Saul, Hank, and Skyler are all important characters on the Meth-cooking, plot twisting, Franch-creating show that is Breaking Bad. And their use certainly enhances my argument that we’re not watching Breaking Bad so much as The Tragedy of Walter White, Chemistry Teacher of New Mexico. And I’ve not gotten, (to what I feel) are the big four of the series: Mike, the ultimate Henchman; Gus Fring, mild mannered Chicken Shack owner/Meth Kingpin; Jesse Pinkman, apprentice; and the man himself, Walter White the Science Guy. (You were thinking it, too. I just said it.)
I plan on getting on each of those characters, but quite frankly, I need to take a bit of a break in discussing solely the characters, because I’m doing a disservice to what makes Breaking Bad Shakespearean in it’s execution. (No pun intended to the many, many people killed by Walter White.) So this week, I want to talk about something this show does well: Symbols.
Symbols were ALWAYS a big part of what made Shakespeare who he was in his writing. From a bloody hankerchief to a dagger (that may or may not be before me) to characters themselves, Shakespeare loved him some symbols. Breaking Bad and it’s writers are no exceptions.
The biggest, of course, comes during the season’s second season, the Pink Teddy Bear. I won’t go into too much detail on this one, simply because it’s been over analyzed to death. The Pink Teddy Bear showed first in the White’s pool, (technically in a music video for a fake band, I’m going to count the show because of it’s impact) then showed up in “flash forwards”. The episode names formed the titles “Seven Thirty Seven” “Down” “Over” “ABQ” giving us the foreshadowing to the season finale, when the event happened, indirectly caused by Walter. The bear came to represent Walt’s path of destruction. Later, when he finds the eye of the bear in the pool, he saves it, adopting it as a personal talisman. I believe the act of him picking up this one last piece of the bear (that’s taken away as evidence) as the final moment when we are to see “Walter White, Guy trying to help his family” to “Walter White: Bad Guy.” (Not that he was ever good, but this is a full on embracing of the role.)
Then there’s the fly. The fly, a contaminant in the Meth Superlab where Walt clocks in as if he were going to work at a factory, is also a strong symbol. I think this one hasn’t been explored as much. While some people discuss that it’s his “guilt” I think it’s more than that. Thinking in science terms, Walt started the show with sort of a contaminant, his cancer. As he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld, he realizes that he’s becoming contaminated himself. While he wasn’t a saint, he did start the series working two jobs to protect his pregnant wife. He started the show as a decent guy, not a great guy. But the fly continues to appear, a visual representation of Walt’s descent into Heisenberg.
Color. Color is another big symbol in the series. Each character has their own, “color scheme” that proceeds them (Green, orange, purple...) I won’t really go into who is wearing what, I want you to be watching this and seeing what you can see, but I want to talk about the Meth itself here. In the first episode, Walt does his best to cook the purest Meth he possibly can. (I’m capitalizing “Meth” because in this case, it’s almost a character.) And he succeeds. It’s the hit of the down, because Walt believes that if you do something, you do it right and you do it the best you can. (Indeed, Jesse has saved a paper from when he was in Walt’s class that said “Apply Yourself.” Another recurring theme.) He does this because Jesse had a signature where he put Chili Powder in the Meth, and Walt hated the idea. Do your best, you don’t need any sort of “help” from phony signatures.
But later, when they’re cut off from their usual recipe, they steal a chemical that turns their Meth blue. (They use real science talk for this. I point out again, English. I can barely keep up on Star Trek.) From that point on, they do their best to ensure that the Meth remains blue- Heisenberg/Walt’s signature. This also a window into the world of Walt’s corruption. His once pure Meth is now a different color... blue... so people know that it’s Walt. It’s blue. A fairly innocuous color. It’s not bold like red, or regal, like purple. It lacks the foreboding of black, or the moral ambiguity of grey. It’s blue. But this one tiny visual change is kind of ignored when a lot of people discuss Breaking Bad. It comes at the end of the second season. It comes when Walt is still sick, when he’s still trying to figure things out for his family (despite the millions he’ll eventually earn, he originally sets out to earn only enough to keep his family safe when he dies) and he makes one tweak, out of necessity. Then despite unlimited resources, he keeps the tweak. So everyone knows it’s him.
Because as we move into the home stretch of Breaking Bad Shakespeare Fridays, we need to start discussing Walter White's Tragic Flaw. (Which is apparent in all of Shakespeare's great tragedies.) In this case, it's Walter White's Pride. And that is what the blue represents.