Sunday, 16 September 2012

Breaking Bad: "Gliding Over All" until you're not (This being another one of those visual rhetoric posts.) At this point my point should be staring you in the face: the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad is all about staring and what it means to stare. Staring can signify the acquisition of knowledge (the fly and the painting) or suggest intimacy (the cafe) or indicate an experience with the ineffable (the money pile). That it functions so differently in a single episode prevents the audience from being able to predict how a particular stare will influence the narrative. (Unlike a stare in a generic gangster film, for example, which the audience can safely assume will lead to the death of the person being stared at or being thought about while the staring occurs.) This is why the final scene in the episode works so well: its simplicity. But before I get to that, I should set up the narrative at this particular moment. Walter and his extended family, including his DEA-employed brother-in-law Hank, are having a dinner beside the White's pool. It's worth noting that this is a significant pool: Walter spent the time in which Mike's men were being murdered alternating between staring at it and his watch: Given that the palette of Walter's depravity skews as blue as his meth, it's not surprising that the face of his watch is blue. Nor is it surprising that after he learns that the synchronized hits went down successfully, MacLaren returns to the "scene" of the crime and shots Walter thus: There's bad Walter bathed in blue and staring at the pool. He knows he's crossed a line: it was one thing to murder Fring or Mike in what he could justify to himself as self-defense. It's another entirely to remove Mike's crew from the world because their continued existence posed a potential threat to his empire. He's cooked for three consecutive months and only could have done so by taking out Mike's men. (Otherwise one of them would've talked and Walter would've been arrested.) As he sits by the side of his pool, ignorant of the exact amount of money he's earned during his months long cooking binge, the serene look on his face may come from an exhausted sense of pride in work well-done, but it also hides the fact that he knows that work couldn't have been done had he not arranged the murders of Mike's men. The ends have justified his means. Then he's introduced to the money pile, the experience of which so muddles his immoral calculus and leads to him informing Skyler that he's retiring from the trade and bringing his family back into the fold. Which is only to say that regardless of Walter's state of mind prior to meeting the money pile, its existence alters him in such a way that he believes himself capable of recapturing the life he's lost. The penultimate scene next to the pool is the first step in resumption of normalcy. His wife and children have returned...

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