The Artistic Beauty of Speaking Without Dialogue on Better Call Saul

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Some of the best-written scenes have no dialogue.

Television is a visual medium, but sound, particularly dialogue, is almost always the main avenue through which story is delivered.

If you close your eyes while watching a show, you’re much more likely to be able to follow the story of the episode than if you mute the television.

A Risky Plan - Better Call Saul

Part of it is natural; we communicate mostly through dialogue and sound ourselves, but part of it is convenience.

It’s easier to tell the audience exactly what you want them to know, and having characters directly relay the information is the simplest, and in many cases most effective, way of communicating clearly.

This method of writing can sometimes leave a lot on the table, like the “visual” aspect of the visual medium, but good visual storytelling can elevate a scene and add to the viewer's experience.

When every piece of information about a scene is delivered wordlessly, it forces the viewer to pay close attention, participate in evaluating the scene, and connect with the characters.

It results in scenes that can deliver a large amount of information very subtly and create moments that stick with the viewer.

Gene Eats Lunch - Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1

Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 3 contains one of these wonderful wordless scenes (of which I’m apparently about to stomp over with my own words, but whatever).

Kim and Jimmy share a stress relief session out on their balcony, drinking some beer, smoking a cig, and smashing some bottles. Neither speaks to each other, and that speaks volumes.

Without even referencing the rest of the episode, if a viewer watched just this scene, they’d understand the relationship between Kim and Jimmy and be able to piece together at least part of what is going on in their lives.

Their relationship as friends is immediately apparent by Jimmy’s offering of a beer, but Kim letting Jimmy bum a breath off her cigarette implies they have a more intimate relationship.

After a few moments of quiet, Kim breaks the silence by chucking a beer bottle off the balcony.

Kim Wexler - Better Call Saul

Clearly, something has this woman frustrated (or I guess you could assume she just loves breaking bottles).

Jimmy then picks up a bottle and chucks it over himself. This action implies two things: that Jimmy is acting in solidarity towards Kim and may have also had his own frustrations during the day.

The bottle breaking clearly shows that both people are not above a bit of mischief, as well.

We know that they encourage each other, as Jimmy’s toss prompts Kim to take another bottle, and we know that they both don’t have too much darkness in their hearts, as they bolt away once someone comes to investigate the bottles.

Their giggles as they sprint into the door imply they’ve enjoyed the moment and that they enjoy each other. There is a closeness to the relationship.

Jimmy talks to Kim - Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1

All of it is communicated wordlessly, through the acting and the actions.

The fact that they don’t speak also adds significance to the scene. 

Silence can feel awkward around those you aren’t comfortable with, so clearly these two are relaxed in each other’s presence.

They understand each other without needing to speak, and it is clear that they can comfort each other just by being together.

It also hints that these two people lead individual lives and despite being in a relationship are not tied together, as each has their own frustrations to vent out.

Kim with a Client - Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1

All of this information can be gathered from an outside viewing of this scene, which tells me that the information is communicated clearly even without words — effective visual storytelling.

However, within the context of the episode, it tells us even more.

If Kim comes home and immediately starts to vent about her day, we run into two issues. 

One, it is information we already know as an audience having watched the episode, so it would be a repeat of information, which is poor form.

Two, we lose a valuable aspect of the scene and the characters -- their acceptance. There is no use complaining or venting vocally about their frustrations because for each of their particular situations there is no real solution.

Jimmy Explains Saul to Kim - Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1

They’ve both accepted what has happened to them and just want to let it out -- smash some bottles, hate life for a few minutes -- and in turn, they create a moment of joy.

It’s a great scene, and it wouldn’t be the same with dialogue. Something seems to be lost about a shared silence when one of the characters comments on how nice it is to share silence.

More than that, though, the silence brings the audience into the moment. We can’t look away, or we’ll miss the story, and by creating a scene that requires such attention, we are taken closer into Kim and Jimmy’s relationship than perhaps ever before.

It feels like a private moment, not something that’s necessarily scripted and not something that we are normally privy to. It feels like we are discovering the moment for ourselves.

If the scene were to be written in a book, the reader could imagine the scenario, but the emotions and subtleties would have to be described to successfully convey the same sort of interaction.

Jimmy and Kim at Home - Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 2

Through visuals, though, we aren’t told what to think or what the characters are feeling. We have to decipher that ourselves, and we gain a deeper understanding of our characters through that effort.

Everyone will probably have a slightly different take on Kim and Jimmy’s scene, and that’s okay, great even. What matters is that we each get to partake in a wonderful moment of visual storytelling that engages us in a way that dialogue can’t.

'The Guy for This" also opens with a wordless scene involving the triumph of ants discovering an ice cream cone.

Again, scenes like that force the viewer to actively participate, which encourages us to draw parallels between the ants and the rest of the show.

Sometimes these scenes are going to require some extra effort with framing and camerawork, the sound effects, and the acting. It’s worth it.

Kim Looks at Jimmy - Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 2

Stripping away the lines and letting the audience decipher a scene for themselves can improve the overall experience of watching television.

Why not trust that the audience can do it themselves?

Is it wrong to be explicit versus subtle? No, not really. But just as in life, it’s difficult to convince anyone of a perspective just by telling them they should think that way.

When they discover it on their own, though, it feels natural and personal.

Wordless scenes are the perfect tool to bring the viewer into a show’s perspective while letting them feel like they are discovering that perspective themselves.

Turning a Corner - Better Call Saul

These scenes can highlight characters, relationships, and themes without ever sinking to an expositional level.

Series like Better Call Saul that use its medium to the fullest advantage tend to be a cut above the standard television show because they bring the viewers that much deeper into the world.

I hope that creators continue to take advantage of the medium in this way. 

Dialogue is great, and I hope that continues, too, but television is a visual experience -- sometimes, we should let it be one.

Tommy Czerpak is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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Better Call Saul Quotes

You know, Jimmy, sometimes in our line of work, you can get so caught up in the idea of winning that you forget to listen to your heart.


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