Two posts ago I explained that my wife and I had just started watching Breaking Bad, and we’d recently finished Season One. I gave a quick recap of the season. In the following post, I talked about Walter White and his family. And Jesse, yo. Now I’d like to cover a series of topics in this final installment of my Breaking Bad Season One observations.
And then I can start working on my Breaking Bad Season Two observations.
Cancer’s a big deal, and I was interested in seeing how it plays out on the show. I have some familiarity with cancer (not necessarily lung cancer though) and its treatment.
Walter White’s diagnosis of Stage 3A lung cancer in the first episode was a bit abrupt. Maybe I’m wrong about the particulars of diagnosing lung cancer, but my understanding of cancer in general goes like this: a mass or masses are identified as suspicious. Lymph node involvement can be suspected but requires surgery to confirm. Suspected cancerous masses have to be biopsied, extracted, and examined. Especially to be properly staged. This is a process that takes weeks, really.
I don’t blame the show for shortcutting it, and for all I know Walter had previously been biopsied or the cancer was just incredibly obvious from a CAT/PET scan. There was a purpose in the show for only Walter to get the diagnosis, so he could eventually defuse a tense situation with Skyler when he reveals his dire condition.
The other cancer-related aspects are really spot on. Chemo works by killing fast-growing cells, it’s not specifically targeted to cancer cells (which luckily are fast growing cells…) so hair follicles, fingernails, the lining of the mouth, and the lining of the stomach are all hit. Seeing those effects on Walter was pretty moving. I don’t mean to go into great detail, but I suspect anyone handling Emilio and the falling tub can handle chemo talk.
As a parallel to chemo killing good cells along with the bad, we see in Season One the effects of Walter’s meth-operation taking a toll on the innocent. It was rough seeing Hugo the custodian caught up in Hank’s investigation of the theft of the science lab supplies.
It would have been bad enough with any innocent taking a hit for Walter’s actions, but Hugo was presented as a sympathetic support for Walt. Hugo was there to clean up after Walter but also was available to offer the timely piece of gum.
Gum is extra relevant to someone on chemo. It’s not only there to help with taking the taste away from a post-nausea event, but chemo makes things taste wrong, since it attacks the mouth lining and dries out your mouth. Chewing gum helps with that. So when Hugo was arrested, I felt it as a loss for Walt, like the collateral loss of good cells with cancer cells.
Eventually, I knew Walter would shave his head. It’s rare for someone under chemo to hold on to stubborn clumps of hair when the chemo kicks in and hairloss begins. I agree with Walt Jr. that his dad does look badass with the shaved head. And it was a nice visual transformation into the debut of Heisenberg.
Bryan Cranston’s hair is just… mild? Malcolm in the Middle? It had a character all its own, and his shaving it off just really, really worked.
I felt that the show didn’t necessarily sell me on Walter’s lack of treatment options. He does have medical insurance (via an HMO), it’s Skyler’s insistence with this out-of-network oncologist that is the reason the treatment is entirely out of pocket for the Whites. I understand that Walter is not going to take Elliot’s money for treatment, and I feel satisfied that I’ll learn more about that over time. It just seems that Walter could get treatment through his insurance, to satisfy Skyler as a compromise.
This isn’t a super-weakness in the story, it’s just something on my mind.
WALTER WHITE AND COLOR
There are two moments in the first episode where Walter is completely focused on the contrast of color. These moments only happen as far as I have seen (limited to Season One) in the first episode and I wonder if more instances will happen later.
While in the car wash, Walter’s attention is grabbed by a woman in a green dress. She’s checking out her freshly washed car. The background is obscured by car-wash plastic drapes, the car is somewhat indistinct, but the woman’s solid green dress really stands out. It’s not clear why she pulls on his focus, but she does. (It might just be that she was attractive, but that doesn’t seem right to me.)
This is followed by him passing out, leading to his discovery of cancer.
When Walter gets his diagnosis of lung cancer, the doctor has a bright yellow mustard stain on his white lab coat, which again captures Walter’s attention. He hears the diagnosis, he can repeat it back verbatim but the contrast in color is his focus. It was very dramatic and seemed meaningful.
I don’t know if that scene was just to show Walter’s distracted state; I understand zoning out at times like that and since TV is a visual medium, the mustard stain is a good hook to hang that on. But it felt extra important to me.
Especially after I noticed that color is referenced over and over.
-Gray Matter Technologies was specifically called out as a combination of Walter White and Elliot Schwartz’s names. (For those not following, Schwartz means ‘black’.)
-Skyler’s name evokes the color blue (and Anna Gunn looks great in her blue ‘prom’ dress at Elliot’s beige-centric party.)
-Even Jesse has a colorful name.
-Skyler and Walt’s unborn baby girl Holly (which is a shade of green) is called Esmeralda (emerald/a different green) by her aunt Marie.
-This hasn’t been made obvious in Season One, but based on all the annotated Gifs I found when looking for a Gif to use for Marie, Marie is big into the color purple.
This all might mean nothing, it might mean something. It might just be something for me to notice and talk about. Years of watching LOST trained me to make a big deal about things, and be okay if they’re not really important. It’s just something that I’ll be paying attention to.
“Chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation.” – Walter White, Season One, Episode One
Walter’s lectures to his classes are often very relevant to the show as a whole. I really enjoyed them. It’s a clever way to boldy state themes for the show while hiding it as part of Walter’s lectures. Walter’s introduction to us as a chemistry teacher, talking about life, change, decay was an amazingly efficient way to lay a lot of groundwork.
Walter’s brief lecture on chirality, the mirror-image principle of molecules and their effects is a great introduction to Walter’s dark side, Heisenberg.
And Walter’s bold move in dealing with Tuco and a pound of Mercury Fulminate was nicely underscored by Walter’s classroom lecture on that very topic of chemically-released energy.
WHO KNEW CHEMISTRY CLASS COULD BE SO AWESOME?
That’s all for now on Breaking Bad. I’m not qualified to adequately discuss the excellent visuals, the acting, the pacing, the characterization, the music, etc. It’s just so good. But you probably already know that.
The images are obviously from AMC’s Breaking Bad.
I make no claim to any of the artwork obviously, but I do make some claim to the text of this posting. So there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved