Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Breaking Bad: "Say My Name," or fine, maybe don't even acknowledge I exist. One of the more gratifying things about studying film and television is the occasional payoff. You consider a scene in obsessive detail and it turns out that scene is just as important as you thought it was. This isn't a credit to you, obviously, so much as the director. (Though it is a validation that you're not imparting significance to irrelevant details.) So watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad, "Say My Name," was particularly gratifying for yours truly because it indicated that I didn't waste a day last week breaking down that scene at the dinner table in "Buyout." It had a punchline. Recall the establishing shot from that episode: Compare that to the establishing shot in "Say My Name": They're nearly identical. Nearly. As I tell my students: shots in which the differences are slight matter more than shots in which the differences are grand. So this long shot is a little longer—the head of the couch in the living room is visible—but the composition is identical, albeit less tightly framed. What does the looser framing suggest? Given the off-center position of the couch-head, the implication is that whatever orderly detente had been reached in the previous episode has, literally, been cast askew. Evidence of the tipped kilter abounds: two of the chairs occupied in "Buyout" are empty, and one of the characters—Jesse in his role as a figure of a son—has been replaced by a bottle of wine. It's almost as if the director, Thomas Schnauz, is claiming that if Jesse prevented Skyler and Walter from having a conversation in "Buyout," in "Say My Name" it's the wine. (And that Skyler's deliberately putting the wine between them. It had occupied the majority of her attention the last time after all.) Point being: Schnauz wants viewers to employ their Highlights for Kids-cultivated ability to discern what's different about these establishing shots. He's inviting the comparison, and there are many to be made. In "Buyout," for example, the "family" sat down to a freshly cooked dinner from Albertson's. It's not quite home-cooking, but it's not entirely processed either. In "Say My Name," Skyler has sat down with a bottle of wine and a TV dinner. She didn't even bother to buy the freshly prepackaged meal, meaning she cares one degree-of-freshness less in this episode than she did in the last. And not just about herself: She's "prepared" a microwave dinner for Walter as well, if by "prepare" one means "purchased and deposited in the freezer." The implication in "Buyout" was that she'd plated the food she'd bought at Albertson's—hence Jesse's confusion about it being home-cooked—whereas in "Say My Name" Walter's clearly had to microwave his own highly processed dinner. Moreover, whereas in the previous episode some modicum of social graces kept Skyler at the table long enough to listen to Jesse blather on about the green beans, in this episode as soon as Walter starts talking about Jesse's replacement, Skyler just leaves: And note that she takes the long...

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