T·N·M

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Sign In with Google Sign In with OpenID

Tagged

Breaking Bad Retrospective Season 1 - Pilot
  • walt bbq

    Walter White, a 50-year old chemistry teacher, secretly begins making crystallized methamphetamine to support his family after learning that he has terminal lung cancer. He teams up with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, who is a meth dealer. Jesse is trying to sell the meth but the dealers snatch him and make him show them the lab, which is in an old RV that Walt and Jesse have purchased. Walt knows they intend to kill him so he poisons them while showing them his recipe.

    Detailed Episode Summary

    Our Panelists:
    @jeb
    @Blucas
    @RoyBiggins
    @heartbreak

    jeb said:
    So here we have Walter White, high school chemistry teacher who, on the one hand, seems to have everything a man should ever want: a loving family with a new baby on the way, a house in the ‘burbs, and a decent job, but even before he finds out he’s dying of lung cancer, we see that things aren’t actually so rosy. His wife is well-intentioned but overbearing, and his teenage son, in addition to being a smart ass, has cerebral palsy, which presents its own daily challenges for the White family. Walt’s job isn’t so great, either, and he’s finding it difficult to support his family and save for their future on his teacher’s income, so he supplements by working part-time at a car wash. And soon enough we see that Walt is getting shit on by just about everyone—his students, his irritating loudmouth of a brother-in-law, his awful boss at the car wash who has ridiculously large eyebrows. It doesn’t take long for Breaking Bad to show us the depths of Walt’s impotence, so when our hero finds out he’s got inoperable cancer and maybe two years left if he’s lucky, we can see how having nothing left to lose might open a door for him.

    One of this things I was most struck by watching this episode again was how confident it is right off the bat. Maybe the premise is a bit far-fetched, but the show runs with it, and doesn’t give the viewers much of a chance to question whether cooking meth is in fact a logical choice for this 50 year old sad sack. Part of this is the writing, which is incredibly tight, but Cranston’s performance elevates things to a new level entirely. We feel so deeply for Walter White that it doesn’t even matter, and while Cranston’s performance only gets better with time, it was still incredibly strong right out the gate.

    The same can’t be said for Aaron Paul, whose portrayal of the goofy druggie Jesse Pinkman (who doesn’t even know that a barn is called a barn) doesn’t feel as fully realized as his former teacher Mr. White, or any of Walt’s family and associates. Watching the pilot, one of the most shocking things is realizing just how far Paul has come and how much Pinkman has developed and evolved as a character, because in the beginning, the writers really didn’t seem to know what to do with him.

    The other thing that struck me was how wonderfully stylish and well-directed the pilot was. This is a show known for being artfully directed, but it’s amazing to realize that Breaking Bad really hit the ground running.

    What did everyone else think?


    heartbreak said:
    I watched the episode twice—the first time with the volume muted. I wasn’t particularly smitten with season 1 the first time around, so I thought I might try a different perspective and concentrate on the visual side of things.

    There is really a lot going on visually in the pilot, particularly in the first part of the episode. In fact, I got through about halfway through without even wondering about the dialogue. Cranston is an expressive actor without being flamboyant about it. And the scenes with Hank were fantastic. Dean Norris just exudes dickhead machismo. Without sound I was able to guess almost everything he said (though I missed “twenty bucks says he’s a beaner”).

    A lot has been said of this show’s revolutionary storytelling, so I was looking for things that broke with standard TV conventions. One thing I noticed was the lack of straight-on closeups. We get one at the beginning with Walt filming himself, then no more standard closeup shots until Walt is talking to the doctor, learning he has cancer. Closeup shot of Walt, closeup of the doctor’s lips… and closeup of the mustard stain on his coat. In the significant moments of our lives we always focus on the small, seemingly insignificant details. Walt’s been overlooking them until now.

    This brings us to the beautiful, drab scene where Walt sits by his filthy pool, lighting matches for entertainment. Maybe he feels the need to burn out rather than fade away. The match heads are phosphorus, which perhaps subconsciously prompts Walt to call Hank and take his first step into the meth business (this connection may be a bit of a stretch, but Walt mentions phosphene gas while sitting in the van, and Crazy 8 is shaving match heads when he gets busted). The attention to detail here is really something.

    I agree with Jeb that Aaron Paul’s performance, and the character of Jesse, are not particularly compelling, and I thought the episode sort of lost steam after Jesse’s introduction. Jesse does have some entertaining lines, though, including:

    “You ain’t Welcome Back Kotter, so step off.”

    “Yeah. Where they live. THE COWS.”

    There’s a good deal more to this episode than I remember there being, and I hope I can say the same about the rest of the season.


    RoyBiggins said:
    Without the ability to binge-watch TV, I don’t know if I would’ve made it past the third or fourth episode of this show. The early scenes of this first season really drive that home for me. It’s uncomfortable for the same basic reasons I hated Rabbit, Run in college. I hated Harry Angstrom for his childishness, his shitty decisions, and the fact that I could still sympathize with him despite those things. I feel the same uncomfortable sympathy (fine, some empathy) when I see Walt being boxed into his miserable existence, and it drives me nuts. The car wash (Bogdan! Fuck Bogdan), the birthday party, the overbearing wife…God, that thing about the Mastercard being “the card we don’t use.” There’s such indignity in having someone scold you about your METHOD OF PAYMENT AT STAPLES for fifteen goddamned dollars. That’s some loss of mastery. Oh, also? You’re dying of cancer. Of course you are. It’s almost more than I can take.

    Seeing pathetic, scrambling Walt grabbing at his hair stumbling out of the RV was really something. In my mind, Walt is just the self-centered, ruthless guy he’s become by Season 4 or so. I had forgotten how big the gap between Science Teacher Walt and Unhinged Druglord Walt is. Also interesting at this point: that video he records to the family is really just the first in a series of “times Walt tried to apologize/humanize/justify himself to his family just before it all crashes down.” He ends up doing that quite a few times.

    The best thing I noticed was right there, in the middle of the episode, you get back-to-back, two things that become hallmarks of the show: Jesse escapes despite being hapless and lucky. Then, Walt makes a power play to force Jesse to do what he wants by threatening to turn him in if he won’t cooperate and cook.

    You know what I loved? I loved seeing Walt take down the kids laughing at Walter Jr. in the store. I always love that Kevin Spacey Halfway Through American Beauty Shit. I wish there were more instances where we got to see the ways in which a guy acting like he has nothing to lose can be gleeful—even darkly gleeful— instead of harrowing.


    Blucas said:
    Like you guys, one of the first things I noticed is how much happens in this episode. Before re-watching it, I would’ve sworn to you that several of the scenes (the ass-kicking in the clothing store, quitting the car wash) took place later on in Season 1. It’s remarkable how much of the series’ ongoing concerns are front-and-center in the pilot episode. It would’ve been so easy, and more in keeping with AMC’s nascent house style, to set up a pilot episode that moved more slowly, spending more time establishing Walt’s illness, culminating with Walt asking/demanding Jesse to cook with him. I wonder how self-conscious that was; the whole endeavor just screams, “This is not Mad Men. This is also not Weeds.” We know from minute one that events will happen, then the show will try to make sense of them, not the other way around.

    Everybody here seemed to love Dean Norris in this episode, and I concur. I forgot how much of an alpha-male jerk Hank is in the early going. The interplay between Norris and Cranston in that birthday party scene is pitch-perfect. It made me sort of miss this version of Hank! It would be easy to point to his injury as the cause of the blunting of his character, but I think the larger issue is 54 episodes without Hank discovering Walt’s secret. It’s tough for him to come off as anything other than an impotent buffoon at that point. Hopefully we’ll get to see some “Ride of the Valkyries”-humming Hank in the final 8 episodes.

    I guess I’m in the minority in that I never found Aaron Paul grating or unconvincing. He’s certainly improved over the years, and the inconsistency in the way that Jesse is written is one of the show’s biggest problems (even now, the writers can’t seem to decide how smart or dumb he is). But I always found Paul’s portrayal funny (“No way, chili p is my signature!”), and I’m on the record saying that this show is at its best when it really focuses on the relationship between Walt and Jesse. Even at this point, with Jesse written as a one-joke caricature who would’ve been dead in 10 episodes were it not for the WGA strike, Cranston and Paul are great together. That scene in Jesse’s driveway is the first time we see Walt try out his patented Oblivion-style convince/entice/coerce/exhaust persuasion technique, and it’s interesting to see how he’s almost apologetic about employing it. Later on we’ll see how certain he is that, if he just keeps talking long enough, he can get anyone to do anything.

  • So here we have Walter White, high school chemistry teacher who, on the one hand, seems to have everything a man should ever want: a loving family with a new baby on the way, a house in the ‘burbs, and a decent job, but even before he finds out he’s dying of lung cancer, we see that things aren’t actually so rosy. His wife is well-intentioned but overbearing, and his teenage son, in addition to being a smart ass, has cerebral palsy, which presents its own daily challenges for the White family. Walt’s job isn’t so great, either, and he’s finding it difficult to support his family and save for their future on his teacher’s income, so he supplements by working part-time at a car wash. And soon enough we see that Walt is getting shit on by just about everyone—his students, his irritating loudmouth of a brother-in-law, his awful boss at the car wash who has ridiculously large eyebrows. It doesn’t take long for Breaking Bad to show us the depths of Walt’s impotence, so when our hero finds out he’s got inoperable cancer and maybe two years left if he’s lucky, we can see how having nothing left to lose might open a door for him.

    One of this things I was most struck by watching this episode again was how confident it is right off the bat. Maybe the premise is a bit far-fetched, but the show runs with it, and doesn’t give the viewers much of a chance to question whether cooking meth is in fact a logical choice for this 50 year old sad sack. Part of this is the writing, which is incredibly tight, but Cranston’s performance elevates things to a new level entirely. We feel so deeply for Walter White that it doesn’t even matter, and while Cranston’s performance only gets better with time, it was still incredibly strong right out the gate.

    The same can’t be said for Aaron Paul, whose portrayal of the goofy druggie Jesse Pinkman (who doesn’t even know that a barn is called a barn) doesn’t feel as fully realized as his former teacher Mr. White, or any of Walt’s family and associates. Watching the pilot, one of the most shocking things is realizing just how far Paul has come and how much Pinkman has developed and evolved as a character, because in the beginning, the writers really didn’t seem to know what to do with him.

    The other thing that struck me was how wonderfully stylish and well-directed the pilot was. This is a show known for being artfully directed, but it’s amazing to realize that Breaking Bad really hit the ground running.

    What did everyone else think?

  • I watched the episode twice—the first time with the volume muted. I wasn’t particularly smitten with season 1 the first time around, so I thought I might try a different perspective and concentrate on the visual side of things.

    There is really a lot going on visually in the pilot, particularly in the first part of the episode. In fact, I got through about halfway through without even wondering about the dialogue. Cranston is an expressive actor without being flamboyant about it. And the scenes with Hank were fantastic. Dean Norris just exudes dickhead machismo. Without sound I was able to guess almost everything he said (though I missed “twenty bucks says he’s a beaner”).

    A lot has been said of this show’s revolutionary storytelling, so I was looking for things that broke with standard TV conventions. One thing I noticed was the lack of straight-on closeups. We get one at the beginning with Walt filming himself, then no more standard closeup shots until Walt is talking to the doctor, learning he has cancer. Closeup shot of Walt, closeup of the doctor’s lips… and closeup of the mustard stain on his coat. In the significant moments of our lives we always focus on the small, seemingly insignificant details. Walt’s been overlooking them until now.

    This brings us to the beautiful, drab scene where Walt sits by his filthy pool, lighting matches for entertainment. Maybe he feels the need to burn out rather than fade away. The match heads are phosphorus, which perhaps subconsciously prompts Walt to call Hank and take his first step into the meth business (this connection may be a bit of a stretch, but Walt mentions phosphene gas while sitting in the van, and Crazy 8 is shaving match heads when he gets busted). The attention to detail here is really something.

    I agree with Jeb that Aaron Paul’s performance, and the character of Jesse, are not particularly compelling, and I thought the episode sort of lost steam after Jesse’s introduction. Jesse does have some entertaining lines, though, including:

    “You ain’t Welcome Back Kotter, so step off.”

    “Yeah. Where they live. THE COWS.”

    There’s a good deal more to this episode than I remember there being, and I hope I can say the same about the rest of the season.

  • Without the ability to binge-watch TV, I don’t know if I would’ve made it past the third or fourth episode of this show. The early scenes of this first season really drive that home for me. It’s uncomfortable for the same basic reasons I hated Rabbit, Run in college. I hated Harry Angstrom for his childishness, his shitty decisions, and the fact that I could still sympathize with him despite those things. I feel the same uncomfortable sympathy (fine, some empathy) when I see Walt being boxed into his miserable existence, and it drives me nuts. The car wash (Bogdan! Fuck Bogdan), the birthday party, the overbearing wife…God, that thing about the Mastercard being “the card we don’t use.” There’s such indignity in having someone scold you about your METHOD OF PAYMENT AT STAPLES for fifteen goddamned dollars. That’s some loss of mastery. Oh, also? You’re dying of cancer. Of course you are. It’s almost more than I can take.

    Seeing pathetic, scrambling Walt grabbing at his hair stumbling out of the RV was really something. In my mind, Walt is just the self-centered, ruthless guy he’s become by Season 4 or so. I had forgotten how big the gap between Science Teacher Walt and Unhinged Druglord Walt is. Also interesting at this point: that video he records to the family is really just the first in a series of “times Walt tried to apologize/humanize/justify himself to his family just before it all crashes down.” He ends up doing that quite a few times.

    The best thing I noticed was right there, in the middle of the episode, you get back-to-back, two things that become hallmarks of the show: Jesse escapes despite being hapless and lucky. Then, Walt makes a power play to force Jesse to do what he wants by threatening to turn him in if he won’t cooperate and cook.

    You know what I loved? I loved seeing Walt take down the kids laughing at Walter Jr. in the store. I always love that Kevin Spacey Halfway Through American Beauty Shit. I wish there were more instances where we got to see the ways in which a guy acting like he has nothing to lose can be gleeful—even darkly gleeful— instead of harrowing.

  • I’m butting in because @pollo has been otherwise disposed.

    Like you guys, one of the first things I noticed is how much happens in this episode. Before re-watching it, I would’ve sworn to you that several of the scenes (the ass-kicking in the clothing store, quitting the car wash) took place later on in Season 1. It’s remarkable how much of the series’ ongoing concerns are front-and-center in the pilot episode. It would’ve been so easy, and more in keeping with AMC’s nascent house style, to set up a pilot episode that moved more slowly, spending more time establishing Walt’s illness, culminating with Walt asking/demanding Jesse to cook with him. I wonder how self-conscious that was; the whole endeavor just screams, “This is not Mad Men. This is also not Weeds.” We know from minute one that events will happen, then the show will try to make sense of them, not the other way around.

    Everybody here seemed to love Dean Norris in this episode, and I concur. I forgot how much of an alpha-male jerk Hank is in the early going. The interplay between Norris and Cranston in that birthday party scene is pitch-perfect. It made me sort of miss this version of Hank! It would be easy to point to his injury as the cause of the blunting of his character, but I think the larger issue is 54 episodes without Hank discovering Walt’s secret. It’s tough for him to come off as anything other than an impotent buffoon at that point. Hopefully we’ll get to see some “Ride of the Valkyries”-humming Hank in the final 8 episodes.

    I guess I’m in the minority in that I never found Aaron Paul grating or unconvincing. He’s certainly improved over the years, and the inconsistency in the way that Jesse is written is one of the show’s biggest problems (even now, the writers can’t seem to decide how smart or dumb he is). But I always found Paul’s portrayal funny (“No way, chili p is my signature!”), and I’m on the record saying that this show is at its best when it really focuses on the relationship between Walt and Jesse. Even at this point, with Jesse written as a one-joke caricature who would’ve been dead in 10 episodes were it not for the WGA strike, Cranston and Paul are great together. That scene in Jesse’s driveway is the first time we see Walt try out his patented Oblivion-style convince/entice/coerce/exhaust persuasion technique, and it’s interesting to see how he’s almost apologetic about employing it. Later on we’ll see how certain he is that, if he just keeps talking long enough, he can get anyone to do anything.

  • One other thing I noticed while rewatching the episode was that the premise didn’t seem as believable as when I watched through the first time. Not that it’s an entirely believable premise, of course, but I don’t recall it feeling so far-fetched. Walt going from sad sack chemistry teacher with a death sentence to meth manufacturer (and eventually distributor) felt organic. This time, not so much. And then we all realized that the version of the episode on Netflix is missing several key scenes: Walt’s encounter with his asshole student at the car wash, the broken glove compartment, and, perhaps most importantly, the birthday handjob.

    Now, clearly AMC felt that these scenes could be chopped (as they apparently were for rebroadcasts, shortening the episode by a whole ten minutes), but could it be that these scenes drove home Walt’s powerlessness so well that it made his decision to wrangle his fuck-up of a former student into starting a meth-making operation with him a little more believable?

  • I also think the construction of the episode adds to the believability; we meet Walt in the desert in his underwear, then we meet the put-upon chemistry teacher. You’ll accept the little leaps along the way more readily when the end-point is already in mind. On repeat viewings that sort of trick doesn’t work as well. The cold-open-that-you-almost-forget-about-by-episode’s-end is something that Breaking Bad does over and over, so it’ll be interesting to see how we respond to the different instances going forward.