Breaking Bad, 1-1, “Pilot”
We’re in the New Mexico desert, seeing rock formations against the blue sky. A pair of pants blows flies by and falls on a dirt road, just in time to be run over by an RV driven by a guy wearing nothing but white underpants and a gas mask. Another man, unconscious in the passenger seat, also wears a gas mask, and there are two bodies and a lot of stuff sliding around in the rear of the vehicle. “Breaking Bad” is off to a running start, a combination of beauty, violence, dark comedy, and almost unbearable tension.
Distracted by what’s going on in the rear of the RV and some sort of high emotion, the driver soon runs the vehicle off the road. He gets out – in obvious distress – tears off his gas mask, and throws it as far as he can. A siren approaches as the almost-naked driver goes into the vehicle and grabs some things. Outside the RV, he puts on a long-sleeved, green shirt that’s been tied the right-side mirror, hyperventilating and coughing (fumes are emanating from the vehicle). He puts a handgun into the back of his underpants, and, holding a small camcorder, starts taping a “last-will-and-testament” message.
Identifying himself as “Walter Hartwell White,” he gives his Albuquerque address: 308 Negra Arroyo Lane. Then, truly anguished, he addresses his family: “Skyler, you are the love of my life. I hope you know that. Walter, Jr., you’re my big man. There are going to be some things that you’ll come to learn about me in the next few days. I just want you to know that whatever you learn, I only had you in my heart. Goodbye.”
The man – Walt – puts the camera and his open wallet on the ground and waits. Then he goes out on the road, takes a wide stance, and, holding the gun in his right hand, points it toward the oncoming vehicle or vehicles. He’s apparently so ashamed of what’s about to be revealed that he wants to commit suicide by cop.
Next we see the titles: green chemistry symbols, vaguely ominous music, and a wisp of smoke as the music fades out with some meaningful, but unexplained clicks.
Note: Though there is a 308 Negra Arroyo Lane in Albuquerque, the house used as the White residence in the series was located at 3828 Piermont Dr NE. The Whites live on Black Gulch Lane – just a hint of the color symbolism we’re about to plunge into.
Act 1: “Three Weeks Earlier” (Walt’s 50th birthday)
Scene 1: an early morning, still-dark, exterior view of the White home
We see Walt and his wife in bed in their unlit bedroom. Skyler, on the left, is fast asleep. Walt, awake, puts on his glasses, gets up, and goes into a room that, judging by panned-over items, is planned for an expected baby. Dressed in a T-shirt, sweats, and running shoes, he tromps mechanically on a mini-stairmaster. A “proton radiography” award in his name is on the wall.
Scene 2: Walt’s birthday breakfast, the White kitchen.
Skyler puts a plate of eggs covered with veggie bacon spelling out “50” in front of Walt, saying, “For your birthday.”
Affect dull and faraway, our hero smiles faintly and fakely when he thinks he should during the following interactions. “Look at that,” he says flatly. Has his wife been spelling out his age in bacon on his birthday that long?
“That is veggie bacon,” Skyler announces. “Zero cholesterol. And you won’t even taste the difference.” This tall, blonde woman, several months pregnant, is a good housewife and mother, but annoyingly controlling. She tells Walt not to work late, and when Walt, Jr., a dark-haired 16-year-old boy, comes in on forearm crutches, she criticizes him for being late.
Walt, Jr., who looks nothing like his father, has mild case of cerebral palsy, which slightly affects his speech as well as his mobility. Wearing a navy polo shirt over a gray long-sleeved T-shirt and dark pants, he’s real and alive in contrast with his dad. He engages with Skyler as Walt does not, complaining that there was no hot water, again. When she tells him he can solve that problem by getting up earlier, he says they should solve it by getting a new hot water heater. He then refuses to eat the veggie bacon, saying “it smells like band-aids.” Skyler says, “Eat it,” and gives him the Mom look.
Walt, wearing a white shirt under a beige sweater, engages a little more with his son than he does with his wife – they seem to have a pleasant, kidding relationship, but in the end he also insists that the boy eat the fake bacon.
Eating fake bacon: a metaphor for Walt’s non-life. No wonder Junior insists on real bacon and hot water!
Walt and Junior arrive at school in Walt’s pale-pea-soup-green Pontiac Aztek, the dorkiest car the producers could think of. Walt’s wearing a tan windbreaker, gray pants, and tan Wallabee shoes.
In class, Walt asks his bored students what the study of chemistry’s about. “Chemicals?” someone responds. “No,” Walt replies. “Chemistry is technically the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change.” He demonstrates with some liquid in a bunsen burner and a tall flame. “It’s life – solution and dissolution; growth, decay, and transformation.” Transformation: what this show will be about. (Someone else has pointed out that this speech would have been more appropriate on the first day of school; in a minute we find out that they’re on Chapter 6: Ionic Bonds. Poetic license. And an ionic bond is about to be formed between Walt and Jesse.)
Walt hasn’t been able to infect his students with his love for chemistry, and science in general. A snickering boy in the back (Chad), asked to move his seat, grates it across the floor the whole way. Walt is Walter Mitty – he gets little respect for his hesitancy and timidity, even though he knows a lot.
Scene 4: at the car wash, Walt’s part-time job
Walt works the register at the car wash, but his boss, Bogdan (“Eyebrows”), saying they’re shorthanded, orders him to go help outside. Walt is angry, but he complies. Coughing, he starts to wash the left front tire of a red sports car – Chad’s. “Make sure those tires shine, huh?” laughs the kid, as his blonde girlfriend titters into her phone, “You would not believe –” Walt’s demeaning part-time job will soon be common knowledge at school.
Driving home, Walt’s super-frustrated when his glove box won’t close. He’s had it with this day; maybe he’s even beginning to have had enough of his life as it’s been!
Scene 5: the White house, Walt’s surprise birthday party
Walt’s surprised all right, but he looks more shocked, even horrified, than pleased…Skyler talks with her sister Marie, while Marie’s husband, Hank, a cop, holds forth on handguns. He’s everything Walt isn’t: bold, brash, and confident. Saying, “If you’re gonna bring a gun, baby, you gotta bring enough gun,” he hands his to Junior. Then it’s Walt’s turn. “Take the gun, Dad,” Junior says, while Hank laughs, “It’s not gonna bite you!” Hank then leads a toast to Walt.
Hank and his partner Gomez, also at the party, are shown on the TV news with big “DEA” labels on their jackets. It’s a story about a meth lab they busted, and Walt’s interest is piqued by the sight of all the confiscated money. “How much is that?” he asks. $700,000 in cash. Walt asks if that’s a usual amount. “Not unusual,” Hank says. “Easy money – till we catch you!” He asks Walt if he wants to go on a ride-along, to “get a little excitement in your life.”
“Someday,” Walt responds faintly and a bit wistfully.
Scene 6: Later that evening in the White bedroom
Skyler’s on her laptop, trying to get a good price on e-Bay for “the faux Lalique vase” she “picked up at the Super Swap.” In an example of multitasking at its worst, she starts giving Walt a birthday hand job under the covers. “What’s up?” Walt asks.
“You tell me, Birthday Boy.” This sounds really condescending. She continues pumping him while asking about his “plans for Saturday.” Walt says he has to work at the car wash in the morning, then wants to go see the Mars Rover photos at Los Alamos. Skyler browbeats him into agreeing to paint the baby’s room instead. He yawns, and she demands, “What’s going on down there?”
Walt’s concerned about the baby, and Skyler says, “Don’t worry about the baby – this is just for you. Close your eyes. Relax. That’s it! Keep it going!”
The saddest hand job ever is ruined (if something that lame could be) when Skyler’s sudden online success (“Yes! 56!”) trumps Walt’s possibly impending orgasm. Their eyes meet, but neither says anything.
Walt’s various birthday celebrations haven’t done anything to make him feel better.
Scene 7: Next day, at the car wash
Pushing a drum on a dolly, Walt stops, sees a beautiful woman customer standing by her car, and starts coughing. What a sad life! His coughing done, he faints, collapsing on the wet floor.
In the ambulance Walt comes up with various routine explanations for why he lost consciousness and asks to be let off at the next corner. “I don’t have the greatest insurance.” The EMT, listening to Walt’s lungs, asks for an emergency contact, and wants to know whether Walt smokes. “God, no – why do you ask?”
Scene 2: Hospital montage
Walt’s prone on the sliding table, getting an MRI, then sitting in his brown jacket, with a mountain painting behind him, barely listening to the doctor tell him he has inoperable lung cancer. He focuses on a mustard stain on the doc’s white coat as he’s told that his best-case scenario, even with chemo, is two more years.
Scene 3: Casa Blanca
Skyler’s sitting at the kitchen counter, working something out with a creditor over the phone when Walt gets home from the hospital. He opens a beer; she hangs up, greeting him with a because-it’s-expected-and-she’s-a-nice-person “Hey! How was your day?”
Walt answers, quietly and with a sick smile, “Fine.”
Skyler then asks him about a Mastercard charge for $15.88 at Staples. “We needed printer paper,” Walt says meekly, only to be chastised by a disparaging Skyler: “Walt, the Mastercard’s the one we don’t use.” Walt accepts this, smiling weakly. He tells Skyler nothing about his trip to the hospital and the news that he has cancer.
Scene 4: the car wash
Walt stands at the window, looking out. Told by Bogdan to go outside and do wipe downs (“Are you here to work? Come on now!”), he finally loses it. Knocking merchandise off the wall as he goes, he walks out, shouting, “Fuck you and your eyebrows! Wipe this down!” He turns and grabs his crotch.
Scene 5: the White backyard at dawn the next day
Walt sits despondently by a small, dirty, kidney-shaped pool, throwing lit matches into it as sad organ music plays. He’s not wearing his glasses, and seems to be noticing how briefly each match burns. As it starts to get light, he gets out his cell phone, calls Hank (a faint “Yo!”), says, “I didn’t wake you, did I?”, and asks to go on a ride-along.
Scene 6: the ride-along
Walt’s in the back, Hank and Gomie in front, with Hank in the driver’s seat. The DEA, tipped off by a snitch, is busting Cap’n Cook’s meth lab. “He adds a dash of chili powder,” Hank says, betting Gomie $20 that the cap’n’s a “beaner.” Gomie’s convinced that “with a name like that,” he’s a “white boy.” Hank mentions that meth labs are dangerous because of the possibility that mustard gas will be created. “Phosgene,” Walt corrects him, showing us that he knows something about the process.
As Hank drives the SUV into position, following the SWAT team “tank,” he starts humming the “Ride of the Valkyries” (bam-bam-ba-BAM-bam…) Inside the meth house, an Asian-looking guy works at a table, rap music blasting so loudly into his earphones that he can’t hear what’s happening outside. The place is a total mess. The swat team busts in and arrests the guy, who turns out to be Emilio Koyama, “half a beaner.” Hank gives Gomie $10.
Walt asks if they can go inside and see the “actual lab.” Hank and Gomie need to check it out first. While Hank and Gomie are inside, Walt sees a young man (Jesse, wearing short red boxers) exit an upstairs window and fall off the roof while trying to put on his pants. Mexican music plays, as a beautiful naked woman throws his shoes out after him. Jesse finishes dressing (in black clothes) in a doorway. He sees Walt in the cop vehicle, and they lock eyes. “Pinkman?” Walt says, amazed, as Jesse puts his finger to his lips in the “Shhh” sign. He gets into a red car with “THE CAPN” on its license plate, and drives away, as Walt gets out of the cop car and watches.
I’ve often wondered if there’s any significance to the colors in Walt and Jesse’s last names. I get “White” – Walt is whitebread and pure as the driven snow at the beginning of this saga. Is Jesse pure, too, in his own way, with a dash of happy, lively chili pepper?
Scene 7: Jesse’s house after dark
Walt arrives at Jesse’s house as the latter is covering his car with a tarp. Jesse hides behind the car, a tire iron in his hand. He’s wearing a white T-shirt under a black sweater, and a red jacket.
Walt: “Hey! It’s me. I’m alone.”
“How’d you find me?”
“You’re still in our filing system. Your aunt owns this place, right? No one’s looking for you.”
“I own it. Why are you here?”
“I was curious.” Walt says that while Jesse wasn’t a model student, he didn’t picture him selling meth. “A lot of money in it, huh?”
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Not a clue.”
“Cap’n Cook – that’s not you?” Walt lifts the tarp, exposing the telltale license plate, adding, “Like I said, no one’s looking for you.”
“Look, I don’t know what you think you’re doing here. My high school days ended a long time ago. You ain’t welcome back, Kotter, so step off! No speeches.”
“A short speech.” Walt says he knows the DEA has taken Jesse’s lab, money, and partner. “You got nothin’ – square one. But you know the business, and I know the chemistry. I’m thinking maybe you and I could partner up.”
“You want to cook crystal meth? You?”
“That’s right. You and me.”
“Wow.” Jesse’s incredulous and still resistant, until Walt adds, “Either that, or I turn you in.” This is Walt’s first truly assertive act, taken against someone he has completely over a barrel.
Scene 1: Casa Blanca, a sunny day
Marie’s deep blue VW and Skyler’s station-wagon-like Jeep are parked outside. Inside, Skyler tells Marie she’s sold her e-Bay item for $14. When Marie suggests that S. could make more money writing a novel, S. says she’d be more likely to write a collection of short stories.
“A novel would be easier to sell.” But Skyler doesn’t seem to be worried about money. She’s all prim and proper, and obviously considers herself to be superior to her sister. This comes out even more clearly when Marie volunteers to critique her sister’s writing, and Skyler demurs.
“What’s with Walt?” Marie asks. She’s more tuned into him than Skyler is. More than that, she’s nosey.
“He’s fine, just turning 50.” Skyler adds that she’s not looking forward to turning 40.
“So, it’s a midlife crisis?” Marie persists.
“No. He’s just quiet.”
“How’s the sex?”
“Guess that answers that.”
Walt’s taking equipment from the school chemistry lab. Reggae music plays as he packs it into a large carton. Outside Jesse’s house, dressed in tan windbreaker and pants and a pale yellow shirt, Walt shows Jesse, in red, gray, and black, what he’s brought. He’s especially proud of one score: a large round-bottomed boiling flask.
When Jesse says he’s always used a large volumetric flask (not that he knows the name of it), Walt says, “No. Did you learn nothing from my class?”
“No, you flunked me.”
“Prick. And let me tell you somethin’ else, okay? This ain’t chemistry; this is art. Cooking is an art. And the shit I cook is the bomb, so don’t be tellin’ me…”
“I saw your setup. It’s ridiculous. The shit you cook is shit. You and I will not make garbage – our product will be 100% pure, with no adulterants, including chili pepper.”
“Chili P is my signature!”
Jesse doesn’t want to “dress like a faggot” in safety equipment either. He adds that they can’t cook at his house. “I don’t shit where I eat. This is your deal, man. You want to smoke it up, smoke it up at your house. No? I didn’t think so. Oh, well.”
Walt asks if they could use a storage unit. Drug-sniffing dogs are used at places like that, Jesse says, suggesting an RV. “That’s what you want. A mobile meth lab. That’d be the bomb – drive way out in the boonies, and be all evasive.” He knows a guy that’s selling one.
Later, we see Walt coming out of a branch bank with the money for the RV. Jesse’s parked beside him in his red Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Walt gives Jesse $6,000 plus – all the money he has in the world. One wonders how he’ll justify this to Skyler. When Jesse says it isn’t enough, Walt responds, “Negotiate. You’re a drug dealer. I gotta go.”
“Wait. Tell me why you’re doing this.”
“Why do you do it?”
“There you go.”
“No, come on. You’re not how I remember you…Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass, age 60 –”
” – is just gonna break bad? It doesn’t compute. It’s weird. Listen, if you’ve gone crazy, that’s something I need to know about, okay? That affects me.”
Walt, cryptically: “I am awake.”
“Buy the RV, and we’ll start tomorrow.”
Walt doesn’t just need money for his family, since they depend on his income and he’s going to die of cancer. He’s tired of taking crap from people like Bogdan and Chad. And now that he’s going to die anyway, what does he have to lose by refusing to take shit anymore? This is his real motive for everything he ends up doing – the money’s just a sub-category. Power instead of weak subservience. He’s going to go out as a man! And it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because Walt can’t envision a happy medium.
Scene 3: a men’s clothing store
Junior’s trying on pants in a men’s clothing store while Walt helps and Skyler harps. When some boys his age start laughing at him and his “big boy pants,” Walt leaves, telling Skyler not to do anything. Just as she’s about to go over and lecture the boys, Walt bursts in the front door of the store, storms over, and kicks the lead boy to the floor from behind. When the boy gets up, ready to fight and a head and a half taller than Walt, the latter says, “Take your shot! Take it!” The boy, incredulous and disdainful, mutters “Psycho!” and leaves with his crew.
Skyler’s amazed, Junior pleased — smiling as if to say, “I always knew you had it in you.” Walt looks back at his wife and son as if to say, “Meet the new me.”
Scene 4: the desert, outside the RV
Jesse, scoping the scene from a high point, says, “Hey, nothin’ but cows.” The closest thing is a “cow house” two miles away.
“Yeah – where they live. The cows. Whatever, man. Yeah! Let’s cook here.” He’s dressed in black and yellow.
Walt: “Cow house? God, help me.” He starts taking off his clothes.
Jesse stops, thirty feet away. “Uh, what are you doing?”
“These are my good clothes. I can’t go home smelling like a meth lab.”
“I do…Those…wow…” By now, Walt’s down to his tighty whities. “You’re keeping those on, right?” He’s still at a distance.
“Come on – daylight’s burning!”
“Oh, my God.” Jesse takes his camcorder out of his pocket, and we see the interior of the RV for the first time in the viewfinder. Jesse, taping: “This is a good look for you.” He calls Walt “only the second biggest homo in the world,” adding, “Work it!” before Walt pushes the camera aside.
Druggie music plays as we see a montage of Jesse, now in a red sweater, and Walt cooking. At first, Walt wears no gloves and Jesse bops to the music. Walt corrects something Jesse does. Later they’re wearing green gloves and gas masks, and there are fumes. The end result looks like pale beige brownies in a glass pan. Jesse examines the stuff, amazed. “Jesus, you got two-inch crystals. This is glass grade. You’re an artist! This is art, Mr. White.”
“Actually, it’s just basic chemistry. But, thank you, Jesse. I’m glad it’s acceptable.”
“You’re the iron chef!”
“So, what now? How do we proceed?”
“We cook more tomorrow. Meantime, I know just the guy to talk to.”
Scene 5: at Krazy 8’s
Jesse goes to Krazy 8’s to talk him into distributing the meth. 8’s training a Rottweiler to attack a dummy, and Jesse, dressed in black pants and a red vest, rattles on about dogs.
8: “Shut up, and show me your money.”
J: “I ain’t buyin’, ese; I’m sellin.” 8 checks out the product. “Tell me that ain’t the finest scanté you ever laid eyes on. Go ahead – try it! Hey, poochie, how ya doin’?” The dog almost bites him, as 8 tries the meth. “Hey! Boo-ya! What’d I say?”
“It’s all right.”
“Hey, it really broke me up about Emilio. He okay?” 8 is mad that his cousin was arrested while Jesse was “stickin’ it in some neighbor lady. Emilio thinks you dimed on him,” he adds.
“That’s bullshit. I should kick his punk ass for even thinking that. Tell him – ”
“Tell him yourself. He made bail today.” Emilio walks in. “Where’d you get this?” 8 demands, indicating the meth. “I know your lil’ punk ass didn’t cook it.”
Scene 6: the desert
Walt’s putting his green apron on outside the RV, when he hears a rhythmic pounding. A yellow car pulls up, blasting rap, Krazy 8 driving, Jesse riding shotgun, and Emilio in the back with a gun to Jesse’s head. 8 gets out, asking, “What are you, some kinda nudist? That’s some fine shit. Come work for me.”
“I’d be willing to sell it to you, if the price is right.”
8 holds up a clear plastic bag full of rolls of money. “Out here all by yourself, huh?”
Emilio gets out of the car, scrutinizing Walt. “Hey, I know you! He was there when I got busted by the DEA!”
Jesse gets out of the car. “Run, Mr. White! Run!” Trying to run himself, he trips and falls. Emilio stands over him, gun pointed at his head. 8 has his gun on Walt.
I say we cap ’em both,” says Emilio.
8 to Walt: “Are you gonna cook up that batch?”
“You’re an artist. It’s a damn shame – ” He puts the gun to Walt’s head again.
Walt, scared, but not falling apart: “Wait a minute. Listen to me. I’ll teach you my recipe. You let us both live, and I will teach you.”
“You want to cook like me?”
Emilio duct tapes Jesse’s arms behind his back and kicks him viciously. Walt starts putting together chemicals inside the RV while Krazy 8 and Emilio watch. Tense music plays, and both guns are inches from Walt’s head. He’s making phosgene gas, which explodes right after 8 says, “Move it, homes – ain’t got all day.” Walt rushes out of the RV, shutting the door behind him and leaning against it. He moves lower, coughing, as bullets riddle the door from the inside.
After his two assailants have succumbed to the gas, Walt unties Jesse and tries to put out the fire by the RV Emilio’s started with a tossed cigarette. Seeing he can’t, he opens the door to the RV, grabs the gas masks and puts one on Jesse and the other on himself. He then drags his still-unconscious partner into the passenger seat of the RV. Getting in the driver’s seat, he drives down the road to wild rap music, bodies and debris sliding back and forth, pants flying off the side mirror. The mood is one of high hysteria.
Scene 7: back to where we left off at the end of the teaser: Walt in a wide stance in the middle of the dirt road, gun pointed at the arriving vehicles whose sirens still blare.
Walt comes out of his stance, choking and crying. He tries to shoot himself under the chin, but can’t make the gun work till, safety finally off, it goes off to the side. Still crying, in total frustration, as wild guitar music plays, Walt puts the gun in the back of his underpants as three yellow fire trucks speed by.
The wild music continues, as Jesse emerges from the RV with a badly injured left eye. “Hey, what’d you do to them?”
Walt explains that he turned the red phosphorous into phosgene gas. “One good whiff, and – ” He vomits onto the road, then says, “We gotta clean this up.”
Scene 8: Casa Blanca
Walt grabs money out of the dryer. This is the money 8 and Emilio brought to pay for Walt and Jesse’s meth. It had gotten out of its plastic bag and was in the stew of contaminants on the floor of the RV. Next he gets into bed with Skyler, who’s been lying there awake. “Where were you?” Skyler asks. “I don’t know what’s been going on with you lately, but whatever it is, the worst thing you can do is shut me out.” The music continues, as Walt starts making love to Skyler, then, really aroused, takes her forcefully from behind.
“Walt? Is that you?” Skyler says.
At the end of the scene we see them from on high, lying on their backs, side by side, Walt looking like he’s in shock. The music over the credits is “Out of Time Man.”