsessed season and likens it to the fifth stage of the Kübler-Ross model of grief: acceptance. Last night, Pete tells his train companion Howard that he has life insurance and "after two years, it covers suicide."
Even though it's the first time we've seen Don Draper happy, an undeniable feeling of doom permeates the season. Fat Betty has a cancer scare, feverish Don dream-murders an ex-fling, Greg goes back to war, and Roger faces his own mortality and mounting irrelevance as they talk about bombs, riots, plane crashes, the Richard Speck student-nurse murders, and Charles Whitman sniper shootings. But it's more than that. Not only is death in the plot foreground and contextual background of the story, but, less obviously, it's on the screen, in the images and the language, the side conversations, the background shots, and the jokes. Plus, as has been noted, Richard Speck + Charles Whitman = Richard Whitman = Dick Whitman = Don Draper.
It's easy to miss on a first or even second viewing, but this season's script is saturated with death words, images, and references, using commonplace death idioms and metaphors to talk about daily, nonthreatening events. We knew Matthew Weiner was good, but we didn't realize how good. He's throwing death in our faces and we're almost too close to see it. We just feel it. So, to show you how deeply embedded death is in this season, we've compiled a video below of Season 5's oh-so-many death references (we couldn't even fit them all!). We call it: Mad Men Death Watch.
Now the question is, what can all this mean? Its overwhelming presence must be pointing to some sort of death but will it be real or metaphorical? Will Pete die? Or is it just symbolic of the death of the older generation, and like the Sylvia Plath poem, the rebirth of the new one born out of its ashes? If not, who's most at risk?