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.

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.



In the months since Breaking Bad's explosive season 4 finale, and Walt's certainly premature declaration of victory, we've had a long time to ponder what exactly he meant by saying, "I won."  Sure, he had won the most obvious victory in outsmarting Gus Fring, who, at least with Mike as his right hand, had mostly been able to stay a few steps ahead of the erratic and unpredictable Heisenberg (well, except for the whole Gale thing). But really, what Walt thinks he has won is his own freedom: freedom from the inconveniences that having a boss like Gus Fring brought; freedom to do things his own way; freedom to be the Southwest's real meth kingpin. We've been passing through the looking glass of Walt's need to cook meth to support his family after his presupposed demise from cancer for a few seasons now; it's obvious this guy has found something he's not only good at, but truly enjoys, except for (or more likely because of) all of the inevitable drama, chaos, and destruction he leaves in his wake as a result. And all of this havoc is completely worth it to him as long as he finally gets to be "the man" at something.

nullBut in the drug game, being "the man" is like having a target on your back, and Walt will realize soon enough that his problems have most likely been more augmented by Fring's murder than solved by it. In fact, below, in a callback to Season Two's predictive pre-credit scenes, we see a Walt with a full head of hair distractedly chit-chatting with a Denny's waitress, while nervously checking over his shoulder every few seconds. Breaking Bad’s signature sense of dread is almost overbearing (just watching the scene made me feel like I was about to have a panic attack), and as soon as we see that Walt is actually there to meet Lawson (his black market dealer for all things sidearm-related, played perfectly with cautious resignation ["Good luck, I guess."] by Deadwood's Jim Beaver), we know things can't be going as swimmingly as Walt thought they would when he said, "I won." When Walt uncovers the M60 machine gun Lawson has dropped off for him, it's obvious that something has gone severely pear-shaped.

There could be a few causes of such nastiness, knowing what we know now. Perhaps Hank has finally uncovered his brother-in-law's secret life as Heisenberg, and Walt is preparing for an all-out battle with the DEA. Perhaps the German conglomerate that was funding Fring's operation through the back door is more than a little annoyed that Gus has died, and has come to collect on their lost revenues. There is really no way to predict what Walt will have to defend himself against in the future, given writer Vince Gilligan's propensity for throwing viewers for a loop with left field plot twists. But, whatever has Walt packing such heavy heat is definitely formidable, and watching Walt dig himself deeper into whatever hole he's in will no doubt be equal parts terrifying, hilarious, and beautiful.  

For now, Walt is on top of the world. The drug trade in town has been decentralized, and is just waiting for someone to step into power ("There is gold in the streets, just waiting for someone to come and scoop it up.") His cancer's been in remission for some time, Gus can't kill him, and as much as Mike might want to put a bullet squarely between Mr. White's eyes, he can't until one last issue remaining from Fring's empire (the laptop containing all of the super lab video surveillance) is taken care of. In dealing with the issue, Walt buys himself enough time for Mike to consider joining Walt and Jesse in their proposed partnership. Mike clearly wants nothing to do with Walt; he hasn't ever, really. But the way he sees it, if he doesn't help clear up the hard drive issue, he's equally as "boned" as Jesse and Walt; naturally, in taking part, he inadvertently will be screwing himself somehow. Mike even tries to tell Jesse to take the money he's made and "skip town, today," knowing full well this White guy is rotten. But Mike's already in too deep, and it is not going to end well for him, especially if Gus's broken picture frame has anything to do with it, and I'm sure it will.

Walt's proclivity for self-destruction is exemplified perfectly in the electromagnet scene (posted below), when he (of course) decides to crank the amperage to maximize the likelihood that the hard drive will get wiped, making the box truck topple into the evidence building and putting Jesse and himself directly in danger. Of course, with Mike around, they're able to get away unscathed (for now), and Walt's new level of hubris makes itself painfully apparent when Mike asks how they can be sure the plan worked: "Because I say so." This isn't Walt saying something like this to pump himself up and convince himself it's true (a la "I am the one who knocks."); Cranston's delivery is almost flippant, making it clear that when Walter White is truly comfortable with the level of power he now has, he doesn't need gravelly-voiced machismo to sell it. He seems amused, which is far more terrifying than he ever was before Gus's death. Walt doesn't have to fake it 'til he makes it: he has arrived.

And of course, there's Ted Beneke to consider. I suppose I should have known that without seeing a body in a coffin that then closes and goes into the ground in one shot, there's no guarantee of a character's death on any television show, but I was quite sure that Ted had gone the way of Lindus from Terriers. It seems as though I was incorrect, and Gilligan and Co. aren't quite done with Ted. I'm certainly curious about this decision; perhaps Beneke, despite claiming that he's going to keep his mouth shut, could be the guy to unravel Walt's meth business, intentionally or not, directly or not. It's more likely that Walt, now knowing what he does about the situation, is going to give Ted the dirt nap I suspected he was taking all along, and in doing so yet again leaving more problems to be solved.

Finally, Anna Gunn's portrayal of Skyler has made a subtle but significant shift. We have grown accustomed to seeing Skyler act by turns distant, skeptical, spiteful and angry with Walt, at times unrelentingly (and perhaps cruelly) so. But Walt's new freedom seems to have come at the cost of Skyler's. In Gunn’s spot-on portrayal, Skyler now acts like an abused animal, trapped in a cage partially of her own making, with no escape possible. She slinks around, defeated, and speaks to Walt only when spoken to. Her knowledge of Walt's hand in Gus's death has shaken her to her core, but not as much as the knowledge that she essentially drove Walt to it by giving all of their potential escape money to Ted. Skyler hasn't always been the most sympathetic character, and her involvement with Beneke's cooked books has essentially brought the White family back to square one, financially. But now it seems she has broken under the combination of her psychic guilt at her own complicity and her fear of the husband she thought she knew until recently. Gunn’s performance stands out painfully against Cranston's portrayal of Walt’s overconfidence and obliviousness to Skyler's fragile mental state. In the scene below, Walt tells Skyler he forgives her for the Ted situation, replaying a familiar trope: Walt needs to use Skyler as an emotional punching bag, because if he has nobody to demonize, he's forced to look inward and come to grips with the monster he's created in himself. The hug at the end is so unnatural, I could barely watch. Barely.

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.

VIDEO ESSAY: From Mr. Chips to Scarface: The Evolution of Walter White

VIDEO ESSAY: From Mr. Chips to Scarface: The Evolution of Walter White

"Walter's a shithead!"

I had just walked in the door to the family home in Forestville, California. My dad had just finished the second season of Breaking Bad, specifically the episode "Phoenix," in which Walter (Bryan Cranston) passively allows Jesse's heroin-addicted blackmailing girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) to choke to death on her own vomit. "I mean, he just stood there and let her die. He cried at the end, but still," my dad recounted, disgusted and amazed at the same time. Now, understand that my father is a pacifist hippie who would rather laugh than cry and much prefers Californication over Mad Men (which I give him slack for every minute I can—including while I’m writing this), but I'm sure other viewers have had a similar reaction to Walt's progression from a bumbling schoolteacher who doesn’t know where the safety tab on a gun is located to a meth kingpin, and the collateral damage in between.

Personally, I had an opposite reaction to my father’s: I feel that the show is at its strongest when it exposes the moral gray matter of Walt's decisions. Like AMC's other headliner show Mad Men, Breaking Bad doesn't excuse its protagonist's behavior like so many other shows do ad nauseum, as it reinforces and even underlines his vulnerabilities, and it boldly forgoes the safety net of having a sex symbol as a leading man. Gone are the excuses that he needs money for chemotherapy and his family. Walt has worked his way up, from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Vince Gilligan likes to say, but now more than ever, there's nowhere to go but down. All we can do is look at him with some amount of disgust at his actions—and with amazement at how far the show has come.

Serena Bramble is a rookie film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. Serena is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Teledramatic Arts and Technology from Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

BREAKING BAD’s Greatest Scene

BREAKING BAD’s Greatest Scene

If longtime fans of Breaking Bad were asked to identify the show’s most memorable scene, many would probably point out gems like Walt and Jesse’s standoff with Tuco in the Mexican desert in early Season 3, Hank’s shoot-out with the cousins in mid-Season 3, or Gus’s spectacular demise in last season’s finale. Each is among the great show’s most iconic segments. 

My pick would not be nearly as blood-pumping or blood-spattering.  I would choose the fantastic beginning of Season 3’s ninth episode, a mock commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos that slowly melds into a wordless tour of the massive methamphetamine center lying beneath Gus’s fast food empire. While a seemingly anonymous throwaway with no character dialogue and barely any appearance by Breaking Bad’s stars, the opening is a mesmerizing sequence which captures in one swoop the show’s brilliance, beauty, character debasement, and tension as well as any single scene in the show’s four seasons.

Creator Vince Gilligan takes a unique approach to each episode’s opener, often implementing unexplained teasers, as well as small asides that hold far greater significance than viewers may first surmise.  The Los Pollos opening is a prime example of this style and grows out of Gilligan’s dark sense of humor.  The ad sounds and feels incredibly authentic, making the audience feel as if the commercial break is still in progress; it isn’t entirely clear that the episode has even begun until the smooth-voiced announcer intones the historic lineage of the fictional restaurant. 

Though the commercial’s impressive quality seems like the brain child of some slick Madison Avenue agency, it is instead another clever trick by Gilligan, who loves to toy with his characters—see Walt’s befuddlement at removing the pizza off the roof of his house or his extortion at the hands of Saul Goodman’s vengeful receptionist—as well as his audience, best shown in Gus’s death scene, with the kingpin emerging seemingly indestructible in a neat homage to The Bridge on the River Kwai, and with Gus fixing his tie before keeling over, much as Alec Guinness dusted off his fallen cap before falling dead onto the dynamite plunger.

Beyond merely playing with the audience, the Los Pollos opening is a good expression of the show’s thesis that things are often not as they appear; indeed, the premise of the entire series, that a harmless, nerdy teacher who harbors a boiling rage of resentment, jealously, and cruelty becomes an irredeemable criminal—Mr. Chips becoming Scarface, in Gilligan’s description—revolves around this larger theme.

We quickly see the Los Pollos commercial is not what it purports to be. The sequence then goes one step further by immediately showing how the advertised chicken joint is an elaborate front for the biggest meth distributor in the Southwest. The fairy tale story of the “chicken brothers” and their “zesty chicken . . . slow cooked to perfection”—with delectable-looking brown wings and legs floating in the air—melds into a sprinkling, tinkling rain of turquoise bits of Walt’s blue crystal, as the narcotic is processed by an a small army of drug handlers in surgical garb, hidden in hundreds of tubs of thick gooey fry batter, and packed into trucks headed across the region. The chicken product has, in seconds, become something entirely different and far more deadly than any artery-clogging fat, as the sequence strips away the lies of Gus, just as the longer show methodically reveals more and more of Walt’s underlying callousness. 

The Los Pollos opening gives us our best view yet on the show of the startling, almost comic commoditization of the drug trade that is literally coming off an assembly line like cars from Detroit. In this case, the drug trade has melded figuratively and literally with fast food, and is not much different from greasy grub in its scale of mass production and its ultimately unhealthy after-effects.  If Breaking Bad is in part about the narcotics industry itself, it articulates this exploration no better anywhere in the show’s forty-six episodes than in this sequence.

The scenes also demonstrates the show’s attention to detail as Walt weighs and loads his fresh drug batch onto a dolly where it is wheeled out to numerous destinations. Walt looks tired, half-hearted, and almost bored by the monotony of his job—the drug trade is hardly as exciting as it might appear, or as he naively believed.

This theme recalls two other superb similar sequences from earlier in Season 3, the first where Walt excitedly prepares his brown bag lunch for his first day at the super lab, and the next the extended sequence where he and Gale enjoy their first day “at work” together, making meth, enjoying coffee, playing chess, and discussing poetry to breezy music reminiscent of a Charlie Brown movie.   

These scenes portray the initial fun, exciting side of meth-making, which will be dryly stripped away episodes later in the Los Pollos commercial.  And importantly, the dark side of the trade, the constant threat of extreme violence, lurks in the background as Gus’s henchman Victor opens the meth shipments and menacingly prowls behind the workers—not to mention in the numerous shootings and murders throughout the series.

Furthermore, the opening displays Gilligan’s love of piercing colors and sharp sound effects; here, the glowing red brightness of the sizzling chicken and accompanying spices, the wet clopping cuts of the succulent peppers, the dazzling phosphorescence of the blue meth, the metallic shininess of the super lab, and most of all, the funky, bouncy, strangely compelling music of the scene all remind viewers vividly of Gilligan’s reliance on visually and audibly arresting mediums to catch and hold viewers’ attention in place.

More broadly, the Los Pollos sequence is a textbook example of good filmmaking: a fast, wordless sequence which neatly establishes in minutes an intricate, complex storyline that could be delineated over an entire episode or season. Just as Walt’s bag lunch scene perfectly establishes his professional delusions and personal devolution, the Episode Nine opening explains Gus Fring’s entire organization in around a minute and a half.

At the opening’s finish, as the endless procession of trucks carrying meth across the country moves towards the highway, Gus stands alone, his face hidden by shadow, but his identity clear by his crisp, tucked-in shirt, gleaming rimless eyeglasses, and good posture, He watches in obvious wonderment at the size of his operation, then turns slightly in clear pride at his burgeoning empire. Gus is ultimately a stand-in for Vince Gilligan himself, who crafted this tight sequence which stands as a brilliant summary of his classic show.  He deserves to take that bow too.

Mark Greenbaum's work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, The LA Times, The New Republic, and other publications.