Has there ever been a more perfectly used piece of music on a TV show montage? Maybe, but I’m struggling to think of one.
Sunday’s mid-season finale of Breaking Bad had a gorgeous montage, even for a show known for its gorgeous montages. This scene, which (mild spoilers ahead) serves as a culmination of the kind of success Bryan Cranston’s Walter White has been aspiring to ever since he decided to go into the meth business. The montage is always a bit of a cheat when it comes to displaying the passage of time in movies and television, but Breaking Bad effectively uses it here to push us forward into a new chapter. It would be one thing if they montaged over major drama, but this is peacetime and seemingly very little happens outside of the clockwork precision of cooking and selling meth.
This is about as happy an ending as this show is gonna get — showing the man making a boatload of money in an impossibly synchronized dance of cooking, handing off bags of money and embezzling it. You can see Walt’s increasing exasperation on his face, as he seemingly has made his business into a never-ending treadmill just to keep up with the unquenched demand for his product. This is his job now, a routine as wearying as his old chemistry teacher or car washer jobs.
I also love the coordinated fades and bleeds between shots in this, showing how everything, even people fit together. Truly a masterclass in editing.
This is not the final scene of the episode, there’s a few more scenes that set up Walt’s downfall, which will come next year. But still this series of shots is expertly edited, with the perfect song to back it up: Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
Surely Vince Gilligan and the show’s producers have had this song in their back pocket for some time — I mean obviously Walt’s signature 99% pure product is bright blue. It must have been tempting to use the song earlier in the show’s run.
But you have to think that they had this scene (or one like it) in mind that they were saving it for. That takes a lot of restraint. Breaking Bad has always incorporated excellent needle-drop song picks, as well a great score from composer Dave Porter. But I’ve gotta say, it might not get any better than this iconic scene from one of the best shows on television.