Uses of Sound in Breaking Bad

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I had never seen Breaking Bad before and while watching this episode, I was particularly intrigued by the choice of sounds (or lack thereof) throughout the episode–be they in the form of music, voices,the banging of the ATM machine in the drug addicts’ home, or mere silence.

Actual music was utilized sparsely in the episode. Music played at the beginning as Jesse obtained the address of the drug dealers. The music used in this scene is loud, haunting and suspenseful. Karen Lury, in her essay “Sound” states that continuous and loud sounds are a “recognized measure of torture”. The sound enhances the viewer’s experience as it reflects the dangerous situation Jesse is about to put himself in.

Music also plays in the background as Walt and Gretchen have an intense argument in the restaurant. A seemingly sophisticated jazz piece by John Coltrane plays as Gretchen criticizes Walt for his dishonesty to his wife, and as Walt, in turn ridicules her frivolous and wealthy lifestyle. The stark contrast posed by the refined tone of the saxophone against the weighted conversation occurring between the two characters seems to reflect the two lives Walt is straddling – life with his supportive family and the world of lies he conceals from them.

Another interesting use of sound in the episode occurs in the scene in which Skyler confronts Walt about Gretchen’s alleged withdrawal of financial support towards Walt’s treatment. During the conversation, we hear a clock ticking in the background. It’s almost as if the clock ticks for Walter as if waiting for him to tell his wife the truth. It could also symbolize the time he has left to live after being diagnosed with cancer. This is an extremely slow scene as we wonder whether or not Walt tells her the truth. As Walt lies to his wife, the clock ticks seem to slow down. It becomes even slower as Skyler contemplates on her husband’s statement (which she believes).  When Skyler worries and gets emotional, the clock gains momentum. I found that this variation provided for a more enhanced audio-visual experience .The lack of actual music intensified the scene and conveys a greater deal of suspense towards the viewer.

The episode ends with the sound of sirens as the child sits on the doorsteps of his home. The juxtaposition of the heartbreaking state of the child, and the approaching sirens is powerful. It enhances the irony posed by the fact that the arrival of an ambulance (and the death of his father) would possibly ensure the child a better life.

Majority of the episode is engulfed by silence. The lack of sound in this episode reflects Lury’s belief that the absence of sound relates to “the missing sound’s potential to cause offence”. I personally thought that this “sound of silence” was appropriate for the heaviness of the episode as well as the different emotions and bleak situations it exposed.

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