Written by Vince Gilligan.
It’s time to see what all the hype is about…
Breaking Bad: Pilot is… surprising. It wastes no time. From the opening scene, it’s obvious that it only has the budget of a cable show, so it makes up for that with obscurity. At first, you think it’s a comedy, then a drama, but it’s neither of those things. Exactly what it is I’m not sure, but it’s that uncertainty that makes you want to keep watching. Indeed, it definitely sets-out the road ahead, with White’s analogy of his status as a chemistry teacher making him a person who understands change, especially when he, a collection of molecules, develops a genetic mutation. It sets-up a place to go, and immediately begins going toward that place, but it also finds itself stopping to give a lot of exposition, and this is its major fault.
The other character, particularly White’s family, all have to be introduced at once, in a single episode, despite the pace of the opening scene establishing a status quo that might not be right of that. Just as things really get going, they slow down again because we need to be told who someone else or why something’s important.
But the structure’s good. The opening scene takes place at the end of the episode, and it’s the story of how we cycle back round to that. There was always that possibility of it taking-place at the end of the season, but pilot episodes with no guarantee of recommission requires that closure to prove the show knows what it’s doing with itself. Which it does, but it’s the way it goes-about doing it that’s the confusing part. Clearly, it’s the combination of two genres, but rather than having them intersect, it switches between them, and the effect is really jarring. Just as you’re really getting into the action, Skylar turns-up. Skylar’s presence in this show seems to just be to establish that White has a wife. But other than that, there’s nothing she does that makes her stand-out. It’s the same for Walter, Jr., and Marie Schrader, whose role is to establish the character of Hank, White’s brother in law. Now, I like Hank, because he doesn’t realise the irony of what he says, or how much he contradicts himself. His status as a DEA agent (a really argumentative phrasing, just FYI), brings the conflict element to it. The conflict isn’t so much “Will he be caught?”, but “Will he be discovered?”. White does what he does to provide for his family, but by doing so is also putting it in danger. In a sense, White is just like Hank, because he also doesn’t realise the irony of what he’s doing. I’d almost go so far to say that Breaking Bad has the Idiot Plot, in-which the characters are required to have no intelligence to further the narrative. But it’s dramatic irony, which I suppose makes it okay.
Breaking Bad shows a lot of promise. But if it’s going to reach that, it needs to reject certain elements. Characters either need to be more interesting, or just seen less. The drama and comedy works on both sides, but should be combined to create something truly remarkable. And the word “bitch” is used to so much it’s not even funny. Can Vince Gilligan really not write a character without slapping the word across every page? We get it, Pinkman uses the word a lot, but after a while, the humour’s played-out and it’s just plain annoying. But this is only the pilot episode – hopefully things will get a bit more confident as we go along.