Portfolio 1&2 1 Assignment Sheet: Critical, Close Reading (download here)

Purpose: Close reading is the practice of thoroughly understanding and critically engaging texts. As you participate in a close reading of several scenes from Breaking Bad, you will develop questions for inquiry and engage in a recursive process of textual interpretation, enabling you to develop larger arguments about the meaning(s) of the show as a whole. This process will require you to think critically about the scenes you choose to examine, to identify connections between those scenes (according to theme, narrative strategy, characterization, etc.), and to consider your own role as a viewer in making meaning out of these scenes and the larger “text” of the series. This process of close reading will also connect to writing practices throughout the course, as a consideration of the interplay between reading strategies and writing practices (both meaning-making processes) and will inform how we read other texts–as well as our own texts.

Process: In completing this project, you will compose several pieces of writing. The first will be a series of three “Scene Diaries” which will familiarize you with the process of close reading. The second, major component of this assignment will be a critical essay of ~1000 words that articulates an argument about Breaking Bad based on the work in your Scene Diaries. Lastly, this assignment (like all assignments in Writ 1301) will require a substantive Writer’s Letter of 300-500 words in which you describe the process by which you completed the project.

Portfolio 1: The Scene Diaries portion of the assignment will take the form three diary entries of 300 words apiece that summarize and analyze three separate scenes from Breaking Bad Season 3. These diaries will require you to consider a scene and its narrative particulars both in isolation and as parts of a larger whole. These diaries should not be merely reports describing what happens in each scene; you must strike a balance between summary and analysis and only use enough summary to effectively explain your analysis. The analytical part of your close reading should explain the scene and its significance. Good close readings will require multiple viewings, and will cover all the narrative elements of that scene. Some things to consider in your close reading would be:

  • Themes. How does the scene you’ve selected exhibit or engage with the themes we’ve discussed in class? Does the scene work with themes of greed, morality, identity, family, crime and lawfulness, violence, deceit, etc.? How do you identify these themes at work in the scene?
  • Character/characterization. Who is in this scene? What do the characters in this scene want, within that scene and generally? What motivates them? How do they feel in that scene? How do you know? What does this scene reveal about the characters in it? Does something said or done in this scene contradict something said or done in another scene?
  • Composition/Point of View. Where is the camera in this scene? What do we, as viewers, have “access” to in this scene—that is, what can we see or know? What can’t we see or know? Is something being withheld from view? What or why? Who do we “identify” with in the scene—that is, is the scene composed in such a way that we associate more closely with one character or another? What’s the point of view, and where is it coming from? Also consider (but do not get too caught up in) technical qualities—lighting, camera angle, etc.

The Scene Diaries can (and should) cover some or all of these questions, and should amount to intelligent, critical close readings of each scene chosen. The Diaries should also attempt to draw connections between scenes. Think about how each scene manifests a theme differently—how does Walt experience guilt differently in one scene than Jesse in another, for example? How do successive scenes “build” characters; that is, how do you learn about these characters through characterization in different scenes? What recurring patterns or ideas (in plot, in composition, in dialogue, etc.) do you see throughout the scenes you’ve chosen?

Portfolio 2: The Essay portion of this assignment will require you to draw on the work in your Scene Diaries to construct a cogent and sustained argument about one episode or group of scenes from Breaking Bad. This essay should build on but not simply recapitulate the material from your Scene Diaries. This essay needs to show how the episode or group of scenes you’ve selected illuminates a concern, theme, or issue of the larger “text” (that is, Breaking Bad). Your essay needs to show how the episode or scenes you’ve selected provides the viewer a key to understanding the work as a whole, or how the theme or idea you’ve identified is an important part in understanding Breaking Bad generally. For example, if several of the scenes in your Diaries dealt with the violence that Walt’s greed and selfishness has caused, you might argue in your longer essay that the show uses violence as an external demonstration of Walt’s moral decline. The specifics of your argument are up to you, but the essay must focus on specific elements of the episode or scenes you’ve selected in order to support your argument.

Project Requirements and Due Dates:

  • Portfolio 1: Scene Diaries. Due 9/17 on Moodle by 5PM.
    • You must complete at least three diaries on three different scenes.
    • Each Diary must be at least 300 words long.
    • Inquiry 1A is worth 50 points of your total grade for this project.
  • Portfolio 2: Critical Close Reading Essay.
    • First Draft due 9/28 by BEGINNING of class Wednesday (also bring 2 hard copies to class) on Moodle.
    • Peer Response will be conducted in class on 9/28.
    • Final Draft due Fri 10/19 on Moodle, anytime.
    • Drafts must be complete—at least 1000 words.
  • Writer’s Letter: 300-500 words, due with Final Draft of Portfolio 2.

Portfolio 3 Cultural/Historical Analysis: Character Study (download here)

Purpose: For Portfolios 1&2, I had you analyze the ways in which the show Breaking Bad worked textually to portray its characters and advance the themes of the show with a special focus on the idea of agency and moral choice. For Portfolio 3, I am going to ask you to expand your analysis of Breaking Bad or the Wire by considering the ways in which they are commenting on the world around us and also getting involved in a larger cultural conversation. Unlike our first portfolios, Portfolio #3 will not be focused on a close reading of scenes from Breaking Bad. Instead, I will ask you to focus on a specific character from the Breaking Bad or The Wire’s universe and consider the ways in which cultural and historical conditions inform, explain, and determine the actions of that character. You might also consider the ways in which your chosen character uses these conditions to justify or legitimize their actions. Alternately, you could compare or contrast two characters from each show and analyze the way in which their positions in society or their backgrounds separate the two, even though they may both be performing the same job or function in each show.

While Portfolio #1 and 2 were mainly focused on the text itself, Portfolio #3 will attempt to build on your initial close reading skills. Instead of reading the text in isolation, it will be your responsibility to bring in other texts and show their relation to the text. You will be responsible for finding at least 6 outside sources (5 of which must be scholarly, peer-reviewd articles) and show how those texts shed light on the actions or motivations of a character(s) in Breaking Bad or the Wire.

The Assignment: Portfolio #3 will consist of 2 parts. The first part will consist of 5 blog posts (500 words each). The first of these blog posts will be a prospectus for your paper. In this prospectus, I will expect you to identify the character you wish to study for the assignment and provide a brief overview of the historical or cultural contexts you wish to study in relation to that character(s). Your prospectus should set the scene for your larger paper. You should consider it your thesis statement, and you should try and make explicit what factors you are going to consider as you try to explain and analyze your character’s behavior through historical and cultural context. For instance, if you wished to study Saul Goodman, you might consider the ways that perceptions of lawyers in our society (e.g. the idea of an “ambulance chaser”) are fulfilled in his character. Or you could look at the economic factors involved in criminal enterprise and argue that Saul’s hand was forced by the large amount of money involved. If you are doing a comparison of two characters, you might look at something like how Walter White’s (or Gus’) position in society differs from that of Stringer Bell and how that affects the way each runs their operations. Or you could compare the ways in which McNulty and Hank conduct their business as law enforcement officers.

For the next 4 posts, you will find a source and then relate it back to the character you have chosen. This exercise will be similar to your scene diaries in that you will be analyzing the characters actions in certain scenes. However, instead of focusing on the textual or cinematic features of these scenes, you will instead show how the characters actions in these scenes are informed by the cultural or historical conditions your chosen source identifies. For instance, if you are using Saul Goodman, you might think about similar ads you have seen on television for personal injury lawyers and talk about how these work towards constructing Saul’s character and our cultural perception of lawyers in general. You could do some historical research of lawyers who have aided criminal enterprises in the past and connect them to Saul. You might look at the large debt incurred by law students and argue that Saul’s motivations could stem from a desperate attempt to repay those loans.

The second part of Inquiry #2 will consist of a paper (1500-2000 words). In the paper, you will expand on the initial analysis of your blogs and present a cogent argument about how social/material/historical realities can help provide a greater insight into the motivations, actions, and psychology of your chosen character. You will need to back up your claims with close textual analysis. You will need to explicitly show how these forces help to shape and determine how the character acts. Some questions you might consider while writing your essay:

  • Can you point to any scene where a character’s hand was forced by social, cultural, or historical factors? Can you show how they had no choice but to act in the way that they did based on these factors?
  • Can you point to a scene where the character acts against these factors? Can you find a place where the character should have reasonably be expected to act one way based on these factors and then chose to act in another way?
  • Can you identify a scene where a character explicitly evokes these factors in order to justify a decision or to escape moral responsibility for some choice they have made?
  • Can you point to certain scenes where these factors are brought up in the text itself? Are there scenes where these forces—and their influence on the character—become apparent? What does this say about the actions or choices of the characters?
  • Is your chosen character enacting any cultural stereotypes? What are they and how are they manifested in the character? Alternately, is your character pushing against or subverting any stereotypes? How is your character doing this?
  • Can you plausibly link the characters or actions to any real world events or problems? How do these problems or events inform the choices you character makes?

These are just a few questions to consider as you are writing your essay. The main thing you want to answer is how these factors work towards explaining the actions of the character in question. You want to evaluate how they work towards connecting the character with the real world around us.

Grading Criteria

5 Blog Posts: 100 points

Rough draft: 10 points

Peer response 10 points

Writer’s Letter: 20 points

Final Draft: 160 points

Due date:

Blog posts: Prospectus blog due 10/8 before class

First two blog posts due: 10/21 by 5PM

Final two blog posts due: 10/26 by 5PM

Rough draft due: 11/5 to GoogleDocs

Final Draft: 11/12 to Moodle

Portfolio #4 Group Critical Discourse Analysis: Representations of the Drug War


Purpose: Portfolio #4 will combine the two skills you learned in our first three Portfolios. Through your knowledge of close reading and historical/cultural analysis, you will compare and contrast different representations of the Drug War. The purpose of this assignment is to help you realize that different sources will attempt to represent reality in different ways, usually in accordance with their ideological, political, or personal agendas. For this assignment, you will consider the ways that different texts represent the Drug War in order to advance their own views about it. You will be asked to look closely at these texts and make explicit the ideological assumptions that underlie them and show the ways in which they attempt to advance their version of “reality”. You will be asked to evaluate the ways in which the texts in question work in tandem to create a representation of the way the world is to their respective audience.


The Assignment: Rather than another written paper, this assignment will take the form of a multimedia presentation of your own devising that will present an argument to your audience about the ways in which the media are choosing to reinforce certain narratives surrounding the drug war. This presentation will consist of a slideshow presentation (in PowerPoint or Prezi) of 10 minutes, incorporating 15-25 slides, images, text, video, and accompanied by a spoken or pre-recorded audio presentation.

Remediation is a process by which an argument, set of ideas or message is put into a new medium: from the written word to verbalized audio, or from a graphic novel to a movie, for example. Putting a message into a new medium does not consist simply of literally adapting the words you’ve already written, putting them on slides or reading them aloud. To succeed in this assignment, you will need to consider the differences between media and make use of their specific qualities to enhance your argument or message.

In creating a slideshow presentation, you will focus on creating image-rich slides that complement (rather than repeat) your spoken words. You will want to use only small amounts of text in your slides, keeping bullet points short and to the point–much more concise than the ones you’ve seen me make. I’d encourage you to explore Prezi–in my opinion, it’s easier to use, more dynamic and more visually appealing than PowerPoint, but either program is fine. Your ultimate goal is to create an engaging and persuasive presentation that will capture the attention of the class.

This assignment will consist of a group prospectus (500 words), a reflective essay written by you (750 words), and your group’s presentation. For the prospectus, you will present the sources you wish to analyze and briefly explain why you think they present a certain representations of the Drug War. You will need to identify 3 different sources that you wish to use in the paper. One of these sources can be a text we have used in class (Breaking BadThe Wire, etc.). The other sources must be drawn from somewhere else. There are many options for the types of sources you could look at. You could examine a news report (in print, radio, or video), you could look at a website, you could look at an academic article, you could look at a personal story of someone affected by the Drug War, or you could look at a fictional representation of the Drug War. The main thing to consider when you are choosing your sources is to make sure that each source is amplifying or extending a certain cultural narrative surrounding the drug war or perhaps reinforcing certain lines power or racial stereotypes in the way it is representing aspects of the drug war. For the presentation, you will use your close reading skills and your knowledge of cultural/historical analysis to consider the ways in which each source you have chosen presents the “reality” of the war on drugs. You will want to compare each source and show how they are advancing their own view of the Drug War. Some questions you might consider include:

  • What does one source leave out that the others might include? What does this say about the source? Why does it exclude this? How does excluding this work towards advancing the argument the source is trying to make?
  • What does one source cover that the others do not? Why does it cover this? How is this in line with its political or ideological agenda?
  • What is the tone of the pieces? Does one seem angrier than the other? Does one seem more concerned with presenting an “objective” accounting of the situation? How does this use of tone reveal some of the ideological underpinnings of the source in question?
  • Who is behind each text? Do any of the texts appear concerned with maintaining the image of whoever is behind the text? Do they attempt to advance the agenda of the institution or person behind the source?
  • What are the power dynamics between the institutions or people producing the text? Does one have more power and weight behind it than the others? How does each text attempt to reproduce and maintain its power through the way it has chosen to represent the Drug War?
  • Do any of the sources attempt to question the legitimacy or authority of traditional lines of power? How do they do this? What are their strategies?
  • Do any of the sources rely on stereotypes? How do these stereotypes work in the piece? How do they reinforce or challenge traditional lines of authority/power?
  • How do the sources portray certain groups of people? Are they projecting some people in a positive light and others in a negative light? How is this working to advance views of the groups in question?

These are just some questions you can consider when writing your essay. The focus of your essay should be comparing and contrasting the differences between the three sources you have chosen and revealing the ways in which each attempts to advance its view of the “reality” of the Drug War.



Prospectus/Beta Plan 20 points

Reflective Essay: 30 points

Final Paper 100 points


Due Dates: 

Portfolio 5: Social Media Creative Application


Purpose: For this assignment, you will create a social media site (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, Blog, etc.) for a fictional character from either the Wire or the Breaking Bad universe. I will then ask you to respond to current events (politics, sports, celebrity gossip, etc.) as if you were that chosen character. While Portfolio 5 might seem to break with the portfolios we have done to this point, this isn’t the case. It will incorporate your close reading skills, because you will have to point to evidence from the text to back up the way you choose to have your character react to events. It will also incorporate elements from CDA and cultural/historical analysis, because I will ask you to not only have your character comment on society, but also to justify their choice and use of a particular social media platform.

The Assignment: Portfolio 5 will consist of 3 parts: 1) a series of posts to a social media site reacting to current events as your chosen character (length and number will vary based on the platform you choose), 2) a peer response session in which you respond to another character’s post as your character, and 3) a reflective essay in which you justify the choices you made during the course of the assignment.

Social Media Posts: In a series of posts to a fictional social media site, you will assume the role of one character from either Breaking Bad or the Wire and respond to current events of your choice. You should consider the following questions as you are posting to the site:

  • What topics do you think this character would be most interested in or want to talk about? While you don’t necessarily have to stick tightly to this consideration, it probably wouldn’t make much sense to see Bunk making posts about chemical engineering, or the Walter White posting about his love of the Orioles. There is some wriggle room here, but you should keep it in the realm of believability. Certainly, either McNulty or Walter would feel comfortable spouting off about a current political issue.
  • What social media platform do you think your character would be most likely to use or work best in? For instance, Omar is really good with oneliners and tends to be very terse in the way he speaks, so this might make him a good candidate for using a Twitter account. On the other hand, McNulty is a fan of long rants and tends to spout off about things that bother him. This might make him a better personality for a blog. You might also think about what type of site they would choose based on their actual backgrounds in the show. Stringer Bell, for instance, is very much trying to portray a professional image, so he might have a Facebook account. Hank, on the other hand, seems like he probably doesn’t keep up on these things as much, so he might have a LiveJournal or something equally obsolete.
  • Are you making sure that what you are talking about is apparent to your audience through the appropriate use of the medium? For instance, are you including links to videos or articles that reflect what you are commenting on? If you are using Twitter, are you using hashtags to tie your comment to an issue?
  • How do you know your character would react to the events you are looking at in the way you have chosen to portray them doing so? Can you think of specific scenes in the show that are related to your issue or that reflect the way in which a character would react to the issue at hand?

Peer Response: For your peer response, you will assemble in groups of three and comment on or respond to other people’s posts, updates, Tweets, etc. You will again have to think about how your character would talk about or think about the issue at hand and forge an appropriate comment based on your take on your character.

Reflective Essay: The reflective essay will consist of three parts. For the first part of the essay, you will answer the first three questions under the Social Media section above. You will try and justify your choice of medium for the character, your choice of topics, and how you made your topics apparent to your audience.

The second and third part of the essay will deal with the last question above. You will be required to write about one of your posts or Tweets and explicitly link it to a scene in the show. You will analyze how that character’s actions in the scene in question led you to make the comment that you did on the topic in question. The third section of the essay will cover the same topic as the first, but it will instead focus on one of the posts you did in response to one of your classmate’s posts. It will show through a close reading of a scene from the show why you responded in the way you did. These essays should be around 750-1000 words.



Social Media Posts: 50 points

Peer Responses: 20 points

Reflective Essay: 30 points



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