Tag Archives: Walter White

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: “Gloves Off” — Tension, Motivation, Moral Codes, and Batman


It’s difficult to build tension and create real stakes in a prequel, and that problem is magnified the closer a film or television show gets to the familiar part of the timeline. If the audience already knows who lives and who dies, and who has to reach a certain point of the story unscathed for that matter, it can mute some of the excitement and intrigue of a particular plotline.

On the other hand, it can also heighten the tension in an episode by spotlighting the mystery between the known beginning and the known ending. As Better Call Saul shows Nacho planning a hit on Tuco, we know that Tuco lives; we know that Mike lives, and thanks to the opening scene in “Gloves Off”, we know that the crafty Mr. Ehrmantraut ends up bruised and battered, presumably in the attempt. All of this raises the question of how we get from Point A to Point B.

Does the hit go wrong? Does Mike beg off from Nacho and catch a beating for his troubles? In true Breaking Bad fashion does some unexpected intervening factor come into play and throw the whole situation out of whack? We don’t know, but we want to know, and that’s just part of the masterful job that BCS does in using its prequel status as a boon and not an obstacle when it comes to holding the audience’s attention.

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