Breaking Bad: Pilot   Rewatch 
August 3, 2014 11:54 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Unassuming high school chemistry teacher Walter White discovers he has lung cancer. Desperate to secure his family’s financial future and finally free from the fear that had always inhibited him, Walt teams up with a former student to turn a used RV into a mobile drug lab.

Welcome back to the RV, hermanos (and hermanas)! Reminder: this is the SPOILERIFFIC thread.
posted by scody (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
TINY STUPID JESSE!

Hank setting up so many people for destruction with his ride along.

Walt with hair!
posted by RainyJay at 2:31 PM on August 3, 2014


Hank setting up so many people for destruction with his ride along.

Interesting. I was thinking "poor, misguided Walt, if you'd only find a better way to reclaim your place in the world, or at least find peace with not being the smartest person in the room."

Sure, Hank may have laid the groundwork, but Walt built the empire of shit dirt (keeping it family friendly). There are so many times Walt could have backed down, or taken less drastic measures and accepted that he didn't really have the ability to control every situation, and there would be less death and destruction.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are so many times Walt could have backed down, or taken less drastic measures and accepted that he didn't really have the ability to control every situation

Never give up. Never surrender.

Wait, wrong show.
posted by jeather at 5:26 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


find peace with not being the smartest person in the room

Yeah, it's interesting how that really is his tragic flaw through the entire series, and that it's already evident here -- but in a way that's only hinted at. The pathology of his need to be right all the time (and to be recognized as a genius) only emerges gradually, not just to the audience but to Walt himself. His refrain throughout the show that he only did it for his family is perfectly plausible at this point -- again, both to the audience and to himself.

There were just so many great little details in this first episode that show both who Walt is, and who Heisenberg will be. I cracked up at that scene where he's in the backseat of the ride along and he's in that absurd bulletproof vest that looks like a baby's bib -- capped by the moment where he fastens his seat belt when Hank starts driving the car all of half a block. And then, how he shows up at Jesse's house and blackmails him into cooking with him, starting off the conversation from the very start about how "I never thought you'd amount to much." So much of their entire dynamic gets established right there.
posted by scody at 7:18 PM on August 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh, and the other hysterical Walt moment: when Jesse asks him why he's doing this, and he says, "I'm awake." Like he is channeling the Buddha, for god's sake. It's darkly hilarious in one way, but also (obviously) tragic and heartbreaking in another.
posted by scody at 8:06 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Man, I forgot how good Cranston is. (And how much I really want to see him do Lear.)
posted by dogheart at 10:30 PM on August 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


This series is probably the bleakest of them all, and often the most realistic. Walt is also somewhat sympathetic here as the sad sack loser. I didn't like the show initially because I thought it wanted me to sympathise for Walt more than I did. Later on, they get a bit more explicit about this....

Its also a bit confusing how good Walt is at chemistry at this point, as he just seems to be a high school teacher. I'm never entirely sure of his back story because its never made explicit, but my best guess is:

1)Walt is a brilliant chemistry student, and falls in love with Gretchen. He Gretchen and Elliot decide to strike out with some ideas they've had. Possibly quitting their studies to do so.
2)Walt meets Gretchen's parents, feels embarrased at his poor background, and abandons the relationship.
3)Hurt, Gretchen gets together with Elliot
4)Walt can't stand to see the two together, and bails out of the company for a meager amount. He meets Skyler, and buys a house with her
5)Without proper qualifications, he fails to get a job that meets his own standards, and frustrates and alienates anyone he does work with.
6)After a few years trying and failing, he gets a job at the high school, while promising himself he'll keep looking.
7)Skyler gets pregnant (possibly accidentally) and they decide that she should quit her accountacy job, so Walt gets a second job to try to keep up payments.

A lot of this comes from reading between the lines, but this is my best guess as to why someone who can apparently make the greatest meth in the whole wide world is stuck teaching at a high school.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:55 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


The pilot hints at it by showing a 1985 Nobel Prize certificate that he contributed to, and the specific sub-science is X-ray crystallography, which is flippin' hard cutting edge sort of "chemistry" but it's beyond chemistry as we know it once you're involved in developing the actual process or using it to make breakthroughs, it just happens to fall into its jurisdiction. So in a sense you could say that chemistry is second-nature to Walt at this point, he has an intuitive chef's-like expertise and is on a whole other level when his talent is properly applied. Talent that perhaps is wasted in the illicit drug business?

The show does explain more of this later but doesn't get into why crystallography is a big deal.
posted by aydeejones at 2:07 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Whoops, it's actually proton radiography but along the same lines, highly interrelated, basically Walt helped achieve some sort of breakthrough in the existing process / science of X-ray crystallography, using heavy protons instead of X-rays / photons)
posted by aydeejones at 2:11 AM on August 4, 2014


Huh, I missed that Nobel prize certificate. How the hell couldn't someone who contributed to a nobel prize certificate manage to fail to get a better job? Maybe he's just a massive dick to work with: I guess the events on this show would bear that out.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:24 AM on August 4, 2014


I bingewatched all the episodes in one week before the start of the last half season. One of the greatest TV shows of all time.
posted by Pendragon at 5:38 AM on August 4, 2014


Re: Walt's background: I always gleaned that he was an excellent, possibly even truly brilliant, student/researcher. But he must not have finished his Ph.D. -- presumably because he struck out with Elliot and Gretchen -- because he's never addressed as Dr. White, and if anyone would want to be addressed that way if was entitled to it, it's Walt.

So, without a doctorate, he can't teach in academia and can't get a research job (I don't think it's an accident that he mentions visiting Los Alamos to see the Mars Rover exhibit in the pilot), and in the absence of starting up his own successful company post-Elliot/Gretchen, teaching high school is largely his only option, especially once Walt Jr. is born.

Also, I can't remember: is Skyler already pregnant in the flashback in one of the later seasons that shows them going through the house for the first time before they buy it?

I was strongly sympathetic with Walt from the start, in part because I get acutely embarrassed/empathetic when I see people being humiliated (as he is at the car wash), but also because the first time I watched it, I was going through cancer treatment myself. Watching the pilot this time around also made me realize that Walt reminds me in certain respects of my grandfather, who also happened to be an extremely bright but frustrated scientist (he wanted to be a physicist) with a hair-trigger temper. So it took me a really long time -- well into Season 4, I think -- to accept that Walt had gone from being the antihero protagonist and had actually turned into the antagonist (with Jesse essentially morphing into the protagonist role).
posted by scody at 8:09 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


...or Hank becomes the protagonist, depending on how you look at it.
posted by scody at 8:14 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I always thought that Walt - brilliant chemist and researcher - got Skyler pregnant at a time when it wasn't planned. And had to leave the work he was doing with Grey Matter (which at that time was a start-up, with lots of risk and probably little to no income) in order to provide for his impending family. Probably with a Master's, and highly specialized, he wound up a high school teacher. And so his genius goes unrecognized...until the diagnosis and he decides to put all that knowledge and skill to work to his own ends.

My impression was always that Walt gave up a lot of his plans and dreams to ensure that his family had stability - and, in fact, his initial self-justification for "breaking bad" is to ensure that stability: that there will be money for them, even after he is gone. But the act of "breaking bad" brings out all of Walt's repressed ego and drive and need to be recognized, turning him into Heisenberg. "I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive." Says a lot about how Walt was feeling at the beginning of the series, I think - not alive, not fulfilled, just...existing.

...or Hank becomes the protagonist, depending on how you look at it.

I enjoyed watching Hank go from a good cop who was also kind of a jerk into (at least for me) the hero of the series. It's Hanks death that is the final wedge that splits Walt from his family and reveals the falseness of all his justifications.
posted by nubs at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


That Walt doesn't *have* to do what he does is such a brilliant writing choice, and is what fuels the show's long run. I don't think it's particularly evident early on, when it just seems like he's in a tough situation making some very interesting choices. But once Gretchen and Elliot get introduced...

The Walter White body count starts pretty early, huh?
posted by leopard at 10:44 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, Skyler is very pregnant in the flashback where they're touring the house.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2014


And having now gone back and watched the full episode - so many brilliant touches. Hank's rough paternalism, which reinforces the building feeling you have of Walter not being in control of much of his life (the credit card discussion, everything about the car wash, even his birthday breakfast); the beginning of a series of discussions with Jesse that end with an ultimatum; Skyler's line at the end - "Walter, is that you?". Heisenberg isn't fully here yet, but you can see him coming.
posted by nubs at 1:27 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Spoilers for just everything ahead:

I enjoyed watching Hank go from a good cop who was also kind of a jerk into (at least for me) the hero of the series. It's Hanks death that is the final wedge that splits Walt from his family and reveals the falseness of all his justifications.

This is why I see it as the ride along being Hank setting up so many things. This became Hank's story, Hank's life gone awry. He ends up paying the price for showing this meek, troubled, self-destructive man a way out. This is the hero's journey, showing true character development, overcoming physical and emotional turmoil, dealing with PTSD...

And all started with a joke to his brother-in-law, an attempt to change Walt's life. To broaden his horizons. He was the catalyst. Take that experience away, and Walt would've had to find another release. The gambling cover story could've been the truth.

He didn't know his brother-in-law was basically a burnt-out, brilliant, born-to-be-bad bored man. He knew the boredom; he didn't need to look into Walt any further than that. Didn't need to turn his trained eye on that whole situation: he had Marie's problems to deal with already, why borrow trouble?
posted by RainyJay at 4:25 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


And all started with a joke to his brother-in-law, an attempt to change Walt's life. To broaden his horizons. He was the catalyst. Take that experience away, and Walt would've had to find another release.

Yes -- and the thing that sets up Hank's offer for the ride along as so attractive to Walt is the footage on the news of all the cash they'd confiscated. Walt asks how much it is, and Hank tosses off something like "700 grand," and Walt asks if that's unusual, and Hank kind of dismissively says they've seen more. So it's Hank's inability to resist play Big Man on Campus at the Surprise Party that really does set it all in motion.
posted by scody at 4:46 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


So it's Hank's inability to resist play Big Man on Campus at the Surprise Party that really does set it all in motion.

Exactly! If he didn't have to upstage Mr. High School Teacher, this particular hell could've been avoided.
posted by RainyJay at 5:13 PM on August 4, 2014


Hank was just the spark that happened to set off the huge pile of gasoline-soaked tinder that was Walt's ego; the exact details might have been different, but the story would have been the same.
posted by jeather at 5:32 PM on August 4, 2014


Quite possibly.

Now I'm curious what the gambling version would've been like...
posted by RainyJay at 6:43 PM on August 4, 2014


Question for the thread: does Walter White change over the course of the show? Or does he just become more himself?
posted by Sebmojo at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2014


If he didn't have to upstage Mr. High School Teacher, this particular hell could've been avoided.

If Jesse Pinkman hadn't been with the next door neighbor during the raid, to be seen by Walt does any of this happen? Walt goes along on the raid because he knows the chemistry behind the cook, but he doesn't understand the business side, or how these meth labs operate. Without Jesse - poor, poor Jesse - does Walt do a cook that ends with him being busted because he has wonderful product but no clue on how to move it? Or because he sets up in a storage locker?

It's the confluence - Hank playing Mr Big Man and making his offer, Walt's particular openness to breaking bad at that time, and Jesse Pinkman avoiding the bust - that sets it all in motion. I think without any of these three factors, things play out very differently.

does Walter White change over the course of the show? Or does he just become more himself?

Let me answer with a quote:

"Chemistry is..Well, technically, chemistry is the study of matter.
But I prefer to see it as the study of change.
Now just just think about this.
Electrons.
They change their energy levels.
Molecules.
Molecules change their bonds.
Elements.
They combine and change into compounds.
Well, that's all of life.
Right? I mean, it's just the constant.
It's the cycle.
It's solution, dissolution, just over and over and over.
It is growth, then decay, then transformation.

It is fascinating, really."

The Walter White we meet in episode 1 is not the same man at the end of the series; WW at this point in his life is living a life of quiet desperation without really being aware of it. He can't even answer Jesse's question of "why are you doing this"? By the end, he can admit that he did it not for the money, not for his family - he did it because it made him feel alive. Over the course of the show we see WW grow, decay, and transform (not necessarily in that order - I think it's more transform, decay, and perhaps finally grow). Consider that when he thought the police were coming for the RV, he first stands in the middle of the road, gun drawn, looking to do suicide by cop...when his nerve fails on that, he turns the gun on himself and only fails because the safety is on. Would the Walter White of seasons 2-5 do that? When he finally does go out it is to save others - clear Skyler's name, free Jesse - not just for himself to avoid embarrassment.

And the solution, dissolution line - just think of how many times Walt's initial solutions turn out to only complicate things more and more - solution, dissolution just over and over and over...
posted by nubs at 9:12 PM on August 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, while I think the flaws that destroy Walt were in him from the start, he doesn't go from 0 to scarface that rapidly. In particular, many of the things he worries about in this series he simply doesn't care about by 3-5.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:56 PM on August 4, 2014


A couple of small details I noticed:
Gomez mocks Hank's shooting but, as we see later, Hank's actually pretty good with a gun.

"It's easy money. Till we catch you." It's not all that easy, as we see--or at least not how Walt goes about it. How Mike went about it was probably much easier, though Mike has a vastly different set of life experiences and, in some ways, considerably more wisdom.

Walt's a horrible liar when Skyler asks him how his day was, but she believes him. He gets much better at lying, but Skyler believes him much less.

In this episode Walt is already keeping three major secrets from Skyler: he has cancer; he quit his second job; he decided to start cooking meth. Why so many secrets? Is this part of what someone called the toxic masculinity of Breaking Bad, or is it just a really bad relationship?

I think failing to kill himself might have been the final piece that started bringing out Heisenberg: Walt's ready to suicide-by-cop, then decides to shoot himself instead (a final courtesy, not making someone else shoot you?) Then he finds it's not the cops, and after Jesse comes to, Walt explains about the phosphene gas, vomits [invisibly] in the desert, then just changes gears and says "we gotta clean this up" as if the whole situation is just the cups and plates after a party.
posted by johnofjack at 4:46 AM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


then just changes gears and says "we gotta clean this up" as if the whole situation is just the cups and plates after a party.

I jumped ahead and watched episode 2; there's a few more moments like this - where Walt flips back and forth between scared, nervous, anxious and the harder "we gotta clean this up" persona. I think his lecture in episode 2 on chirality (molecules that are mirror images of each other, but having different effects as a result) is the idea we are seeing played with here - Walt/Heisenburg, mirror images, each producing a different effect in a given situation.
posted by nubs at 7:54 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


does Walter White change over the course of the show? Or does he just become more himself?

He becomes more bitter, more aggressive, different than how he started.

I think failing to kill himself might have been the final piece that started bringing out Heisenberg:

This, every time he almost died, every time he faced down death, made the Heisenberg shell stronger.
posted by RainyJay at 1:28 PM on August 5, 2014


In this episode Walt is already keeping three major secrets from Skyler: he has cancer; he quit his second job; he decided to start cooking meth. Why so many secrets? Is this part of what someone called the toxic masculinity of Breaking Bad, or is it just a really bad relationship?

It's a relationship where one person has functionally given up, and the other one is providing the structure.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:29 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I jumped ahead and watched episode 2; there's a few more moments like this - where Walt flips back and forth between scared, nervous, anxious and the harder "we gotta clean this up" persona. I think his lecture in episode 2 on chirality (molecules that are mirror images of each other, but having different effects as a result) is the idea we are seeing played with here - Walt/Heisenburg, mirror images, each producing a different effect in a given situation.

That's a neat insight.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:36 PM on August 5, 2014


Question for the thread: does Walter White change over the course of the show? Or does he just become more himself?

Change? Walter White is gone after a couple of seasons. I cannot recall who made the canny observation that at the beginning we see Walter pretending to be Heisenberg and by the end we see Heisenberg pretending to be Walter.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:43 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


Question for the thread: does Walter White change over the course of the show? Or does he just become more himself?

Both, though I think mostly he is becoming more himself. His threatening Jesse, his excessive force on Jesse's friends, his belief that he is much smarter than everyone else, his secrecy, his self-delusion.
posted by jeather at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2014


the Heisenberg shell stronger.

Heisenberg isn't a shell - he's a cancer, a malignant growth that consumes Walter from the inside out.
posted by nubs at 12:05 PM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Right from the start Walter is manipulating Jesse: their very first interaction is Walter blackmailing Jesse into partnering with him.

Poolside contemplation. Walter's match-striking is interesting here; combustion as a chemical change. And the matches are echoed a few scenes later when we see the matchbooks in Jesse and Emilo's meth lab.

Two different ways that Walter escapes life-threatening situations, and both are shown here: first he bargains for his life ("I'll show you how to cook my recipe") and then he improvises a weapon.

Hank is so unlikable at the beginning; there's a nice touch at the party where Hank steals Walter's drink to toast him with it.

Walter's handling of guns: the bravado pose on the desert road at the opening. Holding Hank's gun "like Keith Richards with a glass of warm milk". Back to the desert where the pose falters and Walter slumps back into himself. And I'd forgotten that he attempts to shoot himself, failing only because he doesn't really know how to use the gun beyond his initial Dirty Harry stance.

(The same gun returns in the next episode when Walter considers, but can't stomach, using it on Krazy 8.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:51 PM on August 13, 2014


Oh, and Aaron Paul is so good in this right from the start. "Prick."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:52 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just picked up the complete Bluray, so I thought I'd join you in a rewatch.

What strikes me most about rewatching these first few episodes is how from the very beginning we are given small glimpses of Walter's obsession with power and pride.

The scene in the clothing store being one of the most striking. How virile Walter becomes when he commits a crime. It's rather on the nose, this relationship between power and sex and agency.

I'm already dreading what is about to happen to all of these characters. They don't even know it.
posted by Fizz at 2:07 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


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