A Scene Analysis from the Finale of Breaking Bad
What craft elements of a scene make it memorable? Think back to the scenes in film and television which stick most strongly in your mind, what do you remember about it? For me, it’s usually strong lines of dialogue. Memorable conversations at key moments in character arcs tend to stay in my mind for years after initial viewing.
Here on the blog, I’d like to start a short series of posts analysing great scenes with memorable dialogue. Let’s begin by looking at the final episode of Breaking Bad. Fair warning, if you haven’t seen the show, this analysis will contain major spoilers. The scene opens with a conversation between Skyler and her sister, Marie. Marie is warning her that Walt is back in town, expressing fear for her safety. The whole time, Skyler seems to be staring off into the distance.
The camera dollies in, revealing Walt. This expert blocking, written into the script, sets the stage for this scene.
This scene is the last time Walter and Skyler will ever meet. Throughout the show, Skyler and Walter’s marriage arc has gone through many obstacles and turmoil. This is Walter’s last chance to reconcile his actions with her, giving them both some closure.
As the conversation begins Skyler is, and rightfully so, afraid of Walter. Skyler asks if he has hurt anyone in order to be standing in her kitchen uninvited. The framing consistently puts Walter over Skyler, his presence is imposing. Walter reveals to her that his journey has come to an end; Skyler expresses her fear of the people Walter had once worked with. He movements and speech are shakey. It becomes clear that Skyler has been living in fear ever since the first season of the show. She’s sick of it, and her fear turns to anger.
Walt demonstrates to Skyler he is just as dangerous as he always has been. He is creating is final and ultimate plot. The shortness of his lines leaves much to be imagined. Skyler, nor the audience, have no clue what it is that Walt is planning, but they can be certain he is every ounce of Heisenberg as he ever was. This conversation is not about forgiveness. Seeing Skyler was ultimately part of his plan.
At first she thinks he’s giving her money, which she refuses, but he goes on to show its all just part of another plot. Walter goes on to give Skyler a lottery ticket. As he explains what these numbers mean, his voice is as cold and calculating as ever. The only emotion he expresses as he tells Skyler these numbers are the location of her dead brother-in-law is anger. Skyler silently weeps as he explains.
He doesn’t give her this information out of compassion for her or Marie’s loss of Hank and Steve, nor does he give it to her as a gesture of goodwill. He explains this is a bargaining token to be used with prosecutors. As he speaks to her, the environment of the scene is once again used to demonstrate how separated Walter is from Skyler. The same dividing wall used before is used once again to physically separate them in frame.
Walter’s actions, including an earlier scene where he created another plot to pass on his wealth to Walter Jr., demonstrate he still cares about his family’s wellbeing. A wellbeing that he has singlehandedly destroyed. Walter starts to say a phrase both Skyler and the audience have heard far too many times by this point. That everything he had done he had done for the family. This mantra has been Walter’s sole justification for his horrific actions throughout the series. It is what drove him. Previously, when about to quit the drug trade, Gustavo Fring used this very justification to pull him back in. Telling him a man provides for his family.
Skyler interrupts him. She doesn’t want to hear Walter use the same deadbeat phrase again, she’s sick of it. Then, Walter says something which surprised everyone. He said he did it for himself.
This revelation is the first true indication that Walter has changed. He is still a cold, plotting genius. He is still planning the revenge against those who betrayed him, but he no longer is living in a lie. Walter has accepted what he has become. Walter chooses to embody his actions, rather than deny and justify them. The character we all once rooted for, then hated, has carved out a path to redemption. Walter knows that in the coming scenes, he will get what he deserves. But at least by admitting the true motivations behind his actions, and by tying up these last loose ends, he can die in peace.
I want to hear your thoughts. Did Walter redeem himself, or did he die every bit a villain as he had become? What great scenes of dialogue stand out in your memory? Leave a comment down below. If you enjoyed this analysis, please feel free to read the other posts on this blog. Tune in next week for another analysis of a great scene of dialogue. Until then.