It began as a mere coincidence in 1972’s The Godfather — the set designer peppered several scenes with oranges to give the somberly dressed sets some color — but because everyone seemed to die with an orange (or oranges) in sight, the coincidence took on new meaning.
Since then, the symbolism of an orange has become loaded, as everyone from Vince Gilligan to Seth MacFarlane has used oranges — and the color orange — to foreshadow death in their films and television shows. It’s why in this week’s episode of Mad Men, which sees Roger Sterling juggling oranges and the men of Sterling Cooper and Partners fighting over a Sunkist account, that we shouldn’t take those scenes lightly. Oranges signal the arrival of impending disaster. It’s possible that Roger’s orange juggling trick merely foreshadowed the events at the end of the episode — Sally catching Don “comforting Mrs. Rosen” — or it could be foreshadowing a death by the end of the season.
I’m not suggesting anything specific here, mind you, or a grand theory: I’m just saying that a man like Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner doesn’t introduce oranges randomly and without reason. There’s a long history of oranges being used to foreshadow disastrous events, and Weiner is well aware of that — he is, after all, one of the leading abusers of this trope.
Here’s just a sampling of the instances in which oranges have been used to foreshadow death and disaster in films (spoilers for lots of things you should have probably already seen by now).
Children of Men — Just before the car is attacked, Miriam peels an orange in the back seat. Just before the refugee camp falls into chaos, Kee and Marichka share orange slices over the baby.
Requiem for a Dream — The man peeling the orange (and the orange truck) in the scene where the characters go to receive a new shipment of drugs not only indicates their next destination – Florida – but also serves to indicate disaster.
Point Break — When Johnny and Angelo are staking out the bank, a man walks past and offers them oranges. This is followed by Johnny hurting his knee and many people being shot.
Family Guy — In the “Patriot Games” episode, before Stewie delivers a mob style beating on Brian he finishes a glass of Orange Juice.
Lost — Hello John Locke.
RocknRolla — When Lenny Cole and Yuri are talking business after the first payment of money has been stolen, there are oranges on the table they are having a drink at. The presence of oranges foreshadows the death of a character.
Big Love — In the series finale, Bill Paxton’s character puts an orange peel in his mouth. He dies in the episode.
The Wire — I’d never noticed it before, but in the scenes leading up to Omar’s death, how many times do you see the color orange (including that bottle of Sunkist next to his corpse)?
Breaking Bad — Not for nothing, but if you watch this montage of Breaking Bad deaths, notice just how many people who either kill or are killed are wearing orange or yellow.
Also, after Ted falls and nearly dies in Breaking Bad, what would befall him but oranges?
The Sopranos — Oranges often foreshadowed death in The Sopranos (a show Matt Weiner was a writer/producer on), and some argue that the fact that Tony Soprano had eaten an orange in the series finale erased the ambiguity at the end of the episode, i.e., Tony did die.
I will also add this. At the end of last season, Vulture created a very cool video of all the instances that we missed foreshadowing the death of Lane. One such moment was this: Here’s a shot of Don Draper after he found out Lane had died, and a shot of Lane before he died.
When I saw that, the very first image I thought of was this, from this week’s episode.
Also, last season saw Don Draper force orange sherbert down Megan’s gullet, and from the penultimate episode of Mad Men, which saw Lane Pryce die, there were lots of orange colors. Check it, from the Houston Chronicle, after the fact:
To be sure, orange has always been a significant color in the design spectrum of “Mad Men,” and so it has continued this year, reaching a kind of climax with last Sunday’s penultimate episode of the season (the orange Mets pennant on Lane Pryce’s wall, Glen Bishop’s orange and blue parka, the orange hot water bottle Betty gives to Sally after she gets her first period, Megan’s orange top).
Look, I don’t know who is going to die — Pete, Don, Betty, Bob, Bert, Megan, Peggy, Ted, or Roger — but BY GOD somebody is going to die by season’s end.