dinsdag 2 juli 2019

Symbolism in the start of Breaking Bad episode ‘Madrigal’ (S5E2)

Teaser contains allusions to Jesus Christs The Last Supper

[SPOILER ALERT]

The start of Breaking Bad-episode ‘Madrigal’ (S5E2) contains a lot of symbolism. There is a whole story "untold" by the character of Herr Schuler. He speaks only ten words in the first six minutes in which the most classical of all dramatic stories unfolds. In this teaser, Herr Schuler takes the center stage and the audience can witness a story that contain strong allusions to Jesus Christs Last Supper. The story of Christ versus the story of an anti-christ. The Way of the Cross versus the Way of the Double-Cross. An analysis of images and implicit references.

The Last Supper
At the start of Season 5, episode 2, we see Herr Schuler eating a number of round rösti snacks, tasting new kinds of sauces. Without saying a word and with an absent, staring glance, he does his tasting on autopilot. He doesn’t even hear what the scientist is saying about the sauces. It is abvious that Herr Schuler realizes this is his Last Supper. He is on the brink of betrayal. This is the end of his empire. He knows that Gus’ death led to investigations of his company and that he is about to get caught.
Figure 1: still at 1’51’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2

Figure 2: Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’
By comparing the still (figure 1) from Breaking Bads ‘Madrigal’ to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous work ‘The Last Supper’ (figure 2) one can see striking similarities. Compare the long table, the followers that are surrounding the betrayed one and the block structure at the ceiling. These are all photographical allusions to The Last Supper. Even the line ‘The last one is essentially just ketchup’ (see subtitles at figure 1) is almost an allusion to the title ‘The Last Supper’ (ketchup - supper).
As one can see in the still below (figure 3) the colors of the suit and tie of Herr Schuler are (dark) blue and red. These are the same colors as Christs clothes on The Last Supper. The opposite colors in the Breaking Bad still - the dark clothes of Herr Schuler versus the white clothes of the scientists - are there to enhance the effect of the bad guy.

Figure 3: still at 1’41’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
An explanation could be the round rösti snacks in combination with the ketchup. The round rösti’s are an allusion to the catholic hosts. The two together form a strong allusion to Christs famous words ‘for this is my body and this is my blood’ as stated in the Bible:

That the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he (…)said, “This is my body which is [broken] for you.” (…) In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

The bowl which contains the round snacks looks like a bowl for communion bread. In the symbolism of bread and blood, one can say that Herr Schuler himself has got “blood” on his hands, as can be seen in the following still (figure 4).

Figure 4: still at 1’40’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
St Petrus’ denial
The only moment that Herr Schuler speaks, is when his assistant Frau Tromel enters the room and gives her announcement that the police is waiting for him. On a content level she is just saying that the police is waiting for him, and that there are three of them. On a symbolic level her words refer to Jesus’ prediction that St Petrus would deny knowing Jesus thrice before the rooster would crow. Frau Tromel words refer to these three times of betrayal (‘Three this time’; figure 5). The dialogue is as follows:

Frau Tromel: Herr Schuler, Sie Sind zuruck. Drei dies mal. [translated: Mr. Schuler, they are back. Three this time.] Herr Schuler: Sagen Sie ihnen das ich gleich komme. Danke, Frau Tromel. – [translated: Tell them I’ll be with them shortly. Thank you, Ms. Tromel.].

Figure 5: still at 2’17’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
Judas’ Kiss
Next to St Petrus denial one can find Judas Kiss in this scene as well. If you look at the way Frau Tromel bends towards Herr Schuler (figure 4), she leans that far affront that she almost kisses him. This is an allusion to Judas’ kiss. Her words reinforce the reality that his betrayal is for real. It is no coincidence that the reversed name of "Tromel" spells out: "Le Mort", French for "The Death".

Way of the Cross
The betrayal of Jesus leads to his crucifixion. Herr Schulers walk through the hallway with all the logos can be seen as his Way of the Cross. In the catholic church the Way of the Cross is the path Jesus Christ walked carrying the cross. It also refers to the prayers that are been made within a church along each of the Stations of the Cross, a series of artistic representations, depicting Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion.

Figure 6: still at 3’19’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
Every representation shows a phase in this Way of the cross, just like the classical paintings one can see in many Western Churches. The word station stems from the latin word statio, which means: "I stand" and refers to a place where one stands still for a moment. This is exactly what Herr Schuler does on his way through the hallway (figure 6). All the logo’s represent different phases of building his empire. The logo of Los Pollos Hermanos, the one empire that brought him down, is taken of the wall can be seen as a symbolic act in itself and has also some Christian allusions in it. For instance: in the Christian fourteen Stations of the Cross, the thirteenth Station represents: Jesus is taken down from the Cross.

Herr Schuler can be seen here as an Anti-Christ, following the phases Christ has gone. The whole mini-story is a symbolic doubled and inversed layar of classical betrayal as the story of Christ is teaching is. All the allusions increase the impact of Herr Schulers story. Yet it's not the good one that got betrayed, but the bad one. You could argue this is the ultimate double-cross (!).

Other symbolism in this scene
There is more symbolism to be found in this scene.

Dark and light, life and death
Look at the two stills below. In figure 7 he stands between the light at the left and the dark side of death (AED) on the right.
Figure 7: still at 4’01’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
There is a delicate and deliberate balance in the image, regarding the light at the left and the dark possibility of death at the right side.
Figure 8: still at 4’05’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
When he turns around, he sees the light, yet chooses for the dark side of the AED. There he decides – probably again and definitely for the last time - to kill himself. He joins the dark side (see the unbalance in the still, figure 8). His next action is to take the portable AED from the wall and to use it not as a life saver but as a death maker.

The red colors
Figure 9: still at 4’41’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
Red is a powerful image system, that refers to danger, to blood, to evil. The red toilet, the red door and the red toiletpaper - all very unconventional items to be red-colored - refer to the blood that has been shed, is going to be shed in a minute and to all the evil that is behind all these choices.

As the ultimate warning signal the color red refers to all the danger and death that is coming up. The ketchup earlier, and the splitting up from blue and red earlier in this scene, is preluding his final countdown. The blue and red together gave Herr Schuler his balance in life, but now the only color left is red. He is in the ultimate, unbalanced and irreversible phase of his life. It is going to be a red zone, a danger zone and death zone from now on.

'No' to the DEA versus 'yes' to the AED
If you look at the way Herr Schuler chooses his death, we come to an odd symbolic conversion. Rather than to open his mouth to the DEA, he chooses to put a AED device (see Figure 10 and Figure 11) in his closed mouth. From DEA to AED and from open to close.
Figure 10: still at 5’07’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
Instead of choosing for openness at that particular moment he moves towards an eternal silencing of himself. The name of this episode - Madrigal - is a girl's name of Latin origin, meaning "song for unaccompanied voices". Please notice the colors of the AED: these are the same colors as can be seen at the Last Supper and in the clothes of Herr Schuler: the combination of blue and red; the combination of the ultimate betrayal in a time when his life was seemingly in balance. He makes up his mind for a last time to choose red over blue.
Figure 11: still at 5’12’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
Toilet flush
In the end of the scene we see Herr Schuler falling of the toiletseat (see figure 12). This activates the automatic flush of the toilet. This flush of the toilet tells us in a symbolic way that this is Herr Schulers best attempt to clean up all the dirt behind him. He finds his death in washing dirt/ washing dirty money: please read the subtitles in the image of figure 11.
Figure 12: still at 5’49’’ from teaser ‘Madrigal’, S5E2
A more debatable interpretation would be that the flush (also) refers to the flush in a game of poker. In a sense of: Herr Schuler gambled and he lost. An indication that this could be the case can be found in the lighting of this scene-ending. You can find six round lights around Herr Schuler as if he is confronted with the highest roll of a dice possible: in this interpretation Herr Schuler has overplayed his hand; big time.

The perspective from above towards the body below can be seen as a reversal of the perspective of Jesus when He dies. There where Jesus goes to heaven, this man is going the opposite way. The bird's eye view amplifies this feeling of a body not lifted, but that this is a crook's and criminal's final and fatal fall on a cold and sterile floor.

Storytelling with a minimum of words 
The whole teaser of The Madrigal takes about 5 minutes and 20 seconds. Herr Schuler is in this teaser the main character, yet he says almost nothing. While he uses only two sentences with a total sum of ten words, he tells his story in silence in this episode: parallel to the notion that he isn’t talking to the police, he isn’t talking a lot at all; nor to his colleagues, nor to us as audience.

Wrap up
This teaser tells the whole story of a man who realizes deeply that this is his last supper. He knows he is being caught, betrayed by evidence found on Gus. A story that is amplified in a symbolic way by Christian elements of betrayal. Colors, symbolism and photography of images (the image system) support this symbolically told story that overarches the radical choices that Herr Schuler make; the man who sees his empire collapse. The sudden change from a successful criminal to a desperate man who chooses death above jail. ▪

Guido van de Wiel



First and original publication: 7th of April, 2014;  Text (c) Guido van de Wiel.

(C) Copyright of all images: producers of Breaking Bad and/ or AMC, 2012.  

donderdag 14 december 2017

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