Breaking Down Breaking Bad: Pilot, Scene 13
In which I attempt to better understand the art of scene writing through a close reading of Breaking Bad, one scene at a time.
INT. DR. BELKNAP’S OFFICE/EXAM AREA – DAY
Days later. A MONTAGE OF CLOSE-UPS: a blood pressure cuff gets pumped with a WHOOSH-WHOOSH-WHOOSH; a stethoscope slides here and there over bare skin; glands get palpated; blood is drawn; eyes, ears, nose and throat are checked; more blood is drawn; colorful MRIs pop up on a monitor; still more BLOOD is drawn. END MONTAGE.
This was cut in favor of the aforementioned single shot of Walt in the MRI.
CUT TO — Walt in his street clothes, sitting in a red leather chair. He’s staring almost directly into camera.
SILENCE. Up from it rises a faint sort of buzzy, shimmering TINNITUS sound. It’s the RINGING in Walt’s ears. It gets louder as we slowly CREEP IN on Walt’s face. He’s staring at us blankly. He’s staring at:
Walt’s POV — DOCTOR BELKNAP. Dr. Belknap is a balding man in his late fifties. On a good day, he’s maybe avuncular. He’s sitting behind his desk, looking right at us, talking in slight SLOW-MOTION. We don’t hear a single word he’s saying. We only hear the buzzy RINGING.
CLOSER POV — we tilt down from Belknap’s face, his moving lips, to his doctor’s coat. On the pristine white of his lapel, there’s a spot of yellow MUSTARD. We fixate on it.
DR. BELKNAP: — Mr. White? Are you listening?
We’ve snapped out of it. The SOUND in the room is normal. No more SLOW-MOTION. Walt looks up from the man’s lapel.
DR. BELKNAP: Did you..? You understood what I’ve said to you?
WALT: Yeah. Multiple myeloma. (a beat) Best-case scenario, with chemo, I’ll live another two years. (off the man’s gaze) It’s just, you’ve got mustard on your… you’ve got mustard there.
A great example of a writer asking themselves: “What’s the opposite of what happens in this kind of scene?”
Walt points. Belknap glances down at the spot on his lapel, then back up at Walt. He has no idea what to say to that.
Off Walt, looking very matter-of-fact… disconcertingly so:
Walt unconsciously wants to avoid facing the reality of his situation. So he listens but survival instinct blunts his reaction., the same way adrenaline will quiet the pain of impact long enough for you to escape your attacker. (Take it from someone who’s been in plenty of bike accidents.)
He needs order, he needs control. If he can’t control his own body, he’ll wheedle out imperfections in his surroundings.
The obstacle is the doctor, who brings Walt back to earth.
The completion: Walt fights off reality with a stick and stays comfortably numb to the news of his impending death.