Periscope Depth

if I was Santa Claus, I’d cook up a feast

Breaking Bad: Without question, the best show on television. It’s a close fight with Mad Men, but Breaking Bad beats it. The S4 premiere makes that clear. No other show unifies plot, theme and cinematographic vision with as much fidelity as Breaking Bad. No other show tells a grander story with more picayune subject matter. Brilliant.

SPOILERS for S4 follow.

S4E1 has a lot of sequences about process. When Skylar finds Walt’s car in her driveway, she goes out and fishes the key out from the magnetic pod underneath the bumper. She starts it up, backs it out of the driveway and drives it a block away. She parks it, puts the key in the pod and puts the pod under the bumper. Then she walks home, just in time to catch Walt Jr. as he gets up.

She’s not the only example. There’s also more touching, painful sequences, like when Hank needs to use the bathroom. That’s an awkward sequence to watch. None of us like thinking about the call of nature, or about the caregiving process, in that much detail.

And of course there’s Gus. Hanging up his jacket. Taking off his tie. Hanging up his shirt. And so forth.

Why all the visual emphasis on process? Why those shots and not others? Any of those sequences could have been glossed over in three seconds or between cuts. But the director forces us to watch the process as it unfolds. We’re with them in real time as they drive, or as they undress. And note that not every process gets this level of detail. We don’t see Saul driving to a pay phone, for instance.

S4E1 is all about process because it’s about more than just process.

Victor tries to demonstrate to Gus that he can replace Walt. “It’s called a cook,” he says (paraphrasing from memory). It’s a recipe. It’s a process. You just follow the steps and it all works out. But Gus, Walt and Jessie know that it’s more than just a recipe. You have to understand the deeper meaning behind it. Victor doesn’t get that. That ignorance, plus his having been seen by Gayle’s neighbors, makes him a liability.

Behind every process, there’s love. Skylar moving Walt’s car isn’t just Skylar moving Walt’s car. It’s Skylar keeping Walt Jr. from getting his hopes up. Marie isn’t just helping Hank with his bedpan. She’s showing that she loves him, perhaps more than he loves himself. Even Gus does what he does out of a sick self-love: a love of tranquility, of the poised self image, of peace and quiet and productivity. They know that the process is more than just a process. You can’t just follow the same steps as another guy and come out with the same result.

The show gives us so much by refusing to make those moments obvious, but just letting them stand on their own. Skyler’s face quivering as she walks away from Walt’s car. Marie quietly excusing herself from the room. Gus blowing on his glasses before putting them back on. What other show would have such faith in its production to make those moments implied rather than explicit? Or in its audience?

Tagged on: ,