These questions regard last night’s episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.
One of the most interesting things about Breaking Bad isn’t what is said, but what’s left unsaid. Take Skyler this week: she’s always been a bit of a cipher, motivation-wise, and when she finally gets what we assume she’s wanted all these years–a way out–she balks. Afraid of implicating herself and losing everything, she clams up as soon as Hank turns on the recorder in the diner. Not even her own sister can get her to say anything incriminating. Vince Gilligan’s belief in the intelligence of his viewers is refreshing: no one needs to say the word “wire” for us to understand that Skyler assumes her sister is wearing one. As opposed to the show’s earlier use of sound and silence, Skyler and Walt–and Saul, for that matter–are only figuratively “not talking”: they speak words that are heavy with meaning but are too vague to ever be admissable in a courtroom.
Meanwhile, Jesse’s literal shell-shocked muteness brings to mind its polar opposite: the frustrated “Ding!” of Héctor “Tio” Salamanca out in the desert, who had plenty to say but was rendered unable to speak.
3. This past week, Stephen Bowie at the A.V. Club declared that Breaking Bad is a highly overrated show, arguing that aside from Bryan Cranston’s unassailable portrayal of Walt (and to a lesser extent those of Saul and Mike), the characters show no real development and are basically one-dimensional. Do the characterizations of Hank, Skyler and/or Marie in this episode bear out this argument? At all?
4. Has erstwhile crazypants Marie finally somehow become the most rational member of the White-Schrader clan? Her reactions to her sister’s lies and her husband’s stonewalling, though extreme, do seem pretty appropriate under the circumstances. On the other hand, she does try to steal her sister’s baby, which, even if justified, has pretty terrible optics, considering she is a childless woman with a history of kleptomania. Could she become this show’s moral compass in the vacuum left by Jesse’s absence of a personality?
5. Based on the opening scene of Jesse lying on a playground merry-go-round, are we meant to think that he is somehow regressing to childhood? What else might this image conjure up?
That first scene is terrifying, because it appears for a moment that Jesse might be dead: the blinking car lights at the bottom of the hill, the open car door, the body lying on the spinning wheel. Especially in the cold opens, we’ve seen movement where there is no human life: the teddy bear floating in the pool, the tarantula crawling in the desert (which later comes to symbolize the death of Drew Sharp), the buzzing of a fly that Jesse and then Walt see as heralding the latter’s expiration date. Both Jesse and Walt have in some sense “given up the ghost” at this point; the symbolism of an empty playground at night brings to mind both spooky stories and the frequent habitat of drug dealers.