Since its premiere, Vince Gilligan, the creator and executive producer of “Breaking Bad," has used color as a way to communicate mood and meaning on the show.
“Color is important on 'Breaking Bad'; we always try to think in terms of it. We always try to think of the color that a character is dressed in, in the sense that it represents on some level their state of mind,” said Gilligan in an interview with Vulture.
As the “Breaking Bad” series comes to a close, this deliberate use of color has become more apparent and visible as symbolism, particularly in the characters' wardrobes. While color can be an indicator of a particular character’s state of mind, certain colors can also evoke warnings and hints about what's coming up in a given episode of “Breaking Bad.”
Here’s our take on the use of color in the “Breaking Bad” series.
The color red takes on several meanings throughout the “Breaking Bad” series. When characters in the series are wearing the color, it tends to connote aggression, violence and murder. In the first season of “Breaking Bad,” Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) wore the color consistently, lending to his aggressive nature in the meth business. But red can also symbolize a general aggressiveness. This theme of aggression and violence is also seen throughout the series. While working for Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse cook their meth in an underground lab overwhelmingly painted in red, connoting the violence and murder that keeps their operation running. Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is wearing red right before he punches Walt in anger, after he realizes Walt was the drug lord he had been searching for all this time.
Orange is the color of warning and danger. Often in the “Breaking Bad” series, orange clothing will be worn by characters or orange objects will be present in a scene right before something dangerous or deadly happens.
In the prison scene of Season 5 Episode 8, “Gliding Over All,” Gus’ former henchmen are surrounded by fellow prisoners in orange jump suits right before coordinated assassinations happen in different prisons simultaneously. In Season 5 Episode 14, “Ozymandias,” Hank is wearing an orange shirt under a black coat right before he’s killed by Jack Welker (Michael Bowen), the uncle of Walt’s former associate, Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons).
In the “Breaking Bad” series, yellow is most often associated directly with the meth cooking, selling and laundering operation. Yellow also signifies caution, which is taken more and more as Walt becomes more experienced in the meth business. When Walt and Jesse move into Gus’ underground super lab, they don yellow protective jump suits, demonstrating the meticulousness and care they take in every step they make. Gus, the man behind the distribution of Walt’s product, often wears yellow when meeting with Walt, lending to his cautious and calculating nature. Yellow also functions as a prompt for something that is about to happen, much like how orange functions. In Season 5, Episode 8, “Gliding Over All,” Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) is wearing yellow right before Hank realizes Walt is the drug lord he has been chasing all of this time. And in Season 5, a neighborhood child is playing with a bright yellow remote-control car outside of Hank's garage as the Walt-Hank showdown begins.
Green serves as the personification of desperation, envy, and greed. Starting from the pilot of "Breaking Bad," Walt is seen wearing a green apron as he makes his first batch of meth. While he initially turned to meth cooking out of desperation to secure his family's future, it evolved into greed as he experienced the power and vast wealth his meth provided him.
In Season 4 Episode 13, “Face Off,” Walt is seen wearing a bright green shirt after Gus is killed by a bomb planted in Hector Salamanca’s (Mark Margolis) wheelchair. When Walt calls Skyler after the bombing, he exclaims simply, “I won.”
While Walt killed Gus out of desperation to save his own life, his desperation transformed quickly back into greed. With no boss to answer to, Walt rose to the top of his meth operation, gaining immense power and wealth.
In regards to envy, Walt is seen sitting in a bar in "Granite State," wearing a green jacket as his former associate, Elliot Schwartz, appears on the television show "Charlie Rose," denying that Walt had any significant contribution to Gray Matter Technologies outside of the name. Walt's envy was renewed, since Elliot had profited off Walt's research, and Walt believed the wealth obtained by Elliot should have been his. Elliot's denial was the slap on the face that encouraged Walt to leave the bar before authorities arrived.
Blue serves multiple symbolic purposes in “Breaking Bad.”
When objects are colored blue, they tend to signify purity, escape and security. The iconic blue meth Walt and Jesse cook was of the highest purity, which Todd was only able to replicate after taking Jesse as a prisoner. In Season 5, Episode 14, “Ozymandias,” Skyler is seen in a flashback wearing a blue top, taking care of things at home while Walt is secretly in the desert cooking meth. This signified a time when Skyler was wholly unaware of Walt’s drug dealing.
Blue has also signified safety and security. Saul Goodman’s (Bob Odenkirk) luggage in Season 5, Episode 15, “Granite State,” was blue, which was fitting, since he was escaping to safety as Walt’s world completely collapsed. The blue meth Walt made was also the key to Walt’s financial security.
Gilligan offered this explanation of the color purple in his interview with Vulture, “Well, Marie would say purple is the color of royalty.”
Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) is certainly given to delusion and self-deception. Characters wearing purple in the series tend to be in a position where they’re being misled. Walt was misleading Skyler for a while about what he was doing to secure his family’s future. Marie was being deluded by the Walt and Skyler about who was behind the drug business and even Hank was being misled by Walt, thinking Walt was delivering a confession to him, when it turned out to be a blackmail video.
White traditionally serves as a color of purity. Often, when characters are seen wearing white their intents are pure, even though they don’t necessarily hold the “high ground.”
This dynamic is seen in Season 5 Episode 14, “Ozymandias,” with Skyler dressed in white contrasting with Marie’s black outfit as Marie turns the tables on Skyler. (Also note the purple details in the flowers and in Skyler's exposed under sleeve -- though Walt has been exposed at this point, there is still a measure of deception in this exchange.) White is often used in direct contrast with black. The White family lived on Negro Arroyo Lane. In Spanish this translates to, “black stream,” on in the case of Walt, a dark path he is leading his family down.
Black represents several things throughout the series. Death, deception, nefariousness, evil, and power are all represented through it. One of the of signature uses of black in the “Breaking Bad” series is seen through the black hat Walt puts on at different times of the series. Every time he puts on the hat, he is affirming his power and scheming for a dark purpose. In the few times Marie isn’t wearing Purple, more often than not, she’s wearing black. Season 4, Episode 3 “Open House,” shows Marie wearing black as she falls back into her kleptomaniac ways.
Beige signifies a sense of conformity and wealth in “Breaking Bad.”
When Walt isn’t not in the lab, he’s usually in khakis and a beige coat. Season 1, Episode 5, “Gray Matter,” had Skyler walking into a party wearing a blue dress, with all of the rich guests are wearing beige or white. “Jesus, I guess we didn't get the beige memo," she said.
This is also seen in Season 5, Episode 9, “Blood Money,” with Walt dressed in all beige with his employees arriving with red caps and dark uniforms.
Often colors will work in direct opposition from each other in the “Breaking Bad” series, much like a color wheel. For example, black tends to be positioned against white. Color combinations tend to demonstrate conflicting emotions at play. In Season 5, Episode 11, “Confessions,” the Whites are dressed in neutral colors, while Hank is wearing purple and Marie is wearing black. Walt and Skyler remain calm throughout the scene while Hank is deceived into thinking Walt is handing him a confession tape, which is in fact a blackmail tape.
Each individual color works to bring out the emotions of a particular scene, reinforcing themes and emphasizing character emotions throughout the “Breaking Bad” series. Take a look back at some of your favorite episodes of "Breaking Bad" and let us know what you think about the role of color.
And be sure to catch "Felina," the final episode of AMC's "Breaking Bad" on Sunday at 9:00 p.m.. EDT. Look out for more "Breaking Bad" coverage at the International Business Times.