As I mentioned in my last blog, Better Call Saul has so many memorable moments that if I wish, I can write heaps and heaps of critical material on them. Absolutely brilliant television show. For this post, I decided to analyze another scene, in my own way. In, “Klick” we took a look at how empathy towards characters change over time, case study around the first 5 mins of that episode. Now, let’s take a look at a scene from “Something Beautiful” – Season 4 Episode 3, mainly, in this case, ‘last 2 mins’, which is so exceptionally well executed that it took me down with sorrow for a while. Especially, due to Rhea Seehorn’s phenomenal performance as Kim Wexler. Goes without saying, for a show to convey so many emotions at such an incredible level of intensity, time after time and then also fleshing out chemistry between its characters with such precision, is a pure art form.
The following analysis contains *SPOILERS* so, I kindly request you to read further only after having watched the episode.
Chuck’s letter to Jimmy
First, let’s try to understand the subject of the scene – On a high level, it’s about ‘reading of a letter’. This time, I had to dive into analyzing ‘change in emotions over time’ for one of the show’s main character, Kim Wexler. Once I started digging deep into my process, I realized how impeccably well directed and performed these 2 mins are!
The letter, addressed to Jimmy are the last words from his brother, Chuck.
As a starting point, let’s use Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. In my opinion, this wheel takes into account quite a lot of emotions felt at a decently granular level.
When I say last 2 mins, the scene times are from 39:30 to about 41:30.
Initial Frame and Timing
It is very important to understand the way this scene is directed and framed with regards to the performance of characters on screen and the message. The framing shown above is maintained as Jimmy starts reading the letter (after taking his first sip of coffee, with deep satisfaction) until 40:37 into the scene.
That’s a total of 1 min and 7 secs. This framing gives us, the audience the view of Jimmy (halfheartedly) reading the letter while having his breakfast, as Kim anxiously observes the whole thing (especially Jimmy and his reaction). This 1 min and 7 secs has a lot to say, in terms of the tension and emotional build up. Let’s dig into the gradation of emotions that Kim goes through, starting from ‘Interest’ all the way up to ‘Sadness’.
Range of Emotions
Following Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions with their appropriate color codes, Kim is going through the following during these 1 min and 7 sec into the scene (which is 3 paragraphs of letter), in sequence:
From Interest to onset of Sadness
By mapping these emotions to the scale from the scene, we get the following:
As the reading is about to begin, Kim hovers towards the side of ‘optimism’, which is close to ‘Interest’ and is looking for closure, for Jimmy. She spends most of her emotion in the range of ‘Interest’ until the shift starts to happen towards a very brief moment of ‘Surprise’ from ‘Anticipation’. To get a sense of scale, ‘Surprise’ lasts for about 3 secs – everything else is also in relation to it.
These change in emotions for Kim happen due to the way Jimmy reacts and reads the letter. Mainly because, Jimmy keeps reading casually, having his regular sips and munching over cereals, as if it’s just another letter to him. Why he truly is reacting this way, is out of the scope of this blog post 🙂 in short it’s denial and ignorance that he goes through at this moment in time in the show.
The moment of ‘Surprise’, which lasts for just about 3 secs happens during the reading of 2nd paragraph of the letter as she starts realizing how indifferent and emotionless Jimmy’s reading is.
The camera frame change happens at 40:37, as mentioned above – this is where we are brought in for a closeup view of Kim (side perspective as she tries her very best to continue looking at Jimmy, albeit with extreme sadness, as Jimmy continues reading the letter).
The moments of sadness begin for her with ‘Disapproval’ as a zone of emotion from the wheel:
During the 3rd paragraph is when Kim starts getting teary, when Jimmy reads aloud ‘… as we are brothers…’ line from the letter.
As the 4th paragraph ends with the line ‘… share the name McGill’, Kim is unable to control her emotions further and begins to cry.
The aforementioned 33 secs in the image are the moments of ‘buildup of sadness’ in terms of emotions for Kim. The masterful change of camera at 40:37 with Kim’s closeup of face is meant to drown the audience (like me) further down the rabbit hole of sorrows.
The boat of sadness, where she remains for the most of the duration:
From Sadness to onset of Grief
As the scene progresses, Kim keeps drowning further into the sadness as she finds it harder and harder to make sense of the situation. By staying into sadness for this long, she finally dives into ‘Grief’. This is where the final camera cut intensify the situation further. These also clearly help in understanding the change in ‘chemistry’ between Jimmy and Kim – as Kim exits the room with uncontrollable grief… the door closes halfway in on Jimmy.
Mapping further, the ‘Sadness’ and ‘Grief’ from what’s observed on screen results into:
Now, for all those who have watched this episode, there is one camera cut/angle that I’ve not mentioned in this analysis. That one, is quintessential to the whole 2 min too 😉 I won’t put the screenshot here – that frame is when we get to NOT see Kim, but make a mental model of what she’s going through as we get a closeup of Jimmy reading the letter from a declined perspective and then switching back just before finishing ”say what you will, the man can write a letter” as he ‘finally’ sees, for the first time (during his read), what Kim is going through… that is also the moment when he just finishes reading the letter. The ending of this cut to the one mentioned above takes Kim further down into the territory of ‘Grief’. Especially, as this particular moment is preceded by Jimmy’s ”its okay its a nice letter…” phrase. This breaks her further.
Domain of Sadness
As I was working on this analysis, I tried remapping these emotions in a different form, keeping their scales in terms of ‘secs on screen’, I was astonished to come to this conclusion:
Container of Emotions
It is incredible to notice, that all the emotions Kim goes through in these 2 mins, collectively lie in the ‘Domain of Sadness’. The numbers correspond to all the aforementioned emotions, listing them again for reference:
- Sadness (level 1)
- Sadness (level 2)
- Sadness (level 3)
I truly enjoyed working on this analysis, wanted to do it since the moment I watched this episode and got teary eyed during the recital of the letter – Last 2 mins.
Hat’s off to Better Call Saul! If you’re a fan of Breaking Bad and this show too, I would love to hear your take on this 🙂