In which I attempt to better understand the art of scene writing through a close reading of Breaking Bad, one scene at a time.
And so we come to end! There’s still work to be done, but there’s light on the horizon!
With two very short scenes, Gilligan manages to give closure to Walt’s EXTERNAL NEED and his unspoken INTERNAL NEED in record time. (I don’t know if it’s record time or if there’s a record.)
Much of the below script was cut from the final filmed version. The images do most of the heavy lifting of telling this story.
INT. WHITE HOUSE - KITCHEN - NIGHT
Late. Lights are off. Skyler and Walter, Jr. have gone to bed. Walt stands at the kitchen sink, washing Krazy-8’s cash in Dawn dishwashing liquid. Washing off the toxic chemicals.
He gives an involuntary shudder. He squeezes shut his eyes, which are tearing up. Tonight’s a night he’s never going to forget -- whether he lives two years or two hundred.
This scene was cut. My hunch is that it slows down/clouds the dominant emotion Gilligan wants to leave us with: victory.
INT. WHITE HOUSE - GARAGE - NIGHT
BLACK FRAME. A DING, then a door opens inside the clothes dryer -- revealing we’re out. Dry twenty dollar looking bills flutter around. Weary Walt reaches in and grabs them by the fistful.
The above is all that remains of this scene in the filmed version. Why? It’s a bunch of money -- there’s no need to know how much. It’s obvious that it’s both a lot and not enough. There’s still work to be done, adventures to be had.
Walt quickly counts the money. Eight thousand and change. Walt jams it in a shoebox, snaps a rubber band around it. Remembering something, he reaches in his pocket...
And by never again mentioning the camcorder, the audience can forget it with the assumption of a dire fate for the unfortunate tape.
... And pulls out the tiny camcorder TAPE. On it, we’ll remember, is the confession to his family. He doesn’t destroy the tape. He thinks about it, then drops it into the shoebox full of cash.
Walt stands tiptoes on a chair, tucks the box way up in the garage rafters. Looking haunted, like hell warmed over, he climbs down and exits, turns off the light. DARKNESS.
So we’ve covered a battle won in a war for Walt’s EXTERNAL NEED, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. But what’s his INTERNAL NEED?
Here are some visual clues from earlier in the episode:
There are other examples, but let’s not go over the top. Walt’s INTERNAL NEED is to be an Alpha Male, but until now he’s been almost purebred Beta.
You could also phrase it that he needs to break out of humdrum domestication. A potent example of this domestication is the flimsy faux-bacon from the first scene of the first act.
The cheap stairmaster is another clue. There's a great quote from J.G. Ballard's High-Rise, which I can't locate right now, but the gist of it is that all the hours of stairmaster in the world hadn't prepared the character for actually taking the stairs, which is a sad portrait of the un-wilding of mankind, since even stairs are manmade.
INT. WHITE HOUSE - MASTER BEDROOM - NIGHT
Skyler lies in bed, alone and awake. We’re on her as we hear the door open. Quiet footsteps. Clothes come off.
Walt gingerly climbs into bed, not wanting to wake his wife. He lies motionless, staring up at the ceiling. A torrent of thoughts rush through his head. Finally:
SKYLER: Where were you?
Walt doesn’t answer. Skyler turns his way, stares at him.
SKYLER: Walt, I don’t know what is going on with you lately --
WALT: Nothing. I’m fine.
SKYLER: — Whatever it is, I’ll tell you this. I do not like it when you don’t talk to me. The worst thing you can do is shut me out.
WALT: I’m... I understand. I’m fine.
She stares at him in the darkness. He stares at her.
If there’s something I’ve learned about how to study scripts by writing 30+ blog posts about it, it’s that there’s a lot to learn comparing the film to the script.
There’s one difference between this scene in the script versus the filmed pilot.
The script has Skyler and Walt looking into each other’s eyes before Walt makes his move. In the filmed version, Walt imposes his eye contact on Skyler.
This is an important distinction. The closing emotional shiftis not something that happens between them. It’s something that happens inside of Walt. That’s why it’s important that Walt make the move to look her in the eye.
A strange feeling comes over him. It’s relief to be alive, mixed with dread that life won’t last. It’s fear of being caught. It’s the thrill -- for once -- of taking risks.
It’s excitement, in many different forms. And since he can’t talk about it, there’s only one way to let it out.
Walt kisses his wife. Passionately.
He keeps kissing her. Gently rolls her so that her back is to him. Out of sight under the covers, he fumbles with her panties, pulls them down.
Surprised as hell, Skyler nonetheless allows it. She feels around behind her.
SKYLER: Oh my God. Is that you?
It sure is. The mighty oak. Walt enters her -- Skyler’s eyes pop wide, and we CUT TO BLACK. Over the sounds of HEAVY BREATHING and the SQUEAK-SQUEAK-SQUEAKING of bedsprings...
Back to my point, which might be more obvious after reading the above closing lines.
This sex scene does not represent intimacy.
This sex scene represents all the things that Walt has not been until now: victorious, dominant, manly.
In a love scene, sex would be about the couple.
This is not a love scene. It’s not about Walt and Skyler.
The focus is Walt’s desire and fulfillment. Skyler is someone on whom Walt can exert his will to power.
This dynamic will be loudly and clearly echoed in the final episode when Walt and Skyler see each other for the last time and he finally admits that he didn’t do any of this meth business for his family. He did it for himself.
This is the first example of that Walt.
Hence Skyler saying, "Oh, Walt. Is that you?"
It's not the Walt from earlier.
He’s already Heisenberg. In bed!