Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’re likely aware that the Emmy Award-winning AMC series “Breaking Bad”—inarguably one of the best TV series of all time—is ending this Sunday. (AMC has been running a five-day marathon for those just now jumping on the bandwagon.)
While the series is lauded for its incredible plot twists, writing, and performances (“Breaking Bad” has literally racked up dozens of awards in its five seasons), the thing that really keeps fans engrossed is the attention to detail—from weird hidden elements (did anyone else see the little pink bear from Season 2 in the tree behind Jesse in Season 5?) to, yes, the colors of the characters’ costumes.
Alert: Spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you’re not all caught up!
At first glance, the costumes on “Breaking Bad” are utterly unremarkable—one of the show’s costume designers, Kathleen Detoro, referred to the series as her “ugly show”—but as it happens, a lot of thought goes into each character’s overall look. There are all these great little details, like how Saul Goodman wears the scales of justice on his cuff links, or how Walt seems to take on some of the costume specifics of the characters that he kills off (as well as, some fans claim, their character traits).
Take, for example, the “sartorial fussiness” that Season 5 costume designer Jennifer Bryan claimed that Walt picked up from former nemesis Gus Frain. “He still does his shirts and he still does his khaki slacks and he still does his Clarks Wallabees. Those things are still there,” Bryan told Vulture. “But I did a couple more colors in the same shoe, and he puts a little bit more thought into his clothes. I think he picks that up from Gus; it’s almost like Gus is channeling through Walter White a little bit.”
Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, is so detail-oriented that he actually meets with the costume designer to plot out the palettes for each character before each season starts.
In an interview with GQ, Gilligan claims that he pays particular attention to “the use of colour”: “At the beginning of every series we would have a meeting in which I would discuss with the production designer and the costume designer about the specific palettes we would use for any given character throughout the course of the year.”
Fans have long obsessed over the fact that the character of Marie Schrader (Skyler White’s sister) is constantly wearing purple.
According to Betsy Brandt, who plays Marie, it’s the most common question fans ask her. “Honestly, it’s just something I suggested in the pilot I think because we all had a color and mine was purple, and I said, ‘I think Marie is just one of those people who doesn’t do anything half-assed, whether it’s right or wrong,’” Brandt told Entertainment Weekly. “If purple is her color, then it is all about purple. And they just ran with that in a huge way, which I loved. You know she’s quirky even before you get into the show. Have you ever met an adult who’s just really obsessed with a color?”
Fans so obsess over Marie’s constantly wearing purple that Vulture even rang up the show’s costume designer when she was spotted wearing yellow. As it happens, yellow is used as a “relief color” for her, so she gets a break from all the purple from time to time.
Which brings us to …
Gilligan is so obsessed with the colors of the show’s characters, that he apparently tracks their progress by what colors they’re wearing. “For instance in the pilot, it was intentional that Walt start off very beige and khaki-ish, very milquetoast, and he would progress through that one hour of television to green and thus show his process of evolution as a character,” he told GQ.
“We started to do that in macrocosm throughout particular series: we’d start Walt for example one year in red and take him to black. The one character we did not do that with was Marie, who stayed very consistent in her colour palette: she would always wear purple, to the extent of being quite monomaniacal about it. But there’s quite a number of man hours spent discussing colour usage, and assigning colours to different characters and thinking in those terms.”
TDYLF’s John LaRue put together a meticulous series of color infographics in August that track the main colors each character wears as they progress through each season of “Breaking Bad.” Not only are they visually stunning, but they also come with some pretty consistent themes.
For Walter White, LaRue notes: “After Walt’s cancer diagnosis, his colors become stronger, and eventually go black. When the cancer returns or when he’s defeated, the drab khaki returns. The closer he gets to Gus, and the stronger his ties to blue meth, the more blue shows up in his barcode.”
Similarly, you can see a clear progression towards darker, stark colors in Skyler White’s color scheme as she progresses from an innocent schoolteacher’s wife in Season 1 to an accomplice to Walt’s criminal activities in Season 5.
Now Here’s Where Things Get Kind of Crazy:
Color itself, it can be argued, takes on a special meaning in “Breaking Bad.”
Erin Enberg did a great job of highlighting a few key ones in her post on “The Colorful World of Breaking Bad,” especially when it comes to blue and red. Blue, of course, is the color of the meth that Walt can produce—no one can really manage to replicate his formula—and Skyler and Walt seem to be progressively surrounded by blue (from lighting to costumes) as they get deeper into the world of making money from his meth production.
Red, on the other hand, is the color of danger and arguably death: There’s progressive amounts of red in Season 5 as Walt’s empire begins to implode, and Enberg notes the interesting mirror of the red carpet in the storage unit where Walt and Skyler keep their hoard of cash alongside the red blanket that baby Holly lies on in her playpen.
Then there’s pink, which really stands out whenever it’s used. For example: the flash-forwards in Season 2 are shot in black and white, with the exception of the damaged pink teddy bear, which foreshadows impending disaster. As it happens, Walt watches the plane crash at the end of Season 2 while wearing a bright magenta sweater. When Saul Goodman confronts Walt in the second half of Season 5 about the impending collapse of his empire, he’s wearing a bright pink shirt.
In a creepy parallel, baby Holly is always wearing pink.
Conspiracy theories? Maybe. But dang, it makes the show fun to watch!