It’s been four long years since the world stood witness to the transformation of Walter White from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Ahead of its final season, Breaking Bad released a thoughtful, cryptic trailer that teased the inevitable black hole of destruction that the series all but promised in its inception. The trailer features Bryan Cranston’s character Walter White—once a chemistry teacher, now the mastermind behind a drug empire—reciting Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias as time lapses of the series’ most recognizable settings rush by. The sonnet serves as lyrics, underpinned by subtle synthesizers that feel more textural than harmonic. The trailer is both a prophecy, heralded by the maker of his own demise, and an epitaph.
The trailer begins with the sun rising over desolate fields outside of Albuquerque. Cranston’s voice cuts through the nothingness, “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…” There is a distinct element of omnipotence in hearing Walter White, disembodied, surveying familiar landscapes as he monologues. His tone is calm and sombre. Beneath beats a slow but steady pulse. The beat sounds like a bass drum picked up by a muffled or perhaps damaged microphone. The sounds of winds emerge, exposed, filtered and subtly manipulated.
“Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.”
Here, Cranston’s voice becomes increasingly menacing. His inflection on the phrase “sneer of cold demand” has a hint of distain. His tone becomes darker still, practically spitting “the hand that mocked them.” A low bassy synthesizer fills out the bottom end, playing a subtle two note pattern. The understated layering combined with Cranston’s soothing yet disconcerting tone captures the audience’s ear as the time lapses continue to wash over.
“And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!’”
Cranston summons the wrath that characterized Walter White. The wind sounds have decayed into white noise, growing louder as Cranston’s performance grows more powerful.
“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The noise cuts away dramatically as Cranston’s voice returns to its sombre tenor. The camera pans in the desert as the sun sets. Heisenberg’s fedora lay alone in the stretch of sand.
The metaphor for Walter White’s narrative comes full circle.
– Andrew Sproule