Tag Archives: Vince Gilligan

Breaking Bad‘s Pilot Has It All, And Yet Has Nothing

It’s all there. And none of it’s there.

As I talked about on the Pilot Study Podcast, the Breaking Bad pilot tells you everything you need to know to watch and understand the series. It gives you Walter White, the down-on-his-luck, spineless high school chemistry teacher who’s sleepwalking his way through life. It gives you the hint of an interest and a talent within him that goes unnoticed and unregarded by everyone around him. It gives you Skyler and Walt Jr., Hank and Marie, Jesse Pinkman and so many other figures who make up his world, with just enough color to get a sense for who they are. It gives you the cancer diagnosis that ignites something in Walt, that causes him to take control of his life. And it gives you the sense of the consequences of that change and that choice, the subtle transformation that sets him on a different trajectory.

But what isn’t present, what’s barely even hinted at in this first installment, is where that slow-burning transformation will take him. That’s the beauty of Breaking Bad, and it’s devotion to the idea of change embodied in Walt’s speech about chemistry. We see the first chemical reaction here, the catalyst that sends a lowly science teacher down a new path. We see brief sketches of his wife, his brother-in-law, and his new, less-than-reputable business partner. But we can’t see how much these individuals, and our view of them, will shift and flip over the ensuing five seasons of one of television’s all-time great dramas.

This pilot gives you everything you need to dip your toe into the world of Breaking Bad, but only gives the slightest hints as to how deep and how dark the water goes.

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Better Call Saul: The Careful and Deliberate Rule the Day in “Witness”


Better Call Saul is often a slower show, even by the standards of modern prestige dramas. To some degree, that is a necessary consequence of its status as a prequel. If it moves too quickly, suddenly it’s running into the series’s already known future. If it packs in too much incident, then it starts to seem all the more glaring that major events and shared histories are not mentioned or only grazed on Breaking Bad. Still, the show turns that slow burn into a feature, not a bug. It lets the events and conflicts of the series simmer while digging deep into the development of its characters and the details of their lives before things froth to a boil.

But even by Better Call Saul standards, “Witness” is a slow episode. That’s not a complaint, necessarily. Much of the proceedings center on Mike tracking down the people monitoring him, enlisting Saul in the endeavor, and there is a diligent, unhurried pace to that effort. The episode is content to play Mike’s mission out, evoking the sense of his dogged determination and the complexity and sophistication of what he’s up against.

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