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  SPOILERS from Breaking Bad Seasons 1 to 5 may follow

Breaking Bad is one of the most unique serials out there; it not only follows the consequences of real-life decisions, it also merges the process with dramatic elements, and on top of that, there are visual, thematic and narrative guidelines, or more specifically breadcrumbs, scattered all over the episodes, bringing us closer to the core of the story and characters.

Those of you who are familiar with our Afterthoughts, know how the observations/theories go. After the end of season 5 part 1, we decided to go back and rewatch the series to try to follow the aforementioned trail of breadcrumbs, and here we are. Although some of these theories have been validated by the showrunners, writers or cast members, they’re basically material intended for discussion or speculation (and fun!).

The Awakening

The awakening

Walt makes the decision to break away from his bleak life BEFORE being diagnosed with lung cancer; in other words he was fully “Awakened” on the morning of his 50th birthday (5:02), he just needed a stopwatch to mark time: You’re gonna be dead in two years, make the most of it! The first act of the episode mainly shows us the reasons why Walt chooses to break bad, or in his own words be “awakened” from a life of humiliation where his authority is constantly being undermined and his decency is never appreciated.

The “Awakening” literally takes place at 5:02 (foreshadowing the possible end of his journey at 52?) on the “Dawn” of his 50th birthday. His expressions reveal nothing but Stillness, as if he’s suddenly realized (and it’s rendered him motionless) that all these years he could have been someone stronger, in a higher position. (Walt gives a valid explanation to Jesse on his reasons to go into the empire business in 5.06). He realizes he’s never made an actual Choice of his own. (the Talking Pillow scene in “Gray Matter”) – Marie describes Walt’s change perfectly later in the episode: “So it’s midlife crisis?”

  • We see Holly’s stuff in the other room; a baby’s on the way. And a new Beginning for Walt.
  • Walt exercises on stairmaster pedals as if sleepwalking, symbolically describing his current state: “Running in place” (in a swamp.). And feels sorry for himself and his nobel-prize-worthy contributions award just hanging on the wall. (Lydia and Walt are alike in that way – 5.04)

  • Notice that half Walt’s face is overshadowed while exercising, hinting at his duality. Here are a couple of other examples from this episode, with the last one being from the opening of “Gliding Over All”. The mid-row Half-faced instances occur right before he’s about to switch into Heisenberg: first, when he standing up to Bogdan, and second when blackmailing Jesse into working with him.

  • Because of Junior, Walt parks his Aztec in the paraplegic section at the school lot; representing his own “weakness/incapability” on a deeper level – that’s why he later takes the paraplegic car sticker off the rear-view mirror. Later we see a wheelchair hanging on Jesse’s garage wall, most likely belonging to his late aunt. It’s all about perception; in “Gray Matter” Walt says he doesn’t want to end up not being able to take care of himself due to the cancer. Right after that, Junior questions his logic (always encouraging Junior to not underestimate himself): “All the stuff that I’ve been through, and you’re scared of a little chemotherapy?”

  • Walt has lived a decent, moralistic man’s life for 50 years, and it just hasn’t paid off – all he’s ever achieved has been humiliation and misery. Natural selection; the society devours the Good (weaker) ones. Walt works hard, even during breaks and lunch hours. So when he sees a large amount of money Hank’s team has seized in a bust (about 700 grand – 737 is exactly what he needs according to “Seven thirty-seven”), all thus devotion seems pointless. Why shouldn’t he make that kind of money?
  • He doesn’t even have authority over his students; almost NONE of them are interested in his enthusiastic description of Chemistry – Chad and his girlfriend are the worst; flirting back there, later humiliating Walt in the carwash etc. Even Walt’s glovebox wouldn’t give him a break!!
  • 50 to 51: here, Walt’s absolutely surprised by the party, and a bit uncomfortable with the crowd, specially with Hank’s presence. In “Fifty-one” he expects there to be a party yet it doesn’t happen. Here Walt stays away from the crowd, as they’re busy watching Hank’s tv spot. In “Fifty-one”, the morning after his birthday Walt sits on the same side of the living room, isolated this time. Hank steals the show again in 5.04 with his promotion.

  • Hank offering Walt to join him in a meth-lab bust: “Get a little excitement in your life!” – Walt’s hesitant: “Someday!” – The cancer is the catalyst.
  • Walt’s birthday wall hangings are dumped in the…dumpster – he disposes of his former life.

  • Skyler gives Walt a physical “present”; dominating him when he’s totally incapable. She’s baffled by it: “What is going on down there? Is he asleep?”  – His manhood is constantly being questioned. They switch roles in season 5 when Walt corners and dominates Skyler in bed.

  • Walt wants to drop off the ambulance :“I don’t have the greatest insurance” – another obvious reason he decides to go into the meth business. Plus this: “I didn’t have the greatest breakfast.” 😀

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  1. Jim says

    I’m not done reading yet, but I just wanted to say it’s great that you’re doing this! Breaking Bad is perhaps more improvised and less “easter egg”-y and complex than shows like LOST or Fringe, but the show probably does pay a LOT more attention to detail, and I’m looking forward to reading about all that!

    Like: Thumb up 2

    • Aria Mohtadi says

      Thank you Jim,

      I hope you enjoyed the article so far. :)
      Yes, it’s definitely less mythological in that sense of the word,
      but there are certainly lots of visual/narrative symbolism elements involved in the show.

      As much as Breaking Bad relies on good writing, it’s also a cinematic show, since the art direction of the episodes has the same impact.

      Like: Thumb up 0

  2. Julie says

    In season 1 Blue was the color of the correct plastic container that Jesse was supposed to buy to dissolve the bodies in.

    Like: Thumb up 1

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