Posts Tagged ‘Breaking Bad’

Peekaboo!

November 6, 2009

In the episode “Peekaboo” of the series Breaking Bad, the director uses camera angles and quick cuts to embody the tension between stillness and action in Jesse’s storyline. From the beginning of the episode, Jesse is apprehensively waiting for a meeting that he knows will set a chain of events into motion. He starts on a sketchy street corner distractedly playing with a bug, awaiting his first assignment that requires real force. A stark change from the back and forth almost conversational and intimate angles used when Jesse is interacting with the bug, the camera gets progressively shakier as Jesse is told what to do (“these people need to get got”). In the next “beat”, Jesse gets prepared for his encounter; in his car, he gets psyched up, ready for action. The camera cuts quickly, mimicking Jesse’s racing mind or heart perhaps, from bong to loaded gun to his eyes, jumping instead of focusing clearly on any one task. He races up to the house and bangs on the door, and there’s a sense of awkward potential energy that can’t be released — no one answers and Jesse’s prep seems to have been in vain. It’s even comedic as the postal worker foils his bad-ass-attitude by commenting on the nice weather or when his pent up energy causes him to swear loudly as he trips in the dark upon breaking in to the house. The images and angles for the rest of his story arc continue to embody this nervous energy of waiting for the explosion, as Jesse plays with the little boy always with half a mind as to when his parents will arrive, or even after they have made their entrance and promised him the money as they nervously fidget around the ATM. Jesse’s story is filled with the awkward and discomfiting tension that, though all is still, an explosion of action could come at any moment. Peekaboo!

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Uses of Sound in Breaking Bad

November 3, 2009

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.

Hidden Messages

November 3, 2009

Theodor Adorno in his essay, “How to Look at Television” encourages viewers to see what hidden messages are in our television shows,  lurking maliciously to uphold the capitalist establishment and undercut revolution. So if a hidden message “aims at reinforcing conventionally rigid and ‘pseudo-realistic’ attitudes,” (165) and conversely to allow repressed gratifications to creep into the show, what is hidden beneath Breaking Bad?

It is obvious that the Breaking Bad episode “Peekaboo” is attempting to turn its viewers into receptacles for the forthcoming totalitarian regime, but how is it they are going about it? On the surface level, you have a drug dealer using violent methods to retrieve his property. This setting is ripe for pro-totalitarian messages, until we realize that the drug dealer is the protagonist. But Adorno states that even if a show can be anti-totalitarian on the surface, a majority of them have hidden totalitarian messages. The hidden messages in “Peekaboo” are barely even hidden. As soon as Jesse shows the viewer that he is really appalled by killing, he is rewarded with a “bank error” in his favor. When he calls the cops on the two, although really one, addict, the audience expects that the life of the child will at least marginally improve. So the cops are seen as a force of good in this episode, potentially saving this child from his situation. Cops are vital to a totalitarian regime, as is a willingness within the populace to call them on neighbors and strangers alike. On the surface Breaking Bad seems to humanize the world of drugs, but rest assured it really wants strict obedience to the law. Now this may seem odd to many as Hollywood is supposed to be a liberal hotbed, but rest assured that is only a front; one that Adorno easily saw through. So begin looking for these hidden messages on your own time: listen to music backwards, look at blurry photographs of national tragedies to find the government conspiracies, it’s all right below the surface.

Breaking Bad and the Image

November 3, 2009

The way in which the camera and the projected image in Breaking Bad is manipulated is both seductive and uncomfortable.The shows opening scenes and credits feature the rare television long shot, representing the great expanse of the American west and in a way, allowing the audience to brace for the intimate experience to come. The early scenes of Jesse using methamphetamine feature jerky camera movement and low lights, situating the audience in a very private way within Jesse’s intoxicated world. The low lighting of Spooge’s house also contributes to the dingy and desolate atmosphere of a chronic drug users home, without even beginning to address the dirt and clutter that compose the environment.

Concerning sound, the cafe scene in which Walt and Gretchen meet to discuss circumstances, is particularly interesting. A delicate piano tune plays in the background while the two argue in hushed voices, the contrast emphatic and effective. It is also interesting to note that this episode (maybe the whole series, I am not familiar with it) is generally punctuated by silence. There is no music track in the background, and sound effects are minimized. The focus is on the voices, the words, contributing to the gritty feel of the program.

It is quite clear upon reading Lury’s image and sound how the medium is used to produce certain effects and how these effects maximize the drama that is built up in a show such as Breaking Bad.

Wide Shots and Innocent Children in ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Mad Men’

November 3, 2009

I’m afraid that what I would have to say about images in Breaking Bad and Mad Men has already been posted. I especially agreed with Max’s observation that the wide shots in Breaking Bad inspire in the viewer a vague sense of creepiness, as if we’re eavesdropping on a conversation that we shouldn’t be hearing. I also noted that the two scenes that utilized that shot were with Walt and other women, one of which was even his ex-lover. Although I don’t believe that there is sexual tension in either scene (rather, both seem to concern his secret), it was still interesting. We don’t get the same distance when watching Walt and Skyler; by 2×06, the viewer is much more familiar with their relationship and conversations.

While “Peekaboo” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” are at different places within their very disparate series, they still shared several factors in common. Both could be termed standalone episodes: “Peekaboo” for its Jesse plot with the meth family, and “Smoke” for its status as a pilot. I really liked what Breaking Bad did with Jesse’s side of the episode; while Walt was running around having clandestine meetings to preserve his secret, Jesse spent the same amount of time (roughly one day) stuck at Spooge’s house. Like the addicts, his storyline was stymied, halted; he had to wait on their terms in order to execute what he thought would be an in-and-out job.

Both shows use the trope of the little kid to garner sympathy, and while I agree that it may be a clichéd move, in both instances it worked. The meth addicts’ son seemed like more than a plot device, but a believable victim of the situation. The fact that he could still smile while covered in filth and underfed was wrenching. We only see Draper’s kids at the very end of “Smoke”, which does make them seem (for this episode, at least) more on the “plot device” side of the spectrum. Yet it’s a smart move, to not reveal Draper’s home life until the very end of the episode: show him with various women, reveal his surprising reluctance to attend the bachelor party, introduce Betty… but wait, it’s the children that seal the deal, that make us truly believe that he also has a family. Betty on her own couldn’t have done that, considering his attitude toward women.

Breaking Bad – Use of Film and TV Visual Elements

November 3, 2009

While watching Breaking Bad, having read Lury’s essay on “Image,” I was struck by the show’s employment of visual techniques once reserved mostly for film, like the wide aspect ratio and long shots. But the director also made use of television’s intimacy with well-placed close-ups.

The program’s wide aspect ratio, once reserved for film but now common on television, has a few advantages. First of all, it gives room for a more complex mise-en-scène. Take for instance the establishing shot at the beginning of the episode, where Jesse is framed by industrial metal and a train suddenly sweeps by in front of him. This is an important shot for establishing the mood of the episode, and would have been more difficult to compose with a standard television aspect ratio.

The director also uses long shots, which Lury notes were at one time sparsely used in television. The reasons for using this shooting scale varies from shot to shot, but one of the most impressive uses is when Walter and Carmen are talking in the school, and the camera creeps slowly towards them from a distance. This helps create a voyeuristic mood.

On the other end of the spectrum, the program makes good use of close-ups, which Lury notes are one of television’s hallmarks; the close-up is effective without seeming excessive on the small screen. The director of Peekaboo uses them to establish intimacy in the characters most emotional moments: for instance, when Walter is confronted again and again by his lies, and when Jesse is confronted by child neglect.