Often celebrated for its stellar performances, clever writing, and innovative camerawork, another overlooked aspect of Breaking Bad’s visual storytelling is its evocative use of blocking as an element of its mise-en-scène. For instance, season 5’s action surrounding Skyler’s bed serves as a manifestation of her character arc. Early in the season, she retreats to her bed passively in shock after learning that Walt is a murderer who seems to show no remorse. In the fourth episode, “Fifty One,” the centerpiece scene depicts a bedroom fight between Walt and Skyler, where she rises from her bed to literally stand-up to a domineering Walt. Watching the scene without sound might erase the detailed content of their conversation, especially Skyler’s chilling declaration that she is waiting for Walt’s cancer to return and free her from captivity, but the emotional power is evident in how the characters move in the space. Skyler treats her bed as a contingent safe zone while Walt towers over her, rises to resist his intrusion into her space, only to be tracked down and cornered throughout the room. Coupled with vibrant editing and camerawork, the blocking tells the story.
Skyler gets a new bed in the recent episode “Rabid Dog,” where she reclines drinking vodka in a luxurious hotel room more befitting the king and queen of a drug empire. Without moving from her throne-like bed, she confronts Walt on his many lies, and insists that he “take care of” the new threat of Jesse seeking revenge. Walt no longer towers over her in domination, but scampers to serve her ice and respond to her accusations. The contrasting visuals of the bedrooms and blocking convey how much has changed in their relationship, especially in Skyler’s acceptance of what they have become.
With three episodes remaining in the series, I struggle to respond to this transformation. I have been sympathetic to Skyler as a victim of Walt’s abuse, but she crosses a line by calling for Jesse’s murder; yet we know more about Jesse than she does—to Skyler, he’s just another drug dealer, while we regard Jesse as another victim of Walt’s abusive manipulation. I yearn for a scene where Skyler learns more of Walt’s amoral behavior, perhaps offering a new layer of meaning in a bedroom. If that moment comes, I’ll rewatch the scene without sound to see how the blocking tells the story.