Breaking Bad is undoubtedly one of the best shows to ever come along on Television and is arguably the best show going around right now.
The acting on all fronts is amazing and Bryan Cranston in his performance of the dual natured Walter White/Heisenberg is well deserving of the 3 consecutive best actor Emmys he received in 2008, 09 and 10.
What really sets the show apart however, is the use of Mise-en-scène that adds a level of depth and meaning that elevates the show into the higher echelons of film making and cinema.
In fact its no secret that some of the best work in terms of script writing, cinematography and drama production is being done right now on the small screen and not the silver screen. The willingness of cable channels like AMC and HBO to push the envelope in terms of drama production and original content has really set the bar high and shifted the focus for quality storytelling from the cinema to the sofa.
The distinct advantage that TV shows have of course is the additional time they have with regards to the development of character, plot and story arch’s over the course of seasons and not just a couple of hours. This  enables the viewer to invest more heavily in the characters involved and the stories being told.
Nowhere has this been more true then in with regards to the character of Walter White in Breaking Bad.
Over the course of 5 seasons we have seen Walt transform before our eyes from good family man and High School Chemistry teacher to ever corrupting Methamphetamine Cook and drug Kingpin.
In fact the die was pretty much cast for Walt’s character mid way through the 2nd season, with each subsequent season/episode really being an insiders view on his increasingly slippery slide down an evil slope.
But the change that takes a hold of Walt is not just a simple change in terms of attitude and behavior. It is an all consuming and insidious transformation that changes him mentally, morally and physically. So complete is this transformation that he quite literally becomes a different person.
His transformation places the viewer in the interesting paradox of being invested in a character who at the end of the journey is so far removed from the character we originally identified with. Ultimately we are left questioning why we should be feeling any sympathy or empathy towards him at all.
I guess this is where the skill and subtlety of Bryan Cransons performance really kicks in. For no matter how evil Heisenberg becomes, he still retains enough residue of the Walter White we once knew that we can still retain some level of sympathy/empathy for him.

 

Furthermore great writing and story telling often draws upon and taps into (either consciously of unconsciously) deep-seated concepts of mythology.
For an excellent discussion on the power of myth I would strongly recommend Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.
What makes the transformation of Walter White so compelling is that it draws upon mythology in the way it explores the concept of the other or evil self.
In Mythology as it relates to the other or evil self we have the concept of the Doppelgänger.
In fiction and folklore, a Doppelgänger (GERMAN “double walker”) is a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.
The word is also used in the context of describing the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection.
Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln tells a fascinating story in which Americas greatest President once saw his own Doppelgänger in a parlor mirror which was interpreted as a premonition of his own death in the second term of his presidency.
In fact the concept of the mirror, or reflected image is often closely associated with the concept of the Doppelgänger.
In Cinema some excellent uses of the reflected image to represent or portray the Doppelgänger. Immediately spring to mind.

1) The creepy kid in the shining.

2) Gollum

3) Natalie Portman in  “Black Swan”

The use of mirror and reflected image and its close association with the Doppelgänger is due in no small part to the significance it has in regards to superstition and the occult.
For instance Nostradamus used a scrying or magic mirror to predict the future.
Indeed the use of mirror as portal or gateway to alternative of Parallel worlds is common, particularly as a storytelling device.
Alice’s Adventures Beyond the Looking Glass and  the magic mirror of snow white immediately come to mind

The use of mirrors and reflected image is used constantly throughout Breaking Bad, sometime to gives us a glimpse of Walt’s Doppelganger Heisenberg and at others to imply that we are journey through the looking glass to the World of Heisenberg

Just look at the recent publicity still for the 5th season

In fact Part of the joy of watching Breaking Bad is the subtle way in which the use of reflected image is used throughout the series

If you’re new to the series then I suggest you pay close attention to the use of reflected image as you watch the show, and follow Walt’s journey.
For those that have been there form the start I would recommend going back and revisiting the show with a fresh set of eyes. It’s well worth it.

 

Some examples of mirror, reflected image & duality

1) Mirror Mirror on the wall

2) The Chicken Brothers

3) The Twins

3) A premonition

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