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Monday, October 17, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Season 4, Episode 6
If you're not familiar with "Breaking Bad", then here is a brief synopsis of the past three seasons. Walter White, a middle class chemistry teacher, is shocked to learn that he has lung cancer. The meager and mild-mannered man, who has not earned enough in life to ensure the welfare of his family after his demise, makes a crucial decision. Make meth. He recruits the serves of Jesse Pinkman, his former meth head student. They quickly gain the attention of some unsavory characters that lead them into a world of murders and lies. Season three opens with Walter and Jesse fearing for their lives from their drug kingpin employer. The reason I give this synopsis is not to convince you to watch (which you should), but because it is essential to the scene I am going to discuss.
The scene I've chosen to analyze is an instance in the show where the personalities of Walter and Heisenberg, Walter's drug enforcer alter-ego, begin to clash with one another. The stylistic devices and shot selection illustrates a pivotal moment where Walter's home life and drug life begin to blend together. The scene also serves to enlighten Skyler, Walter's wife, about her husband's darker side.
The scene opens up with a close-up on Skyler trying to convince her husband that their only option is to turn to the police to avoid the threat facing her husband. The scene obeys the 180 degree rule and uses shot reverse shot to capture the conversation between these characters. The camera during the conversation is placed over the shoulder of the characters at eye level creating a sense of intimacy and urgency that is reinforced by the dialogue.
The use of sound and position of the characters in the scene demonstrates a sense of power and control (common themes in the show). The scene is absent of any music, which emphasizes dialogue. Skyler's voice dominates the scene and overpowers Walter as he rejects her proposal to seek help from the police. As the camera cuts back forth between the two, Skyler's voice is omnipresent in the scene. Her voice is heard even when the camera is not focused on her. Furthermore, Skyler is also visually more dominating than Walter. While Walter is shown hunched over and quivering at the mention of the threat to him, Skyler is confident as she asserts Walter's inability to handle the danger.
Walter, shown in a close-up, becomes frustrated with his wife and rises. To maintain continuity the editor employs match on action and shows Walter continuing to rise in a two shot. Walter is shown walking away unbuttoning his shirt. The camera cuts back to a mid shot of Skyler still seated pleading with her husband to recognize that he is too weak to handle this danger. The camera then cuts back to a mid shot of Walter aggressively turning to question Skyler's thought process. Walter walks up to Skyler making him grow in size within the frame of the camera to the point where the camera is now framing him in a medium close-up. Walter's change in size mimics the change in power occurring in the scene. When the camera cuts back to Skyler she is now much smaller in comparison and looks similar to Walter at the beginning of the scene.
The angle of camera also changes to further illustrate the power shift taking place in the scene. When the camera shifts back to Walter he is framed in a mid shot with the camera at a low angle making him the dominant figure. Within in the same frame Skyler is dwarfed both by Walter's size and the tone of this voice. Walter's surroundings further emphasize dominance in the scene. The beams on the ceiling are angled towards Walter aesthetically drawing the viewers eyes to Walter. There is also an absence of Skyler's voice which further empowers Walter.
It is important not only to note the change in Walter's tone but also his physical appearance. When sitting on the bed, Walter is wearing a red dress shirt. After he rises and removes his dress shirt, Walter is standing wearing a undershirt that is a darker and more intense shade of red. The change of color in the scene mimics the psychological change happening within Walter himself. As his personality becomes darker so does his physical appearance.
The exclamation point in the scene comes with a close-up of Walter proclaiming to his wife in rough and gritty voice "I am the danger" in reference to the news about the murder of a meth cook (which he arranged to be killed to save his own life). The camera returns to a close-up of Skyler who is shocked and frightened by the darker side of Walter. The camera stays on her for twelve seconds so the viewer can see the deep impact made on Skyler
Skyler only knows her husband as a chemistry teacher who was weakened and demoralized after learning he had cancer. She is unaware of the scope of the operation her husband is involved in or the actions he has taken to get to the point he is at currently. Walter has murdered opposing forces and lead a double life since the inception of his cancer. All the while hiding and to an extent suppressing the more dangerous and lethal aspects of his personality. Skyler's consistent reminder in this scene to Walter about his weakness is an insult and for a brief moment he shows her glimpse into a darker side of him. A side he has controlled, but threats to his life show an unraveling in the character.
The scene closes with a high angle shot of Walter taking a shower. The shot serves to show the viewer Walter in a vulnerable state isolated without the facade he shows the world. It demonstrates Walter's awareness of the dangers facing him and the frailty of the character that has been there since the beginning. The scar that runs across his body reminds the viewer of his fight against cancer. Walter has had to fight to survive and past battle scars remind the viewer of that.
Yep this looks like 250 words...