This is the second part in a weeklong series of Breaking Bad-related stories, all leading up to the series finale airing this Sunday. Tomorrow: An interview with David Costabile (better known to BB fans as Gale Boetticher)
Perhaps more than any television show in recent memory, Breaking Bad has been analyzed, scrutinized and thoroughly dissected — all on a weekly basis. Thanks to legions of devoted viewers and recappers, rare is the callback or veiled reference that goes unnoticed. And happily for fans, showrunner Vince Gilligan and his writing staff are committed to cramming each episode full of as many Easter eggs as it can hold. But with the show’s fifth and final season drawing to a close on Sunday, we thought it fitting to give special attention to a few of the best visual motifs and theories you might have missed:
The clothes make the man
Breaking Bad (thanks in part to costume designers Kathleen Detoro and Jennifer L. Bryan) has a bit of a thing for using clothes—specifically clothing color—to explain what’s happening in the world of Walter White. When the show began, Walt was a mild-mannered high-school chemistry teacher who wore muted tones and had a very close relationship with khaki (both the color and the pant-style). As John LaRue pointed out in this incredibly detailed infographic, however, Walt’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent turn to crime also led to drastic shift in color scheme.
The color tone of his clothing grows increasingly strong, as well as dark, and Walt often wears black when in a position of power (perhaps most notably during the infamous Season 5 “Say My Name” scene). Conversely, Walt reverts to more neutral tones during his weaker moments, when he removes himself from the drug business (two prominent examples: first, when he initially resolved to make a run for it near the end of Season 4 and second, when working in the car wash during the first episodes from this summer’s slate).
Of course, the color of Walt’s clothes isn’t the only way that Gilligan winks at the audience. In the recent “Ozymandias” episode, there’s a visual gag so quick and subtle that you could easily miss it if you blinked at the wrong moment. Notice anything familiar in this image?
It’s fairly clear that those are meant to be Walt’s pants that he left out in the desert way back when he and Jesse cooked in the “Crystal Ship” for the first time (made even clearer by the flashback from the episode’s opening). Looks as though there wasn’t much demand for a pair of 34W/32L Dockers in the middle of the New Mexico desert.
All about the animals.
Though the White family doesn’t own any pets, animals have always played a crucial role, visually and thematically, in the series. The most obvious example of this phenomenon is Season 3’s “Fly,” when Walt and Jesse spend practically the entire episode in Gus Fring’s superlab attempting to track down a fly, which Walt claims is contaminating the blue meth.
The message there is not an especially difficult one to unpack—Walt’s obsessive quest to kill the fly reveals just how little control he feels like he has at that moment, compelled to work for Gus, wracked with guilt over Jane’s death. Those are the larger, inexorable problems that he can’t seem to fix. But maybe, just maybe, if he can accomplish one small goals, the others will follow.
This season, the animal-related callbacks have been even more prominent. Does everyone remember the tarantula that Drew Sharp scooped up just moments before Todd put a bullet through him?
A spider that looked eerily similar walked right in front of Jesse right before he met with Walt for what proved to be their last civil conversation. Todd took Drew Sharp’s spider after killing him—almost as though it were a trophy of sorts—and not long after another incident of violence in the desert (this time when Todd’s white-supremacist Uncle Jack murdered Hank and Steve Gomez), Todd took Jesse in much the same manner.
But a spider isn’t the only animal to become associated with Jesse (and considering how deeply Drew Sharp’s death affected him, it’s fair to connect the two). Back in Season 4, Jesse used the metaphor of a “problem dog” who needs to be put down to explain—in veiled terms—his killing of Gale Boetticher. Earlier this season, in “Rabid Dog,” Saul refers to Jesse as a “rabid dog” when suggesting to Walt that the former “Captain Cook” be taken out. Though Walt would later change his mind about killing Jesse, he initially rejected the idea out of hand.
In the closing moments of “Ozymandias,” after Walt has climbed into the Vacuum Repair Man’s mini-van to begin his new life, this is what we see crossing the road:
By this time, Jesse has become Todd’s prisoner, though fans have wondered whether the image of the stray dog indicates that despite Jesse’s failed breakout attempt in “Granite State,” he won’t eventually free himself from captivity.
What’s in a face?
Though Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) died in the Season 4 finale and appeared in fewer than half of the show’s episodes, his specter lives on in the Breaking Bad universe. Fring was the subject of two of the most indelible close-ups that the series has had to offer. The first, of course, is this:
We haven’t seen anyone else with their face blown off, but there have been a couple eery parallels. First, even pre-dating Fring’s “face-off” moment, we saw this teddy bear in White family pool in the wake of Season 2’s horrific plane crash:
The resemblance is rather unmistakable (more on the doll later). There’s also a striking resemblance with this—decidedly more human—character:
That’s Jesse after Walt gives him up to Todd in “Ozymandias.” Though the visual similarities are immediately apparent, there are similiarities behind the circumstances as well: both are former business partners whom Walt has given up to an enemy who has subsequently done them harm.
Less iconic is this other image of Gus, which comes in “Hermanos,” just after his partner has been executed right in front of him by cartel leader Don Eladio. The look is one of pure, unadulterated anguish and despair. But more importantly, it also marks the moment when Gus is driven irrevocably down the path of vengeance.
Of course, Fring ultimately does get his vengeance—thanks in part to help from Jesse and Mike (though it nearly costs both Gus and Mike their lives). But it would not be the last time we saw that face during a Breaking Bad episode. In fact, here are two more instances from the last two episodes, first Walter after Uncle Jack kills Hank, and then Jesse after Todd kills Andrea (slightly different, but the black strap in Jesse’s mouth that creates that same sort of black hole image as the other two makes it a connection worth making):
Fring got his revenge on Don Eladio—we’ll have to wait for Sunday’s finale to see whether Walt and Jesse get theirs.
What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.
There’s little question that Walter White is one of the most arrogant, self-centered protagonists we’ve ever seen on television, but he’s proven time and time again that he’s not above adopting the habits of others in his life—just as long as they’re no longer around to notice. See, viewers have started to pick up on the fact that every now and again, Walt will pick up a trait from his victims.
Walt’s first kill came when he strangled Krazy-8 in Jesse’s basement. For whatever reason, Krazy-8 was not a fan of the crust on bread, so when Walt made him a sandwhich, Krazy 8 requested that those crusts be cut off (it’s the little things when you’re held captive in a basement with a bike lock around your neck).
Once Walt eventually kills Krazy-8, he suddenly takes to cutting the crusts off his own sandwiches. It’s sort of adorable when you think about it, except that it’s probably not. Because, murder.
Back before Walt decided he had to shoot Mike in the gut (even though he didn’t), the two met in a bar for a drink. Walt, as he always did, ordered his drink neat, while Mike ordered his on the rocks. After Walt kills Mike and goes to visit Hank, he asks for his drink with ice in it. (On the other hand, Knob Creek does run at 100 proof, so at least a little water wouldn’t be the worst idea.)
And then there’s Gus. Once upon a time, Gus was a mild-mannered, Volvo-driving drug kingpin who always made sure to place a towel beneath his knees before vomiting into a toilet. When we got re-acclimated with Walter White earlier this summer, it turned out he had become just that:
Some have used this pattern to theorize about who might die during the second half of this fifth season, with Skyler and Jesse as the primary candidates. Do you recall that time when Skyler broke up pieces of bacon to spell out “50” on Walt’s birthday? He does the same exact thing while dining in Denny’s in the Season 5 premiere flashforward (and has also taken her maiden name for his new alias, Lambert):
Just as disconcerting is the outfit that Walt dons as he returns to the former White family residence:
With what we’ve learned in “The Granite State,” it seems somewhat unlikely that Walt will have the opportunity to kill either Skyler or Jesse prior to going to Denny’s or his former home, but trying to predict what is going to happen in a given episode of Breaking Bad—let alone how it ends—is as sure a fool’s errand as there is on television.
The worst might be yet to come.
Remember that burnt teddy bear from the downed commercial airliner we were talking about earlier? It was one of the first times the color pink had ever been prominently featured on the show. Since that time, it’s been inexorably tied to suffering and death. Some viewers believe that’s not a good sign for Walt’s daughter Holly, whose most immediately recognizable image is this one:
See anything familiar? The fact that we’ve also seen Holly wearing pink a few other times this season and the doll hasn’t disappeared entirely from memory can’t be the best of signs. On the other hand, even for a show that has proven it won’t shy away from killing innocents, the death of an infant would be a rather drastic step.
In the end, all these Easter eggs and callbacks might have practically nothing to do with whatever happens in Sunday’s series finale, but that doesn’t make them any less a crucial part of the Breaking Bad mythos. We watch for the remarkable plotting and the fantastic characters and unparalleled directing, but viewers also relish in attempting to solve the show’s mysteries. The mysteries must all come to an end on Sunday though—now we’ll finally discover which ones actually mattered.