My Photo


  • Creative Commons License

« Development has officially been Arrested. | Main | Realism and bad manners in Breaking Bad »

Monday, 20 August 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Ah, naturalism! That's great. Much better than my take on BB which I was never fully comfortable with because it separated form from ideology. My take has been that BB is great TV formally, but it has shitty politics (I see it as an Ayn Rand sycophantic representation of "the real world.") Yet, that has always made me uncomfortable because as a die-hard Marxist Cultural Studies wonk, I believe form and ideology can't be cleaved apart quite so easily. So naturalism. Wat a great thought. Walt as a latter day McTeague!


Also, come to Houston! You have friends here. My hubby thinks your readings are smart, too. ( His website:


I'm not going to get into the mess of literary critical definitions, but it does seem like one of the defining features of the series is the amount of actual work characters have to do. Whether it's dead drops or negotiations with suppliers or disassembling motorbikes or running chicken joints, just doing stuff that needs to be done, step by step, occupies more of the show than almost any other TV series I can think of.


I like the naturalist take, but to be honest I hadn't really come across anyone describing it as realistic (but I wasn't looking, either).

But I'm a sucker for shot breakdowns, and another way to look at the dinner table shot is through the rule-of-thirds. Their heads occupy the central plane, and the upper-left and upper-right corners (above Skyler and Walter) both contain plants, while the upper-middle section is the light. Walter's raison-d'etre (at first sincere, now a pantomime) has been "family," a seemingly natural and wholesome and organic concept -- hence the plants hovering above the two family members. However, the light is artificial in every way, and that's what hovers above the outcast who introduced the organic family man to the world of synthesized speed. (But I wouldn't doubt if those plants weren't real.)

The empty chair in the bottom-center section? That's for us, the audience who's intruding upon this forced moment. But it also cuts Jesse off; he's the only person in the shot who's literally half a person, while the bottom-left and bottom-right sections allow Skyler and Walter to have full bodies. This is somehow fitting, since one of the operating themes behind the narrative is that "family" is necessary to be a complete person; while Walter and Skyler have seemingly maintained that in the face of crazy odds, Jesse has failed -- with his own parents, then with Jane, and again with Andrea and her son Brock. No family = an incomplete person.

However, one of the other hallmarks of BB is the p.o.v. camera located on an inanimate-yet-moving object, often in time-lapse. That camera has been located in places like the bumpers of cars or on pick-axes. It places the audience in a position of near-helplessness; we're simply along for the ride, and any audience choice of what to focus on in the shot is almost violently removed. I've not taken crystal meth, but from what I understand, the tweaker loses control over what to focus on and will hyper-focus on whatever's in front of him -- a game, a conversation, food, etc. The tweaker is in a position of near-helplessness, and is simply along for the ride.

I wondered if while writing this post you heard a little Zizek sputtering in the back of your head about how Breaking Bad is real precisely because of its unreality. That the hyper-stylized shots that put the audience into uncomfortable positions forces them confront, consciously or not, the specter of artificiality that hovers over so many of the symbolic social structures, relationships and rituals that we deal with every day -- husband/wife, parent/child, boss/worker, teacher/student, law/criminal, in-laws. We tend to accept them as given and natural because that's how people get through the day. The unrealistic hyper-stylized shots move us outside of those symbolic structures, and that's where the real intrudes.

...or something like that...

The comments to this entry are closed.