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Thursday, August 15, 2013
Colors and 'Breaking Bad,' Part II: Yellow is Opposite Purple
The show mostly takes place over a single year, so from episode to episode the choice each character makes in wardrobe is like mixing colors on a palette. Each episode is a series of paintings, and sometimes you throw in a lot of white, and sometimes you throw in a lot of red.
Walt, for instance, is wearing purple when he finally convinces Gus Fring to take his blue meth, in season two, and almost simultaneously finds out his wife has gone into labor with their second child. He is also, a day later as the episodes fly, wearing purple as he watches Jesse's girlfriend die.
Jesse and his girlfriend, by the way, are in yellow bed sheets.
Color, like chemistry, mixes into new things. Yellow and blue make green; yellow is the color of contamination and disease while blue is the color of clarity and precision. Red and blue make purple; red is the color of violence and power while blue (as I said) is clarity and precision.
As I said before, blue comes out in both Walt's wife, Sky, and in the meth he makes. Both are clarity to Walt, in that his original motives are clarified by Sky's future--he wants to make sure she has one; but later, his motives are to preserve the clarity of the meth--Blue Sky, as Walt's brand of meth is called.
Since it is driven home, time and again, how important it is to mix chemicals correctly to preserve clarity of vision, it is also important to understand how the colors of the show mix together, right? I mean, Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, has said--as have the actors and staff, again and again--how important colors are to the overall product. And they, like Walt, use the word 'product' repeatedly.
Just as Walt chides Jesse for overusing or underusing the correct combinations of chemicals to produce a superior product, I imagine Gilligan complaining that this or that fabric isn't the right shade of blue, or this or that vinyl isn't the correct shade of orange.
There's a scene in season two where Walt rescues Jesse from a shooting den (or whatever--not up on my lingo--he goes to rescue Jesse from an abandoned house where depressing people go to shoot heroin). Most all the graffiti in the shell of a house is in the palatte of the show: green, red, blue. There are some purple tags, and some black, but most everything is red, green, or blue, spraypainted onto white walls. Jesse is discovered on a purple blanket, and the woman beside him could be his dead girlfriend, which he last saw in yellow sheets. She's not his girlfriend, who is decidedly dead, but she's got the same body type, and we never see her face. We just see Jesse beside her, curled up, and recognize that he's beside her specifically because she reminded him of Jane.
It reminds me of the middle-class Great Gatsby. In Gatsby, colors had significance. Rich people decayed and declined, and around them colors told their fate: yellow for corruption, white for purity, green for future, etc. If Gatsby is truly about a man who reinvented his life (Gatsby is not Gatsby's real name, after all) but instead about a man who was able to leave his past and become something else, then it makes sense that 'Breaking Bad' would use color symbolism to tell the same bleak story.
And then add a spin on it by making chemical reaction symbolize those colors.
Walt's old partner Elliot Schwartz--his last name is phonetically similar for 'schwarz,' which means 'black' in German--now heads Gray Matter. Gray, of course, is a blending of white and black. As we know from the first season, Walt left Gray Matter (which is another term for 'brains,'). Walt left Gray Matter a bitter Nobel Laureate, convinced that the love of his life had been stolen from him.
There's a scene early in the second season where Hank--Walt's brother-in-law working with the DEA--makes a joke. After demanding to know why everyone is convinced Heisenberg has been caught, he derisively says that "we aren't looking for a Nobel prize winner." Which of course they are. Walt, who is Heisenberg, won the Nobel.
Walt also, like Gatsby, pines after a woman long lost to him.
Yellow and blue make green. Just like Gatsby on the dock, Walt is reaching for the green in hopes that he'll get Gretchen back. Meanwhile he's got blue: Sky and meth. And the yellow.
to be continued...
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