Watch: In ‘Breaking Bad’ the Wide Shot Is the Gateway to the Soul

Watch: In ‘Breaking Bad’ the Wide Shot Is the Gateway to the Soul

Have you ever been to New Mexico? If you have, you would know why the wide shot is so crucial to ‘Breaking Bad.’ A story set there simply could not be filmed without giving due to the landscape’s expansiveness, to the sense that it could, in reality, progress forever, and that beyond whatever edge of the horizon you might see is not a different state, or other kinds of terrain, but just more of the same, onward and onward. For the purpose of the show, the desert wide shot reflects not so much self-realization as self-confrontation, a grappling with inner impulses, desires, and stresses uninterrupted by distractions from the world of common morality. Jorge Luengo’s newest compilation, a moving one, shows how the careful visual planning by Michael Slovis and John Toll serves to intensify and develop Vince Gilligan’s creation. 

If you’d like to see other arresting video homages to the show, check out Dave Bunting’s work here, here, or here, for starters.

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ Shaped Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ Shaped Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’

Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ left its stamp on everything following it. Menus. Radio stations. T-shirts. A legion of films. And so why not a television show as well, namely ‘Breaking Bad’? Jorge Luengo Ruiz‘s newest video shows us, fairly inarguably, the parallels between the film and Vince Gilligan’s auteur-ish show—shots, blocking, general affect, the story of a chemistry teacher’s deranged redemption—so that one might begin to wonder, faintly, when will Tarantino’s influence stop? Will it stop? Hopefully not.

Watch: A ‘Better Call Saul’ Supercut on Point of View

Watch: A ‘Better Call Saul’ Supercut on Point of View

It makes perfect sense that point of view would be significant in the cinematography of ‘Better Call Saul‘ or its long-toothed predecessor, ‘Breaking Bad.’ After all, point of view is both shows’ stock in trade: the story lines take viewers inside the minds of characters whose thoughts and aspirations would otherwise be repugnant to them–either the ethically challenged lawyer Saul Goodman on the one hand or the chemistry-teacher-made-bad Walter White on the other. You could ask why this particular journey fascinates viewers, or you could watch Jaume Lloret‘s brief but dense melange of POV shots (and other shots) from ‘Better Call Saul,’ which showcases Arthur Albert’s wonderful cinematography, or you could do both, with impunity, and learn from the experience. Enjoy!

ARIELLE BERNSTEIN: Bloody Handprints: What Comes After Domestic Violence in Television and Life

ARIELLE BERNSTEIN: Bloody Handprints: What Comes After Domestic Violence in Television and Life

nullIn episode “Fifty-One” of Breaking
Walter White buys Walt Jr. a
gorgeous, fast-moving and expensive red sports car, even though Skyler has expressly
asked him not to. It’s a subtle move of dominance. Walt has already made it
clear that he is the one who will be calling all the shots, and this is another
way to drive a wedge between Walt Jr. and Skyler by painting himself as the
better, cooler parent. A few scenes
later we cut to Walt and Skyler in bed together, Skyler turned away from Walt
as they spoon; the camera affording us a view of a close up of Skyler’s face,
as Walt gently strokes her arm and tells her that everything is going to be
okay, putting in a coyly worded request for a chocolate cake to celebrate his
birthday. Throughout this monologue, Skyler’s eyes remain dead and far away.
She knows Walt’s gestures of affection are not meant to actually open a warm
dialogue about the future; they are about quietly asserting Walt’s dominance
and control. Skyler is no longer an equal partner to a man she loves; she is a
prisoner in her own home.

As TV dramas that focus on male antihero protagonists have
become increasingly in vogue over the last 10 years, the women who
bear the brunt of their specific brand of male entitlement and rage have become increasingly noticeable. Female
characters in shows ranging from Mad Men to Game of Thrones are constantly subjected to verbal, sexual and physical violence, sometimes from the
male characters we admire and love. Male-on-female violence is portrayed as
normal and is often sexualized or depicted as romantic or glamorous. While I’m
a fan of all three shows I just mentioned, I also worry about the ubiquity of the
victimized woman in many of these programs and how the attitudes towards women
presented in these otherwise nuanced, intelligent shows might bleed over into real

I’ve been thinking recently of Breaking Bad in light of
the recently released footage showing Ray Rice punching his now wife, Janay
Rice, in the face. After all, at its heart, Breaking
is a story about family and
violence, the family that Walt continues to claim to love, even as he selfishly
destroys it in order to become a drug kingpin. Walt’s transformation from
gentle chemistry teacher to leader of a drug ring comes at the expense of his
wife and children. He goes from being a protector to being someone who controls
every aspect of his family’s small suburban life, continuously putting his
wife and children at immense risk. 

The fact that Walt wants to provide for his family is often
listed as the most sympathetic excuse for his actions. In reality, it is
probably his most evil trait. Walter White’s transformation into a formidable
antihero is complex and rife with important moral questions, but Walt’s bad
behavior is often presented as less menacing than edgy; the newly evolved
Heisenberg, after all, has his fast sports cars and pork pie hat, his pithy,
brilliant one-liners. While clearly Walt is intended to be a villain by the end
of the series, many people still view Walt as a sympathetic figure and, while
Walt’s actions are never forgiven, they often do seem to be lionized. By the
end of the series Walt is presented as a flawed and tragic hero who did what he
needed to do in order to save the person he loved most: himself.

Skyler, who goes from being a strong, smart and willful
protagonist to a kind of cowering shadow of her former self, is never portrayed
as a hero. Her story is swallowed up by Walt’s. Indeed, many viewers took
tremendous joy from her slow collapse under Walt’s thumb. Often feminists cite
hatred of female characters under the broad, nebulous heading of “misogyny,” but the specific reason that Skyler was such a maligned character may have less
to do with a general hatred of women than with a specific discomfort at seeing the
White household descend into domestic violence and not wanting to blame Walt
for the deterioration. Skyler’s defiant attitude towards Walt, her refusal to
be willed into submission and go along with his egomaniacal plans, were
initially what inspired fans rooting for Walt to hate her.
Others criticized her when she began to become more desperate, give in to
Walt’s demands and eventually align herself with him after being worn out,
terrorized, and brainwashed by a person who was once her loving partner.

We spend a lot of time criticizing victims of domestic violence,
but we also spend a lot of time talking about them as victims, rather than
seeing them as whole people who are forced, by circumstance, to make a series
of genuinely complex and heartbreaking decisions. When footage is released of
Ray Rice knocking out his fiancé, we rush to see the evidence but don’t really
know what to do with it. A few commentators have struggled to excuse or defend
Rice’s actions, while others have complained that we simply don’t have context
to understand why he would do such a thing. Most mainstream discussion has
rushed to Janay Rice’s defense by pointing out the ways that she was an
innocent victim of a horrible crime.

But when Janay Rice herself responded to the public distribution
of this footage, she was primarily angry that she had been directly embarrassed by the
sudden media exposure. And why wouldn’t she be? When discussing Janay Rice, many
commentators rushed to criticize her choices, or simply left her out of her own
story. While the term “victim” is meant to put the blame on the perpetrator, it
also serves to flatten the person who has been hurt. We may feel sympathy for
victims, but we don’t see them as full people, with rich life stories, with the
combination of triumphs and mistakes that comprises each of our lives. In the
case of Breaking Bad, the
audience often could only think of Skyler in absolutes: either a shrew or a
victim, a bitch or a victim, a ball-buster or a victim.

We have plenty of stories where male protagonists fight
adversity and triumph over it, with dedication, with fists, with spiritual and
intellectual epiphanies that nurture individual growth. For female survivors of
domestic violence, we don’t tend to offer a similar opportunity for triumph. I
admire the number of women who have come forward to share their own stories
about how they experienced partner violence, but I also resent the fact that the
media still often presents these stories like a series of broken sighs and
resignations, rather than a deeply heroic act.

Even when leaving is presented as strategic, it is still
presented as a victim’s last decision, the path of least resistance, the thing
the weaker animal does when it knows it lost. The Skyler at the end of Breaking Bad is a
shadow of her former self, forced to support herself off the ugly drug money
she swore she would never take. Walt meanwhile is given his swan song, his
bloody handprint a signature stamp on the top of his baby blue.

We forgive a lot of male bad behavior. We are primed to see male characters as awash in their own hero’s journeys,
where the choices they make fundamentally matter, where they are leading the
charge of their own destiny. When Walt bellows at Skyler, “I am the one who
knocks,” late in the series, audiences applaud how Walt has been utterly
transformed. We see him as both menacing and brave, badass and brutal. In
contrast, in the world of the antihero, women have never been the ones to knock. We’ve been the ones to respond to that
knocking, the girls who end up dead in bloody bags washed to the shore, the
women condemned to stand by their man, or the women finally saved by a good

This isn’t necessarily true in all media representations of
women. One of the reasons Buffy the Vampire Slayer succeeded as a feminist T.V. series is that although Buffy was
sometimes victimized, she was never ultimately portrayed as a victim. Her
response to trauma was complex and multifaceted, but she was consistently
portrayed as someone who is a survivor, rather than a victim of circumstances
beyond her control. In the same way, The Hunger Games’ Katniss’s greatest asset was not simply her skill at using a
bow and arrow, but her sheer resilience in the face of evil. 

Of course both of these stories are the domain of fantasy,
rather than the gritty realism we are supposed to see on any number of
antihero-centered T.V. dramas, genuinely brilliant, riveting shows, where,
nonetheless, female characters are often created in order to be broken. It’s time for women (and men) to start pushing back harder against narratives
that flatten female characters into either villains or victims of circumstances
beyond their control, and demand that female characters
are afforded a chance at redemption. I want a story that doesn’t end with death or leaving,
a world where we expect female protagonists, even those who experience violence
and pain, to ultimately carve out a new future.

Arielle Bernstein is
a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at American
University and also freelances. Her work has been published in
Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review and The Ilanot Review. She
has been listed four times as a finalist in
Glimmer Train short story
. She is currently writing her first book.

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of BREAKING BAD, Season 1

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of BREAKING BAD, Season 1

This video essay is a co-production of Press Play and

What is it about the desert?

Put more simply, what is it about the desert that simplifies
human conflicts, desires, and fears as represented in film and literature?

Think of Kobo Abe’s Woman
in the Dunes
, Paul Bowles’ The
Sheltering Sky
, Sam Shepard’s True
. Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Sergio Leone‘s Once Upon a TIme in the West.

Or, more relevantly to this discussion, Breaking Bad.

Put more specifically, what is it about the desert that, in
early episodes of this show, threatens to topple the narrative with the
sparseness of its scenery, with shots so dry you can practically taste the

It’s the emptiness.

The sense that there is nothing but the air between a
character and his problems, and that air is so thin it might as well not be

The sense that a man, when faced with a problem, be it the
legality of his enterprise, death, the ineptitude of other humans, or all
three, might flail in the desert air, and find nothing giving resistance,
moving him forward.

The tedium of all of it. The difficulty.

But, at the same time, the profound importance of it.

There is also the way conversation sounds in the desert: the
way each sentence falls into silence, like a coin falling into a dry well.

We don’t hear the clink of the coin at the bottom of the
well, because it doesn’t have a bottom. Not on this show.

Another thing about the desert, particularly the New Mexico
desert, is that it dehydrates you. It sucks everything out of you. You come to
it with a set of complications, a set of morals, a set of daily worries, and
you find, in almost no time, that they’re all gone, lost in the cold night wind.

All that’s left is you, and the matter that brought you

Another thing about the desert is that it’s where we all
started. (Depending on who you ask.)

Not in the desert, literally—but in the semblance of desert.
With nothing.

Nothing except, of course, that 800-pound elephant,
shimmering in the heat in front of you.

You can either stay where you are, and hope, until the sun
goes down, that the elephant goes away.

Or you can do something. And walk towards it.

And that moment, right there, that first step, is where your
troubles begin.

You think, If I can
just kill that elephant, all my problems will go away. I can leave. I can step
over its corpse, and head back to what I was doing before this.

But sadly,

and truthfully,

and unavoidably,

you think you’re walking out, but in reality, you’re just
walking farther in.–Max Winter

For a terrific essay by Nick Schager on the cinematography of Breaking Bad’s inaugural season, go here:

To watch the video essay on Season 2, along with an interview with director of photography Michael Slovis, go here:…

To watch the entire series on Press Play, go here:

Dave Bunting, Jr. is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn.  He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink,
and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and
real estate.  Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.

Max Winter is the Editor-in-Chief of Press Play.

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of BREAKING BAD, Season 3

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of BREAKING BAD, Season 3

Dave Bunting Jr.’s video essay on Season 3 of Breaking Bad opens with time-lapse landscapes, which are de rigueur establishing shots in TV these days. Here, though, they are uniquely awe-inspiring, in part for their exotic nature (most of us watching the show spend our lives in urban and suburban environments nowhere near mesas, plateaus, or even cacti), and in part for how they seem to breathe life into everything—from churning clouds, to rocks whose shapely silhouettes (even in their stillness) manage to suggest personalities, to cityscapes that pop colorfully to life as darkness descends upon them. Vince Gilligan & Co.’s ground-breaking TV series is filmed so as to be as suggestive—as potentially rich with meaning—as possible.

Breaking Bad’s extended shots also fuck with our sense of scale: The vehicles popping in and out of the gas station move with the speed and directness of hummingbirds or bees. Wendy the meth whore flits into and out of the frame like a fly. Contrast this with the extreme close-up of the actual fly that opens Season 3, Episode 10 (“Fly”), a close-up held long enough to give that creature the weight and ominous presence of a significant carrier of meaning. We expect flies to carry disease, of course, not meaning. But in Breaking Bad the two have been flattened together, a la William Burroughs’ statement that language = virus.

Season 3, Episode 1 (“No Mas”) starts with a frame filled with what feel like toxic-colored clouds, then a pan down to reveal a Mexican landscape, moon-like or possibly even post-apocalyptic in its apparent desolation. Things only get weirder—more “foreign”—as we begin to see first one older man, then several men and women of various ages crawling on their elbows and knees through the dusty streets of a remote village. The crawlers are soon joined by two men (revealed later to be “the cousins”) who wear similar deep mauve shirts, gray suits and cowboy boots with silver skull tips. Both men are bald and sport a hint of facial hair—a goatee or maybe (the bottom) half of a goatee.

This dialog-less opening unfolds for a full four minutes—an eternity in television time—as the cousins crawl their way to a shack filled with burning candles and other religious and pseudo-religious detritus, leaving an offering of money and lighting a candle of their own before silently praying to Santa Muerte, the Saint of Death. One of them tacks the object of their prayers to the wall: A crudely rendered but recognizable portrait of Walter White in hat, shades and moustache (the upper half of the full goatee he’ll sport this season). As the plot plays out, the cousins cross the U.S.-Mexico border in order to find and axe-murder Walter, whom they deem responsible for the death of one of their relatives, but are redirected by Gus and wind up seriously injuring Walter’s brother-in-law Hank.

Everything in Season 3 seems to pivot on acts of communication—on the successful or unsuccessful transference of meaning—right up to the final two minutes of episode 13 (“Full Measure”), when Gale’s cell phone begins buzzing frantically on a haphazard pile of CDs. It’s Mike, calling to warn Gale, who can’t hear it over Zhang Fan’s 1938 shidaiqu hit “Flying over the Court.” Because Gale misses Mike’s warning, he opens the front door, allowing Jesse to shoot him in the head before the screen goes black and the season-end credits roll.

It’s probably no accident that Season 3 begins and ends with these plot-propelling examples of foreign exotica. After all, the disease that sets all of Breaking Bad’s story into motion—lung cancer—is the result of exposure to foreign substance (in Walter’s case, most likely radon or asbestos, since he was never a smoker). And it is, in fact, “the foreign”—a fly—that sets Walter off on the most philosophical monologue of the series.

In Episode 10, after becoming deeply concerned when the meth yield isn’t, in his own words, “adding up,” Walter becomes first distracted by and finally obsessed with a fly that somehow gets into the sterile environment of the lab, threatening to contaminate his 99+% pure blue meth. After many hours and countless unsuccessful attempts (including the introduction of what Walter calls “positive pressure”) to kill the allusive insect, Walter reveals to Jesse that, on the night of Jane’s death, he had randomly met her father in a bar.

“The universe is random,” Walter says. “It’s not inevitable. It’s simple chaos. It’s subatomic particles in an endless collision. That’s what science teaches us. But what is this saying? What is it telling us when, on the very night that this man’s daughter dies, it’s me who’s having a drink with him?”

What Walter fails to confess is that he was at least in part responsible for Jane’s death—which is, of course, why he’s now agonizing over it—that, and the randomness of running into her father the same night. The universe, Walter says, is trying to tell him something—but, what? And what does it mean, what horrific truth is revealed, if and when things, finally, “add up”?

Gary Sullivan’s poetry and comics have been widely published and anthologized, in everything from Poetry Magazine and The Wall Street Journal to The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry (2nd Edition, forthcoming). Everyone Has a Mouth, a
selection of his translations of poetry by the Austrian schizophrenic
Ernst Herbeck, was recently published by Ugly Duckling Presse. He lives
in Astoria, Queens, where he maintains, a music blog devoted to treasures found in immigrant-run bodegas in New York City.

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of Breaking Bad, Season 4

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of Breaking Bad, Season 4

Hollywood can keep its 3D, its CGI and whatever Dolby Surround version they’re up to now. For a contemporary cinematic experience as visceral and visually arresting as Breaking Bad, audiences must look abroad, to Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, or further, to films coming out of Thailand, Japan, and South Korea. As Dave Bunting and Derek Hill point out in their video essay and commentary on season 5.1, Vince Gilligan’s series puts U.S. cinema to shame, not just in terms of story, but in its execution: The direction, the dialogue, the acting, and—as is evident from the video essay above—the cinematography are, quite simply, of a higher order of intelligence. An intelligence that is extremely, at times obsessively, self-aware.

Regarding the cinematography: We all agree that Michael Slovis has as many visual tricks up his sleeve as Penn & Teller and that his palette is as rich and saturated as that of Henri Matisse. And few will argue with the assertion that the series’ visuals feel not like excess or icing, but integrally connected with the psychological states of the characters. But for me, the kick is about how the kind of semantic moves being made in episode after episode—in the cinematography, as in everything else—effortlessly reverberate meaning out in a number of directions all at once. Slovis is not just emphasizing mere character states. By constantly, at times relentlessly, making the audience aware of the camerawork—does a camera on the end of a shovel really underscore anyone’s character state?—he’s giving us clues to a whole layer of meta-meaning. Like the incendiary and morally conscious German playwright Bertolt Brecht (who shares initials with Breaking Bad), Slovis works to absorb and entertain us, even as he pushes us an arm’s length away.

Breaking Bad is a well-crafted, hyper-visceral Brechtian tragicomedy about the slow but sure descent into amorality of high school chemistry teacher-turned meth cook Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and the lives and relationships that are forever spavined, torn asunder or vanquished in his wake. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a relentless commentary on capitalism and capitalism’s life-blood, addiction.

But there are other, more poetic, at times troubling layers. Consider Walter White’s relationship with his product. Like the late Steve Jobs, White sees himself not simply as an entrepreneur, but as an innovator, an artist. His exquisitely cool blue meth (has anything so toxic ever looked quite so delicious?) is, laugh if you will, artisanal. He even has worshipful followers, most notably his temporary lab partner Gale Boetticher (David Costabile). White, in fact, is an artist, or at least has the temperament of one when he’s cooking. He is, to meth, what Breaking Bad’s creative team is to television.

That last connection is not something that I pulled out of my hat, but a connection the creators have made again and again, the longer this show has run. In the fourth episode of season four (“Bullet Points,” by writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Colin Bucksey), they practically hand the connection to you in the most meta-rich installment to date. At the precise midpoint of this 44:30-long episode, White’s brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), shares Gale’s lab notebook with White, pausing to mull over the dedication: “TO W.W. MY STAR, MY PERFECT SILENCE.” Tension develops as we understand that “W.W.” refers to Walter White, who deflects suspicion by telling Schrader that it refers instead to Walt Whitman, whose poem “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer” is quoted several pages earlier.

It’s a brilliant moment on several levels, in part because of the almost sick symmetry of it (you’ve basically got four Ws pivoting on the dead center midpoint of the episode), in part for the gently aggressive camera, which cuts from the notebook to White’s face, seemingly looming over the viewer, half in a subtle but clearly bluish shadow, half too dark to fully see.

Whitman and his poetry figure significantly in this television series, though no single poem is fully quoted—consider how differently Mad Men handled another American poet, Frank O’Hara, whose poem “Mayakovsky” Don Draper read the whole fourth section of, just before the closing credits of the first episode of Season 2. There, O’Hara briefly took center stage, though his poem had little to do with the whole series, other than to help underscore the emptiness of Draper’s soul.

In Breaking Bad, Whitman’s poem gets only a passing reference, but Whitman is integral to the mix, and not just because Schrader will finally, in the last episode of the first half of Season 5, make the connection between White and the blue meth via a copy of Leaves of Grass in the Whites’ bathroom. That episode, not coincidentally, shares its title, “Gliding Over All,” with another Whitman poem from Leaves of Grass, which ends “Death, many deaths I’ll sing.”

There is a reason Breaking Bad’s creative team has Walter White graduating from a moustache to a goatee, and it’s not just because cartoon images of Satan often have him sporting one. It’s because Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, wears one. (What is a W, visually, if not a double V?) I don’t mean to suggest that White is a stand-in for Gilligan, but that a connection is being made, however subtle, however subconsciously. Is it merely coincidence that every main character charged with the oversight, production, and/or distribution of meth has a first or last name that begins with either a G (Gale and Gus, played by Giancarlo Esposito) or some residue of V? Even Gus’s right hand man, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), whose initials spell “ME” and whose first name initial, M, is an inverted W, fits into this odd semantic play. The only person whose name does not prominently feature a G or a V (nesting in the form of a W or M), is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the closest thing to an “innocent” in the whole crew, and a character that Gilligan has said was originally slated to be killed off by the close of season one.

This isn't to conspiratorially imply that this was necessarily planned, or that we’re meant to parse this all out. I’m simply saying that, in the creative process, there are many things that just “feel right” when one hits on them—and that intelligent creators tend to include those things in their work. I’m also saying that there is a poetic quality to the way meaning is accrued and resonates throughout the series, much of which was planned, and some of which simply fell into place as the creators cooked.

The character Walter White's poetic linking to the creative process couldn’t be made more clear than it is in Episode 4.4. After an opening scene involving a shootout that causes the liquid ingredients for meth to be spewed out all over a delivery truck’s floor, White’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), is seen in bed, jotting down notes, trying to fall asleep, then sitting back up to jot down some more notes. She looks as if she is suddenly inspired. Poetically, subconsciously, we connect the image of the blue liquid pouring out of the plastic tubs to the creative juices now flowing through Skyler as she begins to construct an elaborate fiction about her meth-cooking husband being a gambling addict. The amount of research she has done on this, we see a few minutes later, appears to be extensive and no doubt resembles the research Gilligan and team did on meth and its production and distribution.

Another freaky bit of semantic symmetry: While prepping Walter on his story, Skyler makes a big deal about whether or not he’s going to “split the 8s”—which means one thing in the immediate context of blackjack, but consider it poetically: Splitting an 8 would result in two 4s, and here we are in Season 4, Episode 4, with a running time of exactly 44 and-a-half minutes from opening scene to blackout prior to credits.

When an exasperated Walter tells Skyler that he doesn’t need to know what he’s doing, as he’s in recovery and shouldn’t be called upon to talk extensively about his gambling system, Skyler brings out what appears to be a script, or what she describes as “bullet points.” For the next 10 minutes or so, the couple goes over the points—which include scripted dialog, blocking and suggestions for physical gestures—like actors familiarizing themselves with a script. The cinematography during this scene is practically invisible: the viewer simply has the sense of being there in the room with the couple. At one point, Skyler says something that could have been lifted right out of a development meeting for Breaking Bad: “We need this story to be solid, sympathetic and most of all completely believable.”

Armed with their story of Walter as successful gambler, the White family, with Walter, Jr. (R.J. Mitte) in tow, visits Hank and Marie (Betsy Brandt) Schrader. Early in the evening, Hank pulls out a DVD to show Walter and Walter, Jr.: It’s Gale, singing Peter Schilling’s English-language version of “Major Tom” in a Thai karaoke lounge. Though brief, there’s a ridiculous amount of semantic information packed in to this scene: Not only do we see, via the horrified reaction shot of Walter, the levels of remorse and fear he has in the wake of his having ordered Jesse to kill Gale, but the circumstances of Schilling’s song mesh nicely into the general meaning-universe of the show.

The relationship of Peter Schilling and “Major Tom” to David Bowie and Space Oddity foreshadows the later revelation of Gale’s homage to his creative superior, Walter. Further, its interstellar theme resonates with the Whitman poem Gale references as part of his homage. But, creepily, ghostly resonances of meaning go beyond even than that. Originally recorded in German (it made #1 on both the German and Austrian charts), “Major Tom” was rerecorded in English, where it went on to chart in Canada, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. The Thai subtitles beneath Gale’s rendition hearken back to the song’s English status as translation. And, whether or not they were aware of it, Breaking Bad’s creators would certainly appreciate the original German version’s running time: 4:33. Not just because it slant-rhymes with the episode’s 44:30 running time, but because it shares an exact running time with the most notorious American composition of the late 20th century: John Cage’s 4’33”, which could easily be described as a kind of answer song, in its interrogation of silence, to Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer” and that poem’s last line, “Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

Is Breaking Bad, like Leaves of Grass, the great epic poem of our time? If not, it’s the closest thing television has ever given us.

Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn.  He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate.  Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.

Gary Sullivan’s poetry and comics have been widely published and anthologized, in everything from Poetry Magazine and The Wall Street Journal to The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry (2nd Edition, forthcoming). Everyone Has a Mouth, a selection of his translations of poetry by the Austrian schizophrenic Ernst Herbeck, was recently published by Ugly Duckling Presse. He lives in Astoria, Queens, where he maintains, a music blog devoted to treasures found in immigrant-run bodegas in New York City.

Chameleon Soul: On Lana Del Rey’s RIDE Video and BREAKING BAD

Chameleon Soul: On Lana Del Rey’s RIDE Video and BREAKING BAD

In Lana Del Rey’s new music video, Ride, Del Rey explores the pleasures and pitfalls of the American west. The video, directed by Anthony Mandler, depicts Del Rey cavorting with a gang of rough and tumble bikers for a life of sex, danger and free ranging passion on the open road. Del Rey’s video, like all her videos, reinvents and reinterprets cliché, which triggers reflection on what about these motifs continues to captivate us. Del Rey is especially interested in exploring the iconography behind the beautiful woman as both victim and femme fatale. The image of Del Rey in costume, which seems both especially real and especially artificial against a backdrop of faded images and video footage from the past, is designed to provoke, to cause the reader to consider the implications of the myriad ways that artful renditions of the past drift into our perception of the present. Ride subverts our expectations of a particularly American narrative; it features a female performer commanding the Wild West, a landscape that has historically been used to designate and explore the drive for male power and pathos. Del Rey is a first person protagonist throughout this ten minute video; her narrative poetry bookends a bizarre unfolding tale of her life as a singer/prostitute/biker/free-love child and ruptures our ideas and attitudes about the American drive for freedom and its curious designation as a masculine ideal.

nullRide is a portrait of a very old-fashioned kind of American ethos—where being on the open road means being unattached to anyone or anything. This idea of freedom is also found in the most complex and interesting examination of masculinity in our current cultural landscape—Breaking Bad. Throughout the series, the wide, empty open expanses of the Southwest are both intoxicatingly beautiful and dangerously deserted. Men inhabit these empty highways, driving cars, dealing meth, forging alliances, and killing off their enemies. Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) meth production is often necessarily nomadic, constantly shifting locations, from the first RV that he and his friend, partner, and former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) use to cook, to his use of Vamanos Pest Control as a front for moving from house to house. The few times when Walt settles into a routine, as when he has a stable job cooking for kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), are the times when he feels most restricted. Walt’s journey from zero to anti-hero is driven by a desire for freedom, making the series, in a sense, a beautiful ode to an America where the world is yours for the taking, where you are never under someone else’s thumb.

One of the reasons Breaking Bad is such an appealing show (and there are many) is that there is an allure in the concept of breaking bad, in taking a risk and going off course. America’s obsession with staunch individualism has made this particular narrative an acceptable mainstay in cultural discourse. We admire men who do what they have to do to preserve their own self of self-worth and integrity. For women, however, breaking bad tends to be more loaded. Throughout Breaking Bad, women rupture scenes of male escape. The women throughout Breaking Bad are firmly planted in the domestic sphere. When Walt's wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) tries to assert herself, she kicks Walt out of their home. Skyler's sister Marie’s (Betsy Brandt) primary vice is stealing cute and pretty things from department stores. As an accountant, Skyler ends up being in charge of the money, but her taking charge of the car wash means she is almost never on the road. Even the women Jesse ends up dating, complex and varied, symbolize comforts of the home front. Jane (Krysten Ritter) is Jesse’s landlord. The time they spend together is most often in their duplex. One of the most powerful images of their bond is sitting together in two separate chairs in Jesse’s living room, when Jane reaches over to touch Jesse’s hand. Jane dies in bed in her own home from an overdose, before she and Jesse have the opportunity to hit the open road together, as a pair. Likewise, Jesse’s newer girlfriend, Andrea, is often seen with her son Brock at home, cooking (food!), or playing video games.

The male anti-hero has become a staple of storytelling in 2012, but the female anti-hero is still considered relatively taboo. The show is more forgiving of Walt’s bad behavior than of Skyler’s bad behavior, for example. Indeed, in one of the most uncomfortable moments in Breaking Bad, Skyler, a prisoner in her own home and feeling completely powerless to either turn Walt in or else save her family by escaping him, tries to commit suicide by walking into the family pool.The image of Skyler vacantly walking into the water and resolutely staying under while her family panics is striking because it feels so familiar. The scene conjures a particular type of female suffering and despair, one charted through the lives of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. It is a striking image precisely because it still resonates with a modern viewer: in a “post-feminist” landscape where gender rules are supposedly less restrictive than in the past, we still understand female suffering as something which is fundamentally passive.

The way we think about masculinity has undoubtedly shifted since the 1960s, but, in many ways, our concept of what it means to be a man has stayed relatively static. We respect loudness more than quiet, violence more than measured resolution, silence more than gentle talking. The mask of masculinity is compelling precisely because in recent years it seems like so much more of a mask than femininity. While femininity is perceived as a construct, an outfit that can be removed, replaced, strengthened or destroyed completely, masculinity is increasingly perceived as a fixed kind of attitude. In our culture, female characters learn to take off the artifice of “femininity” in order to find strength (perhaps this is why Del Rey’s insistence on continuing to play dress-up frustrates some viewers) while male characters, from an early age onwards, learn to put “masculinity” on.

This is clearly evident in Walt’s transformation. He starts out the series as a symbol for castrated modern masculinity and becomes a definitive alpha male character. For much of the series we are supposed to rally behind Walt, regardless of his myriad flaws. But Jesse, plays an interesting foil to this one-dimensional type of masculinity, which is still strongly lauded in our culture. Though Jesse is consistently awash in swagger, delightfully adding “bitch” to the end of every sentence he utters, he is also the show’s heart and moral compass. Jesse is a small-boned, vulnerable kind of dude, gentle in the smallest, most heart-warming ways, whether calling Skyler “Mrs. White” and trying to make conversation at the dinner table or worrying about the extent to which the drug-dealing business is hurting those around him. While Walt seeks freedom, Jesse seeks comfort, family and security, those things that Walt purports to love but ultimately leaves behind in pursuit of his own greatness. In many ways, Walt and Jesse represent opposite ends of the spectrum of masculinity—the old school domineering alpha male versus the more modern, tentative kind of masculinity, that sees strength not as the need to domineer, but in the need to protect and love.

The American West is perceived in both Breaking Bad and Ride as sensual; the open road is seen as a path to conquer. The female place in this enticing and forbidden landscape is still unsure. Del Rey’s vision of freedom is centered on a fantasy of finding a community of outlaws where she can feel at home. Critics often view Del Rey’s desires as self-abnegating, rather than self-fulfilling.  The L.A. Times music blog claimed that her stage persona is a “…put-on, and a transparent plea for attention, and a little bit sad to watch in a cute kind of way." Many dismiss Del Rey’s potential to have complete agency as a moral actor and cast her off as a mere passive and pretty image. In contrast, Walt’s transformation is portrayed as if it is entirely of his own volition. But the catalyst that triggers Walt’s transformation is cancer, an illness entirely outside the realm of his control. While Del Rey’s actions are often interpreted as self-objectifying, throughout Ride Del Rey makes it clear that she has made deliberate choices about her self-presentation and the way she interacts with the world around her. The femme fatale figure she presents is threatening precisely because she doesn’t eschew femininity; she uses the motifs of femininity to her advantage, to get what she wants regardless of the cost.

We tend to read male responses to trauma as choices and female responses as necessary outcomes. In her spoken word monologue in Ride, Del Rey describes how her mother always told her she had a chameleon soul, “no moral compass pointing due North, no fixed personality, just an inner indecisiveness that was as wide and unwavering as the ocean.” For men, the chameleon soul refuses to be tied down to anything or anyone, a pure badass. For women, the chameleon soul is an empty vessel waiting to be filled, an image to project all your hopes and desires onto. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Femme Fatale tropes are dangerous not because women shouldn’t be wild, but because the untamed image of the girl who got away is always told from the perspective of the man she left behind.

The New York Times argued that “Ms. Del Rey generates so much anger precisely because she does so little. People don’t know what to do with this unformed thing they’ve been told they need to care about; crushing it is easy, almost humane.” Del Rey’s greatest critics argue that her work is, at best, derivative and, at worst, a complete sham.The extent to which Del Rey’s image is authentic highlights our disbelief in the idea that female artists can conceive and construct their own identity. Lots of male artists come from wealthy, privileged backgrounds, but we balk when twenty-something privileged female artists like Lena Dunham or Emma Koenig get impressive book deals. The assumption that Del Rey is somehow not responsible for crafting her own image is part and parcel of a culture that automatically casts off the feminine as something intrinsically fragile and helpless.  

Both Breaking Bad and Ride depict an American West which is ultimately a fantasy. There are no more open roads left to be discovered in America. The American cultural landscape of today is shaped more by the desire to meet public approval than the need to upset social order. But the continued fixation on the freedom of the open road is a deeply embedded American desire, a characteristically male longing for individual autonomy. The female characters in Breaking Bad rupture the male fantasy of escape, but Del Rey’s video for Ride complicates this type of longing, taking a page from the American fable of the egoism of the open road while ripping apart its very fabric.

Arielle Bernstein is a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at George Washington University and American University and also freelances. Her work has been published in The Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review, and South Loop Review, and she has twice been listed as a finalist in Glimmertrain's Family Matters Short Story Contests. She is Associate Book Reviews Editor at The Nervous Breakdown.

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of BREAKING BAD, Season 5.1

VIDEO ESSAY: Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of BREAKING BAD, Season 5.1

Gliding Over All: The Cinematography of Breaking Bad, Season 5.1 from Press Play Video Blog on Vimeo.

Every great television show has an episode that pushes the medium in some bold, even experimental manner, either visually and/or in the way the plot is structured. It's usually something the writers and director do as a challenge for themselves and the audience to quicken the blood. Historically, cinema has been the arena for directors with a robust visual sense. Television, on the other hand, was the safe haven for writers. This has changed significantly in recent years with the rise of cable networks willing to accommodate writers and directors with ambitious projects. Now, the emphasis on high production values and vibrant imagery is just as essential as a great script. Breaking Bad, with its carefully thought-out look, dependably relies on its cinematography to deliver crucial narrative/thematic information, just as it relies on its characters to deliver significant exposition in a straightforward manner.      

A truly great dramatic series, such as Breaking Bad, tends to show brilliance fairly consistently, but episode ten from the third season—"Fly," directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) and written by Sam Catlin and Moira Walley-Beckett—sprints ahead as a major creative standout. The entire episode plays out in the confines of the sublevel lab where ex-high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), now a big time meth cooker, makes the drug with his ex-student and now-assistant, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). But through the entire 48-minute episode, Walter and Jesse aren't cranking out batches of meth for their boss, the highly successful fast food entrepreneur and bloodthirsty drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). A fly has somehow gotten into the lab and Walter obsesses over killing it. He can't cook until the lab is sterilized and free from any taint. Of course, it's not really about the fly. Walter is paralyzed by fear and the knowledge that he's about to die. It's only a matter of time before the cancer inside him will reawaken and the stalemate between him and Gus will dissolve. Regardless of which one gets to him first, Walter is a dead man.

Since the writers have trapped Rian Johnson, in a sense, with this plot, he must, along with cinematographer Michael Slovis and editor Kelley Dixon, figure out ways to keep the whole thing visually dynamic. It's a difficult challenge considering the action is primarily contained to one setting and the variety of camera setups are limited to a large degree. They pull it off, but that shouldn't surprise anyone who's been watching closely; Breaking Bad has consistently been one of the most cinematic serial dramas on television.

All of the great serial dramas over roughly the last decade—The Sopranos, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood, and Mad Men—excel in their different ways at the art of storytelling. However, only Breaking Bad, and Mad Men to a large degree, also deliver a strong cinematic visual scheme to accompany the stellar writing. From its first episode, Breaking Bad has told its story of the transformation of nebbish teacher Walter White into sociopathic monster Heisenberg with imagery as much as with writing and acting. The show's sophisticated compositions and its ability to convey meaning and thematic resonance through classic framing and symmetry over the course of its five seasons is something that should interest any serious cinephile. On a visual level, Breaking Bad rivals anything you'll see in the theater.

What makes the show special? It works in a seemingly dormant tradition of classic visual storytelling; what it reveals through its images is just as important as the dialogue. The trust in the audience displayed by the show's creator/showrunner, Vince Gilligan, makes it feel daring and even radical at times. With some major exceptions, this form of bold stylization in major commercial filmmaking (particularly in action and crime features) has fallen out of fashion in lieu of hyperkinetic editing schemes and discordant action sequences, the rivet-headed mode of style in so-called chaos cinema. What Breaking Bad has is visual literacy; it draws on the muscular richness of past masters of the action genre, such as Sergio Leone, John Sturges, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin, and Michael Mann, to deliver the goods.

Set in modern-day Albuquerque, New Mexico, Breaking Bad is ostensibly a crime show. It explores the realism and grittiness of urban decay to great effect, but it also uses and reconfigures the visual motifs of the Western and horror genres. What's remarkable and distinctive here is that the show swipes from these genres in a way completely opposite to the approach of a pop postmodernist like Quentin Tarantino. The style and signature visual metaphors of Breaking Bad cannot be extricated from the psychological subjectivity of its characters.

The show frequently jazzes around (as fiction writer John Gardner said of experimentation), positioning the camera in holes, toilets, underneath corpses, at the bottom of a bathtub, in a safety deposit box, submerged in a deep fat fryer, and in crawlspaces, showing us the world from vantage points that are more or less unseen by our eyes in real life. The camera even microscopically observes the movements of a fly. And the show aggressively embraces the musical montage sequence (usually during its meth cooking scenes), as is the norm for contemporary dramas like this.

But the most stirring cinematic moments in Breaking Bad occur during less virtuosic sequences. They rise from the show's visual metaphors, from the way cinematographer Slovis frames the actors (traps them) behind barred windows, in darkly lit hallways and doorways, behind cracked windows, and frequently on their backs peering up at us from the ground, where the symmetry of the image and the existential despair of the characters' psychological headspace meld.

Actors in the frame are typically juxtaposed with advertising signs or dwarfed by urban architecture, a sort of primetime visual semiotics. Although the show ostensibly explores Walter and Jesse's trajectories through the seedy, violent world of drug dealing and crime, it's really about capitalism at its most savage. Walter's justification for his involvement in the meth business has always been his need to financially support his family. That's what he tells himself and his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). It's a lie, however, since Walter has had many opportunities to walk away with the fortune he's made. Greed and the American need to dominate have taken root in Walter now. Jesse, a low-level drug dealer before hooking up with his old teacher, is seduced by the luxuries of wealth as well, although he's also a victim of its violence. Sometimes, the scourge of unfettered capitalism is portrayed in a humorous fashion, as in the scene when Jesse runs into his drug buddy Badger (Matt Jones) dressed as a $1 bill, trying to draw in customers for a savings and loan. Capitalism offers a bounty of comfort, but it can likewise deliver our doom.

In Breaking Bad, mundane places like fast food joints, big box stores, and strip malls, can easily change from the innocuous to the malevolent. The ingredients and instruments of death can be readily purchased at your everyday building supplies store. Gus, an outstanding member of the community and the proprietor of the Los Pollos Hermanos fast food chicken chain, is a brutal murderer and high-level drug lord. His restaurant is frequently used as a meeting place with associates. Places where families gather for fun, such as a rundown laser tag amusement center that corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) tries to get Walter to purchase for money laundering purposes, can be nests for corruption and vice. Not even the beauty and the expansiveness of the high desert country around Albuquerque is free from the corruption. Equipped in their RV, Walter and Jesse cooked meth in the country in the early episodes, a stark reminder of how widespread the drug’s reach can be.

The West has always been violent. It hasn't really changed. It's just that in the world of Breaking Bad, the outlaws sport pocket protectors and wear garish Ed Hardy shirts. In this new American Nightmare, no place and no one is spared its destruction.



Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.

Derek Hill is the author of Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists and Dreamers (Kamera Books), a study of the films of Charlie Kaufman, Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, and others. He is also a movie reviewer for the Athens, Georgia alternative newsweekly Flagpole, contributing editor/movie critic for the online arts journal Sinescope, and reviews books for Mystery Scene magazine.



The most striking aspect of tonight’s episode was our introduction to German mega-company Madrigal Elektromoteren (and, of course, the short-order introduction and elimination of suit Herr Schuler, who was clearly complicit in the late Mr. Fring’s meth empire, though we don’t quite know yet to what degree). The episode’s opening scene (below), with Herr Schuler absently munching chicken fingers as a scientist explains the money-saving formulas in their dipping sauces, seems absurd at first, until you think of the number of times Herr Schuler had to taste the “authentic” blend of spices for the meth-concealing Pollos Hermanos chicken recipe. Schuler is distracted, and we find out very quickly why: apparently, there are police here to see him, and more of them than last time, according to his assistant. Uh oh.

As Schuler makes his way toward his self-inflicted demise, we’re shown just how far-reaching the Madrigal empire is as he passes the backlit logos of fast-food chains such as Whiskerstay’s, Haau Chuen Wok, Burger Matic (hilariously abbreviated to “BM”), and Pollos Hermanos. (It’s also worth noting that these fast food chains are most likely just a fraction of Madrigal’s overall business; I would imagine a majority of what they produce relates to auto parts, judging from the “Elektromoteren” part of their name.) Schuler pauses to watch two workmen take down the Pollos sign, clearly wondering how such an innocuous-sounding fast food joint could have possibly led to his undoing. For us, one thing’s for sure: Hank’s excellent police work has traced a few of the superlab’s equipment pieces back to Madrigal, and Schuler is on borrowed time. As Schuler passes by his office, he watches one of the Polizei eyeballing a picture of himself and Gus Fring golfing in happier times, and decides this can’t be worth it. Gus must have seemed like such a sure thing. Well, until Walt came along.

Another large chunk of tonight’s show was dedicated to Jesse and Walt’s “search” for the ricin cigarette (below), the loss of which triggered their rift last season when Brock fell ill from an apparent poisoning. Jesse is obviously made distraught by its absence, but Walt can’t really explain to him why one of Saul’s goons lifted it from him without coming clean about the Lily of the Valley, so he gets to work not only hiding the actual ricin vial (it may come in handy again sometime, so he hides it in an electrical outlet; I’m sure that’s going to be important again soon), but also creating a dummy cigarette and helping Jesse discover it in his Roomba to give him some peace of mind (and I have to give it to the sound department here; every sound of Walt and Jesse rifling through the apartment during the montage has a rhythmic quality that syncs with the musical cue, adding to the scene’s urgency while also increasing the fun factor of watching). Executed with perfect Walter White-style conniving trickery, he even gets Jesse to cry from the guilt he feels for even thinking about shooting him last season, allowing Walt to slip right back into father figure mode, further bonding Jesse to him.  Of course, this also gives Walt the perfect opportunity: “What happened, happened for the best, you hear me?…Having each other’s back?  It’s what saved our lives. And I want you to think about that as we go forward.”  “Go forward where?”

It was also interesting to see Mike essentially forced into a position where he had to take Walt’s offer of partnership. Between Lydia’s high-strung desire to eliminate everyone even remotely connected to the Pollos empire and Hank’s discovery of the account in his granddaughter’s name, Mike doesn’t seem to have much choice. Of course, it’s helpful that Lydia still has some methlamine connections, otherwise there’d be no precursor, but her character (played by Laura Fraser) is far too high-strung and nervous (her “you’re really running me through my paces” line when she finds out that the roadside diner doesn’t have any tea other than Lipton’s was perfect) to be good news for the Heisenberg empire in the long run. She’s already sold Mike out to his own guys, and she’ll be sure to do whatever she can to protect herself and her little girl (and her amazing house, too). I suspect that that Mike’s decision to not kill her had something to do with her having a little girl. However, her ability to get methlamine, thus getting Walt’s operation back up and running, will allow Mike to keep earning money for his favorite little girl, as his old Fring account has, for all intents and purposes, gone bye-bye.  Still, though, she may have been able to hide behind the financial machinations of Madrigal’s support of Pollos’ not-so-little secret when Gus was still around, but without him, she’s an exposed nerve, and a very jumpy one at that. Not good for anyone, least of all Ol’ Mike.

Mike’s interaction with Hank and Gomez was fantastic, as well. At this point, most viewers have affinities with both characters (Hank and Mike, at least), so watching them interact with each other is always fun because it’s so hard to pick a side.  Hank is natural police, and he knows how to get under even Mike’s skin. But Mike, being the road-worn soldier that he is, has seen it all, even, apparently, from the law enforcement perspective, and it’s always a pleasure to watch Jonathan Banks play Mike’s eye-rolling resignation, even while realizing the money for which he’s taken a lot of crap is essentially gone. Of course, he saves his pissed face for when he’s walking out the door; as far as Hank and Gomey are concerned (at least, on the record), he’s cool as a cucumber, and only tangentially connected to Fring’s quickly-unraveling drug web.

And, as in Live Free or Die, this episode features yet another cringe-inducing scene with Walt and Skyler (below), in which Walt willfully ignores Skyler’s paralyzed fear in order to feign intimacy with her. She doesn’t say a single word as he prattles on about dinner and how “it gets easier,” and then proceeds to kiss and grope her as she clutches her pillow so tightly it looks like it might disintegrate. “When we do what we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Walt waxes, kissing Skyler’s neck. “And there’s no better reason than family.”  This is no longer Walter White trying to get himself out of the dog house. This is Heisenberg. This is Heisenberg’s house, and he has just found out that Mike is back in, and that the Southwestern meth trade is his for the running, and he doesn’t need to justify anything to anyone. This is Heisenberg telling his wife how it is, and how it’s going to be from now on; that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s no monster under the bed . . . at least no monster that could compare to the one that roams this house.

But, we all know things are going to change, and Walt’s overconfidence will surely play a large part in his eventual undoing. If the M60 he receives on his 52nd birthday is any indication, his current attitude is going to result in Walt finally digging a hole for himself that he can’t undig, and there will be lots of needless bloodshed. 

Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.