Yellow is the Colour of Death
I know I’m late to the game but I recently started watching Breaking Bad. I’ve just got to the start of the third series and I’m also rewatching it from the beginning with my girlfriend as she hasn’t seen it either.
One of the things that interest me about the show is the use of colour. It first sprang to my attention in the very obvious beige party episode. After seeing that I realised that a lot of the characters have a common colour or set of colours that they wear. Marie is the most obvious with her purple dresses and shoes. In fact, aside from the white lab coat, Marie is dressed in purple in every episode I’ve seen. Skyler mostly dresses in blue, Hank wears orange/brown t-shirt, Jesse mostly wears black and red, Walt varies a lot but is mostly in greens or browns. Walt Jr. is mostly in blue, but more on that later.
So there are definite themes to the characters and their colour schemes but what do they mean and how do they fit together? I don’t think I’ve got every colour and its meaning worked out, not by a long shot, but I have some theories.
Yellow is the colour of death. This is quite obvious early on, specifically in the episodes with Crazy-8 locked in the basement. For a start Crazy-8 is wearing predominantly yellow when he is captured. Yellow seems to mark the wearer either as a killer or someone about to die. Throughout those scenes Jesse switches from his standard black and red to black and yellow — a very cold, wasp-like yellow at that. The weapons used through these scenes are also frequently yellow in colour. The shard of plate that Crazy-8 hides, the bag that Walt considers as a murder weapon are both yellow.
I was hoping that when Hank kills Tuco he was wearing yellow to help bolster my argument. Unfortunately he’s wearing his trademark orange/brown t-shirt. It’s a little later, when the department awards him for killing Tuco, that he, and the whole department, are dressed in yellow shirts. This seems more like a celebration of death, rather than the act of murder itself.
Blue is a concilliatory colour, most frequently worn by Skyler. Skyler may not go about everything in the best way, but she is usually well-intentioned and trying to bring or keep the rest of the family together. When she isn’t evincing these traits she tends to wear white or black. Even Walt wears blue occasionally. During the beige party Walt wears a blue suit — he’s visiting estranged friends and he’s neither sure of his position with them or their attitude towards him. There’s a lot of uncertainty for him being there so he’s wearing a concilliatory colour and bringing a peace offering, which ultimately doens’t work.
There’s one other really interesting use of the colour blue. When Hank hauls Jesse in to be interviewed by the DEA he brings in Tuco’s father. Hank, Gomez and Tuco’s father are all wearing yellow, arrayed in a line against Jesse. Behind them stands the old man’s nurse, dressed in blue. She has no part in the case against Jesse and has very little to do in the scene. Her role is purely concilliatory — as a mediator between the old man and Hank. She’s also the only person in the room who has any potential to be a friend to Jesse, though obviously this can never be realised.
Green had me stumped for a while. I initially thought it was solely one of Walt’s colours but it’s not quite that simple. Green is either a wavering, indecisive colour or a transitional colour. It’s definitely an inbetween colour — between decisions, between states. Walt wears it a lot because he is frequently questioning himself, his decisions, his current path. He’s frequently somewhere between a rational, law-abiding person and a murdering, drug-dealer.
The inbetween nature of the colour green is most obvious with Jesse. Jesse never wears green except when Walt drops him off at the rehab centre in the desert. There he wears the green top worn by all the patients. This is because he’s in an inbetween state, unsure of his role in life, traumatised by what happened to Jane — something he feels responsible for. It’s only once he accepts who he is that he stops wearing green.
Walt Junior is slightly different to the other characters in that he doesn’t have a colour scheme of his own. He predominently wears blue during the first two series, but later on his choice of colours shifts depending on his loyalty to Skyler, Walt or Hank. In reality the colours he wears matches who he is loyal to. This isn’t the same as the colour green worn by other characters — Walt Jr. is never questioning himself. Instead he’s questioning his place amongst the people around him.