Jesse Pinkman: A Lesson in Likeability

With spoilers for: Breaking Bad – Season 1, Episode 1

Jesse Pinkman is not a good guy.

Pretty obvious statement really. I mean, the guy comes from a comfortable, middle-class family, goes to a fairly good school and still ends up as a drug dealer with a drug addiction. He’s the worst kind of person. Bad by choice.

And yet I can’t help but not want to write that. There’s something about his character which is so likeable it pacifies the rational, judgemental part of my brain and makes me want the best for him, makes him one of the heroes. So why is he such a likeable character?

Childlike Naivety

Everything about Jesse Pinkman shouts a kind of childish insolence. His clothes are gaudy and several sizes too big. He speaks in a slang vernacular, peppered with bitches and yos. He greets his elders with smart-ass adolescent backchat – which, naturally, lacks any real venom or sincerity, as it’s just a guise to hide his underlying vulnerability.

In fact, he comes across as being half his age a number of times, either through words (“cowhouse”, “the dude that sells Starbucks his beans”, always calling Walt “Mr White”) or by actions. You can take pretty much any screenshot of Jesse from the first three episodes and it’ll be there to emphasize his childlike nature.

This all goes to help us forgive Jesse for his shameful behaviour. We appreciate that he isn’t really a bad person, just ethically short-sighted – and this moral myopia may be corrected once he realises the full impact of his actions. His naivety, in a sense, promises moral development. I mean, the prodigal son didn’t return home only to start acting like a dick again, did he?

It could be that, or it could just be that we have a natural affection for kids, puppies, kittens and the people who remind us of them. I’d ask you: are there any characters you hate because of their immaturity? I can’t currently think of any, although I might turn to this question in another post.

Comic Relief

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Exposition Tips – Part Two

With spoilers for: The Dark Knight

Part One of Exposition Techniques.

8. Immersion

You know how Inception begins with a dream within a dream. That’s a perfect example of the immersion technique for me. Create a world, put the audience in the middle of it and let them figure it all out for themselves.

It sounds risky, but I don’t think it’s nearly as dangerous as people think. After all, we learn language this way. Most of your vocabulary comes from hearing how words are used, then deducing their meanings from that. You don’t need a lexicographer to tell you how to communicate.

Unconvinced? Well, try watching a film half of the way in and see how well you can follow it. Sure, it’ll be harder to understand, and a lot of scenes might lose their tension and emotional kick. But you’ll probably be able to make sense of it a lot more easily than you’d imagine. I started watching Lost half-way into the first series and I can’t remember feeling all that confused.

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Save the Catalyst?

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! provides a kind of anatomy for the skeleton of the screenplay – 15 beats (plot events) which he claims belong in every good story. It’s a pretty ballsy claim – and one I want to question by looking at his 4th beat: the Catalyst.

As you’ve probably guessed from the name, the Catalyst is the moment that sets the wheels of the story into motion. It usually takes the form of an offer (Inception; The Talented Mr Ripley) or an assignment (Casino Royale; The Departed) or a threat (Toy Story; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) – basically anything which will inevitably lead our hero to abandon his previous world and enter one which is entirely new. This is a beat Blake is very strict about, as he writes:

Cut it down and put it where it belongs: Page 12. … If it’s not there, the reader will get antsy. Your coverage will read: “No Plot” because you’ll have lost the reader’s attention. Page 12 – Catalyst. Do it.

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