Jitesh's Domain

Game Designer. Producer. Gamer.


Leave a comment

Better Call Saul – “Something Beautiful”, Last 2 Mins

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.

The Letter

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.

Analyzing Emotion

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.

Human emotions have deep evolutionary roots, a fact that may explain their complexity and provide tools for clinical practice.The Nature of Emotions (2001)

Robert Plutchik

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:

  • Interest
  • Anticipation
  • Surprise
  • Disapproval
  • Sadness

From Interest to onset of Sadness

By mapping these emotions to the scale from the scene, we get the following:

Each individual emotion is to scale in terms of ‘secs on screen’

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:

Each individual emotion is to scale in terms of ‘secs on screen’

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:

Each individual emotion is to scale in terms of ‘secs on screen’

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:

  1. Interest
  2. Anticipation
  3. Surprise
  4. Disapproval
  5. Sadness (level 1)
  6. Sadness (level 2)
  7. Sadness (level 3)
  8. Grief

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 🙂

“S’ALL GOOD, MAN.”

From, Better CAll SAUL


Leave a comment

Better Call Saul – “Klick”, First 5 Mins

I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad and recently, I started watching Better Call Saul. Just like Vince Gilligan’s previous masterpiece, this show too is filled with familiar and strong memorable characters, tight plot with brilliant direction and chemistry. Every episode is fantastic… then there are some scenes and episodes that are truly on another level. This post of mine, is going to focus on one such episode – Season 2 E10, titled ‘Klick’.

I was literally floored during the first 5 mins of ‘Klick’ and that’s when I got super motivated to provide an analysis for the same. An important point to consider here is that I’m on season 3 of the show and haven’t caught up with the latest story development. My interpretation takes into account the exposition, moments and plot arcs for characters up to the point of ‘Klick’ only.

Analysis contains minor spoilers

As we start watching the episode ‘Klick’, we are already coming from a high tension phase from the last scene of Season 2, Episode 9 ‘Nailed’. This already sets a strong notion of limited information coupled with curiosity as we move onto the next episode.

Flashback, Hospital

One of the key element of chemistry built up to now is the relationship between our Protagonist, Jimmy McGill with his brother, Charles McGill, an Antagonist. In my opinion, the first 5 mins of ‘Klick’ gives us a much deeper understanding of these characters, their chemistry and background which further reinforces our thoughts.

Empathy toward characters

In my analysis, I want to focus on how our empathy toward Jimmy McGill and Chuck changes during these 5 mins. My initial thoughts were to delve into the ‘Tension’ of the narrative. After digging deep, it felt that it would make more sense to look at the character arc based on their actions and the empathy we feel for them.

To understand this, I’ve plotted an empathy graph considering key plot moments from the beginning. Empathy shift vs Time/Key Plot.

Change in Empathy level with regards to key plot elements over time

The scale of time is not 1:1 as I’ve made it so as to give the direction and timing of narrative exposition with regards to the plot. The individual timing is what’s most important.

Let’s delve deeper into these key plot elements to understand the chart better:

KeyPlot Description
AAudience is coming from a high tension phase – Season 2, Episode 9 ‘Nailed’. The general expectation for us is to be curious… ‘What happened to Chuck?’, ‘Is he alright?’. The initial starting point of reference for the empathy levels begin here. We are already emotionally invested in wanting to know what happens next!
BFlashback of hospital scene where the nurse indicates that the condition of the patient is dire. Within 30 secs it is made clear that the patient is perhaps breathing his/her last moments. We are expecting a continuation from Nailed, but this shift to flashback is an ingenious decision. This is the scene where we, as the audience expect the patient to be their Father.
CJimmy tries to lighten the mood by talking about food and how Chuck must’ve not eaten since long. Chuck remains a bit distant and cold due to the sadness in the room.
DChuck is surprised at Jimmy’s casual reaction to the situation and is taken aback by his whole ice-breaker conversation.
EThis is where it is made clear that the patient on the bed is their mother. Up to this point there has been no exposition regarding her apart from an episode where Jimmy informs Marco about attending her funeral few years ago.
FA pivotal moment where it is made clear how different people remember things differently. Jimmy is remembering the good old times about an old party… where Chuck chips in to recall how his memory was nothing but sordid as they had to clean up the mess caused by Jimmy back then and it also was a sad end to their Mom’s birthday celebration. This is also a moment when the chemistry keeps breaking up as they don’t align with each other positively. The feeling of support keeps breaking between them.
GAround 2 min mark, Jimmy finally decides to get food and also shows that he has nothing but care for Chuck. He even remembers his food preference by literally spelling out the way he likes it and then excuses himself out.
HA clear rising moment where the deep attachment between Chuck and his mother is showcased, unable to control himself, he breaks down and starts crying.
IAround 3 min mark, their Mother finally wakes up… Chuck sighs a sense of relief and calls out to her. Her first words are ‘Jimmy’ and then ‘Jimmy’ again even after Chuck tries to make her understand that its Chuck beside her side and not him. This is a breaking moment as we are also made aware that even their Mother cares more for Jimmy. Chuck is extremely saddened by the thought as she flatlines.
JChuck, distant again in his composure and thoughts, he immediately regains control of the situation, depressed at what just happened but calmly utters ‘this is it then’ to the nurse.
KAround 4 min mark… Jimmy arrives back at the hospital with food, casually walks in the room and is shocked to not find his Mother and confronts about this to Chuck who is sitting at the other side of the corridor.
LChuck says ‘She’s gone’ and this shocks Jimmy. He is unable to take in the information and just cannot process it as he missed the last moment when he was outside the hospital.
MAround 5 min mark… is where there is a big shift in terms of how we further feel for these two main characters. When Jimmy wants to know if she woke up before and had anything to say… Chuck avoids eye contact, composes himself strongly and blatantly lies to Jimmy as he says ‘No’.
Plot breakdown – First 5 mins

By taking these little elements one after the other, in sequence (with the prior knowledge about the characters), it is clear, just how ingeniously executed these 5 mins are, there is a striking shift of how we feel empathy toward both of them. At least, that’s true for me. It will be interesting to know your observations on the same.

Let’s take a look at the information, we, as audience possess (apart from Saul’s background that we are already aware of from Breaking Bad) about these two characters. Also, I’m going a bit further by giving a brief on their traits and personalities… strictly from my point of view. Plus, a little Dungeons & Dragons alignment system 😉

Protagonist

James McGill (Jimmy)

Persona – Saul Goodman
Alignment & Traits

Chaotic Neutral -to- Chaotic Good

  • Street smart
  • Extremely Clever
  • Good of the people, Self-interest, whimsical nature > Intelligence
  • Lies a lot, usually for the overall good

Antagonist

Charles McGill (Chuck)

MICHAEL MCKEAN 1999 MARK TWAIN AWARDS AT KENNEDY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
Alignment & Traits

Lawful Evil

  • Book smart
  • Insanely Intelligent
  • Intelligence, Rank, Law, Power > Good of the people
  • Lies to show power, status and avoid embarrassment

In terms of our investment in these characters, we definitely feel closer to Jimmy and have more empathy toward him as the opposite becomes true for Chuck. This doesn’t mean that the shifts stop happening post this scene. In fact, the next 5 mins is one of the most intense – this is where the time moves to present where we are made aware that Chuck is admitted and is taken in for treatment. Perhaps, I’ll write about this in the future.

If like me, you’re a fan of the show (and of course, Breaking Bad) I hope this brief look into key moments from the episode helps shed some light into the genius of ‘Better Call Saul’ as a TV show.