|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||62 (list of episodes)|
|Production location(s)||Albuquerque, New Mexico|
|Running time||43–58 minutes|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Television|
|Original release||January 20, 2008 –|
September 29, 2013
|Followed by||Better Call Saul|
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Breaking Bad is an American neo-Western crime drama television series created and produced by Vince Gilligan. The show originally aired on AMC for five seasons, from January 20, 2008, to September 29, 2013. Set and filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the series tells the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a struggling and depressed high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with stage-3 lung cancer. Together with his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), White turns to a life of crime by producing and selling crystallized methamphetamine to secure his family's financial future before he dies, while navigating the dangers of the criminal underworld. The title comes from the Southern colloquialism "breaking bad" which means to "raise hell" or turn to a life of crime. Gilligan characterized the series as showing Walter's transformation from a soft-spoken Mr. Chips into Scarface.
Among the show's co-stars are Anna Gunn and RJ Mitte as Walter's wife Skyler and son Walter, Jr., and Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris as Skyler's sister Marie Schrader and her husband Hank, a DEA agent. Others include Bob Odenkirk as the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, Jonathan Banks as private investigator and fixer Mike Ehrmantraut, and Giancarlo Esposito as the drug kingpin Gus Fring. The final season introduces Jesse Plemons as the criminally-ambitious Todd Alquist, and Laura Fraser as Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, a business executive secretly managing Walter's global meth sales for her company.
Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. By the time the series finale aired, it was among the most-watched cable shows on American television. The show received numerous awards, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two Peabody Awards, two Critics' Choice Awards and four Television Critics Association Awards. For his leading performance, Cranston won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series four times, while Aaron Paul won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series three times; Anna Gunn won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series twice. In 2013, Breaking Bad entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.
A spin-off prequel series, Better Call Saul, starring Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks, debuted on February 8, 2015, on AMC. A sequel film, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, starring Aaron Paul will be released on Netflix on October 11, 2019.
- 1 Premise
- 2 Production
- 3 Cast and characters
- 4 Episodes
- 5 Themes and symbols
- 6 Reception and legacy
- 7 Retrospective conversations
- 8 Spin-offs and adaptations
- 9 Sequel feature film
- 10 Real-life influence
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico between 2008 and 2010, Breaking Bad follows Walter White as he is transformed from a meek high school science teacher who wants to provide for his family, by becoming a ruthless player in the local methamphetamine drug trade, as the result of being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Initially making only small batches of meth with his former student Jesse Pinkman in a rolling meth lab, Walter and Jesse eventually expand to make larger batches of a special blue meth that is incredibly pure and creates high demand. Walter takes on the name "Heisenberg" to mask his identity. Because of his drug-related activities, Walt eventually finds himself at odds with his family, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) through his brother-in-law Hank Schrader, the local gangs, and the Mexican drug cartels and their regional distributors, putting his life at risk.
Breaking Bad was created by Vince Gilligan, who spent several years writing the Fox series The X-Files. Gilligan wanted to create a series in which the protagonist became the antagonist. "Television is historically good at keeping its characters in a self-imposed stasis so that shows can go on for years or even decades," he said. "When I realized this, the logical next step was to think, how can I do a show in which the fundamental drive is toward change?" He added that his goal with Walter White was to turn him from Mr. Chips into Scarface. Gilligan believed the concept of showing the full drastic transformation of a character across the run of a television show was a risky concept and would be difficult to pitch without other powerful factors to support it, such as strong cinematography and acting.
The show title is a Southern colloquialism meaning, among other things, "raising hell", and was chosen by Gilligan to describe Walter's transformation. According to Time entertainment editor Lily Rothman, the term has a broader meaning and is an old phrase which "connotes more violence than 'raising hell' does ... [T]he words possess a wide variety of nuances: to 'break bad' can mean to 'go wild', to 'defy authority', and break the law, to be verbally 'combative, belligerent, or threatening' or, followed by the preposition 'on', 'to dominate or humiliate'."
The concept emerged as Gilligan talked with his fellow X-Files writer Thomas Schnauz regarding their current unemployment and joked that the solution was for them to put a "meth lab in the back of an RV and [drive] around the country cooking meth and making money".
After writing the concept for the show and pilot, Gilligan pitched it to Sony Pictures Television, who became very interested in supporting it. Sony arranged for meetings with the various cable networks. Showtime passed on this, as they had already started broadcasting Weeds, a show with similarities to the premise of Breaking Bad. While his producers convinced him that the show was different enough to still be successful, Gilligan later stated that he would not have gone forward with the idea had he known about Weeds earlier. Other networks like HBO and TNT also passed on the idea, but eventually FX took interest and began initial discussions on producing the pilot. At the same time, FX had also started development of Dirt, a female-centric crime-based drama series, and with three existing male-centric shows already on the network, FX passed up Breaking Bad for Dirt.
One of Gilligan's agents spoke to Jeremy Elice, the director of original programming for AMC who was looking for more original shows to add alongside their upcoming Mad Men. Elice was intrigued, and soon a meeting was set up between Gilligan, Elice, and two programming executives. Gilligan was not optimistic about this meeting, fearing they would just put him off, but instead all three showed great interest, and the meeting ended up establishing how AMC would acquire the rights from FX and set the pilot into production. It took about a year following this meeting before Sony has set up the rights with AMC and production could start.
The network ordered nine episodes for the first season (including the pilot), but the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike limited the production to seven episodes. Within the original nine-episode arc, he had planned to kill off Jesse or Hank, as a "ballsy" moment to end the season on. This death was eliminated with the limited episode count, which Gilligan found to be a net positive given the strength of acting that both Paul and Norris brought to these roles through the seasons. The strike also helped to slow down production long enough for Gilligan and his writing team to readjust the pacing of the show, which in the original arc had been moving too quickly.
The initial versions of the script were set in Riverside, California, but at the suggestion of Sony, Albuquerque was chosen for the production's location due to the favorable financial conditions offered by the state of New Mexico. Once Gilligan recognized that this would mean "we'd always have to be avoiding the Sandia Mountains" in shots directed toward the east, the story setting was changed to the actual production location. It was shot primarily on 35 mm film, with digital cameras employed as needed for additional angles, point of view shots and time-lapse photography. Breaking Bad cost $3 million per episode to produce, higher than the average cost for a basic cable program.
Before the series finale, Gilligan said that it was difficult to write for Walter White because the character was so dark and morally questionable: "I'm going to miss the show when it's over, but on some level, it'll be a relief to not have Walt in my head anymore." Gilligan later said the idea for Walter's character intrigued him so much that he "didn't really give much thought on how well it would sell", stating that he would have given up on the premise since it was "such an odd, dark story" that could have difficulties being pitched to studios.
As the series progressed, Gilligan and the writing staff of Breaking Bad made Walter increasingly unsympathetic. Gilligan said during the run of the series, "He's going from being a protagonist to an antagonist. We want to make people question who they're pulling for, and why." Cranston said by the fourth season, "I think Walt's figured out it's better to be a pursuer than the pursued. He's well on his way to badass."
In July 2011, Vince Gilligan indicated that he intended to conclude Breaking Bad at the end of its fifth season. In early August 2011, negotiations began over a deal regarding the fifth and possible final season between the network AMC and Sony Pictures Television, the production company of the series. AMC proposed a shortened fifth season (six to eight episodes, instead of 13) to cut costs, but the producers declined. Sony then approached other cable networks about possibly picking up the show if a deal could not be made. On August 14, 2011, AMC renewed the series for a fifth and final season consisting of 16 episodes.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan cast Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White based on having worked with him in the "Drive" episode of the science fiction television series The X-Files, on which Gilligan worked as a writer. Cranston played an anti-Semite with a terminal illness who took series co-protagonist Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) hostage. Gilligan said the character had to be simultaneously loathsome and sympathetic, and that "Bryan alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it." AMC officials, who were initially reluctant with the casting choice, having known Cranston only as the over-the-top character Hal on the comedy series Malcolm in the Middle, approached actors John Cusack and Matthew Broderick about the role. When both actors declined, the executives were persuaded to cast Cranston after seeing his X-Files episode.
Cranston contributed significantly to the formation and development of the Walter White persona. When Gilligan left much of Walter's past unexplained during the development of the series, the actor wrote his own backstory for the character. At the start of the show, Cranston gained 10 pounds to reflect the character's personal decline, and had the natural red highlights of his hair dyed brown. He collaborated with costume designer Kathleen Detoro on a wardrobe of mostly neutral green and brown colors to make the character bland and unremarkable, and worked with makeup artist Frieda Valenzuela to create a mustache he described as "impotent" and like a "dead caterpillar". Cranston repeatedly identified elements in certain scripts where he disagreed with how the character was handled, and went so far as to call Gilligan directly when he could not work out disagreements with the episode's screenwriters. Cranston has said he was inspired partially by his elderly father for how Walter carries himself physically, which he described as "a little hunched over, never erect, [as if] the weight of the world is on this man's shoulders." In contrast to his character, Cranston has been described as extremely playful on set, with Aaron Paul describing him as "a kid trapped in a man's body".
Aaron Paul's casting was also initially questioned by production, as Paul looked too old and looked like a "pretty boy" to be associated with meth cooking. However, Gilligan reconsidered Paul's skills after seeing his audition and recalling he had also had guest starred on The X-Files episode "Lord of the Flies". Gilligan originally intended for Pinkman to be killed at the end of Breaking Bad's first season in a botched drug deal as a plot device to plague Walter White with guilt. However, Gilligan said by the second episode of the season, he was so impressed with Paul's performance that "it became pretty clear early on that would be a huge, colossal mistake, to kill off Jesse". Similarly, Dean Norris had shown his ability to be a law enforcement official in The X-Files episode "F. Emasculata", and was brought on to be Hank Schrader, Walter's brother-in-law and DEA agent.
Donna Nelson, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, checked scripts and provided dialogue. She also drew chemical structures and wrote chemical equations which were used as props. According to creator Vince Gilligan,
Dr. Donna Nelson from the University of Oklahoma approached us several seasons back and said, "I really like this show, and if you ever need help with the chemistry, I'd love to lend a hand." She's been a wonderful advisor. We get help wherever we need it, whether it's chemistry, electrical engineering, or physics. We try to get everything correct. There's no full-time [advisor] on set, but we run certain scenes by these experts first.
"Because Walter White was talking to his students, I was able to dumb down certain moments of description and dialogue in the early episodes which held me until we had some help from some honest-to-God chemists," says Gilligan. According to Gilligan, Nelson "vets our scripts to make sure our chemistry dialogue is accurate and up to date. We also have a chemist with the Drug Enforcement Administration based out of Dallas who has just been hugely helpful to us." Nelson spoke of Gilligan's interest in having the science right: "[He] said it made a difference to him."
In 2013, two scenes from the first season of Breaking Bad were put under scrutiny in a Mythbusters Breaking Bad Special. Despite several modifications to what was seen in the show, both the scenes depicted in the show were shown to be physically impossible. In the "Crazy Handful of Nothin'" episode, Walt produces a batch of fulminated mercury, in crystalline form, and threatens to raze Tuco Salamanca's office to the ground. Although the compound is unstable, MythBusters has shown that Walt would have needed a much greater quantity of the compound along with a much faster throwing velocity, and that he and everyone else would have died from the concussive blast.
Jason Wallach of Vice magazine commended the accuracy of the cooking methods presented in the series. In early episodes, a once common clandestine route, the Nagai red phosphorus/iodine method, is depicted, which uses pseudoephedrine as a precursor to d-(+)-methamphetamine. By the season 1 finale, Walt chooses to use a different synthetic route based on the difficulty of acquiring enough pseudoephedrine to produce on the larger scale required. The new method Walt chooses is a reductive amination reaction, relying on phenyl-2-propanone and methylamine. On the show, the phenyl-2-propanone (otherwise known as phenylacetone or P2P) is produced from phenylacetic acid and acetic acid using a tube furnace and thorium dioxide (ThO2) as a catalyst, as mentioned in episodes "A No Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" and "Más". P2P and methylamine form an imine intermediate; reduction of this P2P-methylamine imine intermediate is performed using mercury aluminum amalgam, as shown in several episodes including "Hazard Pay".
One of the important plot points in the series is that the crystal meth Walter "cooks" has very long crystals, is very pure, and (despite its purity) has a strong cyan blue color. Truly ultra-pure crystal meth would tend to be clear or white.
In their article "Die Chemie bei Breaking Bad" on Chemie in unserer Zeit (translated into English on ChemistryViews as "The Chemistry of 'Breaking Bad'"), Tunga Salthammer and Falk Harnish discuss the plausibility of the chemistry portrayed in certain scenes. According to the two, chemistry is clearly depicted as a manufacturing science without much explanation of analytical methods being provided. On the other hand, serious scientific subjects are mixed into the dialogue in order to show a world where chemistry plays a key role.
Michael Slovis was the cinematographer of Breaking Bad beginning with the second season and he received critical acclaim for his work throughout the series. Critics appreciated the bold visual style adopted by the TV series. Although series creator Vince Gilligan and Slovis wanted to shoot Breaking Bad in cinemascope, Sony and AMC did not grant them permission. Gilligan cited Sergio Leone's Westerns as a reference for how he wanted the series to look. For his work, he received four Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Cinematography for a One Hour Series and Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series.
Kelley Dixon was one of the editors of Breaking Bad and edited many of the series' "meth montages". For the montages, she would use techniques such as jump cuts and alternating the speed of the film, either faster or slower. For her work, she received six Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series and won the award in 2013.
Cast and characters
- Bryan Cranston as Walter White – a chemistry teacher who, shortly after his 50th birthday, is diagnosed with Stage IIIA lung cancer and turns to making meth to secure his family's finances. As his shady business progresses, Walter gains a notorious reputation under the name of "Heisenberg". Cranston stated that, though he enjoyed doing comedy, he decided he
... should really focus on doing something else. But I think any good drama worth its weight always has a sprinkling of comedy in it, because you can ease the tension to an audience when it's necessary, and then build it back up again. Walt White has no clue he's occasionally funny, but as an actor, I recognize when there are comedic moments and opportunities.
- Anna Gunn as Skyler White – Walter's wife who was pregnant with their second child before his diagnosis and who becomes increasingly suspicious of her husband after he begins behaving in unfamiliar ways. Gunn sees Skyler as "grounded, tough, smart and driven". Gunn sees Skyler's stalled writing career as her biggest dream, saying, "I think she really deep down yearns to be an artist and to be creative and productive."
- Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman – Walter's cooking partner and former student. Paul sees Jesse as a funny kid. "He's just this lost soul – I don't think he's a bad kid, he just got mixed in the wrong crowd." Paul elaborated on the character's background, saying, "He doesn't come from an abusive, alcoholic background. But maybe he just didn't relate to his father, maybe his father was too strict and too proper for Jesse." Paul compared the character's relationship with Walt to The Odd Couple.
- Dean Norris as Hank Schrader – Marie's husband, Walter and Skyler's brother-in-law and a DEA agent. At the beginning of the series, Hank was intended to be the "comic relief". Norris, who has played several policemen before in film and television, stated:
Having played so many cops, I've talked with a lot of technical advisers, so I've been able to pick up a lot. Coincidentally, one of my best friends growing up is a cop in Chicago, and one of my other best friends out in LA is a sheriff. So I get to see all the components of that culture.
- Betsy Brandt as Marie Schrader – Skyler's sister and Hank's kleptomaniac wife. Brandt described Marie as "an unpleasant bitch", but also stated there was more to her than that. "I think we're seeing more of it now that she would be there for her family. But it's all about her."
- RJ Mitte as Walter White, Jr. – Walter and Skyler's son, who has cerebral palsy. He begins lashing out after Walter's cancer announcement. Like Walter Jr., Mitte has cerebral palsy, although his is a milder form. Mitte stated he had to regress from his therapy to portray the character, staying up late into the night to slur his speech and learning to walk on crutches so his walking would not look fake.
- Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman (recurring season 2, main cast season 3–5) – a crooked strip mall lawyer who represents Walt and Jesse. Odenkirk drew inspiration for Goodman from film producer Robert Evans.
I thought about Robert Evans because I've listened to The Kid Stays in the Picture on CD. He's constantly switching up his cadence and his delivery. He emphasizes interesting words. He has loads of attitude in almost every line that he says. So when I rehearse the scenes alone I do my impersonation of Robert Evans to find those moments and turns. Then I go out and I do Saul.
- Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring (recurring season 2, main cast season 3–4) – a Chilean high-level drug distributor who has a cover as an owner of the fast food chain Los Pollos Hermanos. Esposito stated that for the third season, he incorporated his yoga training in his performance.
Gus is the coolest cucumber that ever walked the Earth. I think about Eddie Olmos way back in Miami Vice. He was like dead – he was hardly breathing. I thought, how is this guy just standing in this fire and doing nothing? Gus has totally allowed me that level of flexibility and relaxation – not because he has ultimate power and he knows he can take someone's life. He's just confident.
- Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut (guest star season 2, main cast season 3–5: part 1) – works for Gus as an all-purpose cleaner and hitman, and also works for Saul as a private investigator. The character of Mike has been compared to Harvey Keitel's Winston Wolf character in Pulp Fiction, which Banks says he is not trying to emulate: "I immediately tried to put it out of my mind, quite honestly. His cleaner ain't my cleaner. But throughout this world, you would suspect there had been a great many cleaners, whether government-run or individual contractors."
- Laura Fraser as Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (recurring season 5: part 1, main cast season 5: part 2) – a high-ranking employee of Madrigal Electromotive and a former associate of Gus Fring. She reluctantly begins supplying Walt and Jesse with methylamine and helps Walt expand his operation overseas.
- Jesse Plemons as Todd Alquist (recurring season 5: part 1, main cast season 5: part 2) – an employee of Vamonos Pest Control who becomes an associate of Walt and Jesse.
- Steven Michael Quezada as Steven "Gomey" Gomez – Hank's DEA partner and best friend who assists in tracking down and learning the identity of Heisenberg. In comical situations between him and Hank, Gomez serves as the "straight man".
- Matt L. Jones as Brandon "Badger" Mayhew – Jesse's dimwitted friend and junkie, who often serves as the series' comic relief.
- Charles Baker as Skinny Pete – A friend of Jesse and a fellow pusher.
- Rodney Rush as Christian "Combo" Ortega – Also a friend of Jesse and a fellow pusher.
- Jessica Hecht and Adam Godley as Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz – Co-owners of Gray Matter, a company that they co-founded alongside Walter, who left the business prior to its major success. Gretchen was a former flame of Walt's and partially the reason he left.
- Raymond Cruz as Tuco Salamanca – A psychopathic Mexican drug kingpin who becomes Walt and Jesse's meth distributor.
- Mark Margolis as Hector Salamanca – A former high-ranking member of the Juarez Cartel who is now unable to walk or speak because of a stroke, communicating with the help of a bell. He is the uncle of Tuco, Marco, and Leonel Salamanca.
- Christopher Cousins as Ted Beneke – Skyler's boss and president of Beneke Fabricators who begins developing financial issues, resulting in an intervention from Skyler.
- Krysten Ritter as Jane Margolis – Jesse's apartment manager and girlfriend, who is a recovering addict.
- John de Lancie as Donald Margolis – Jane Margolis' father, an air traffic controller who causes an airplane collision while being distraught over his daughter's death.
- David Costabile as Gale Boetticher – A chemist hired by Gus Fring to work alongside Walter.
- Daniel Moncada and Luis Moncada as Leonel and Marco Salamanca – Two ruthless and taciturn hit-men for the Juarez Cartel who are the cousins of Tuco Salamanca and the nephews of Hector Salamanca.
- Emily Rios as Andrea Cantillo – Jesse's second girlfriend, who is also a recovering addict. She has a young son named Brock.
- Jeremiah Bitsui as Victor – A loyal henchman to Gus who serves as his enforcer along with Mike.
- Ray Campbell as Tyrus Kitt – Gus's enforcer along with Mike during season 4.
- Lavell Crawford as Huell Babineaux – Saul's bodyguard who also handles problems Walter needs fixing.
- Tina Parker as Francesca Liddy – Saul Goodman's receptionist.
- Bill Burr as Patrick Kuby – A hired con man of Saul's who handles various sensitive tasks involving verbal intimidation, coercion, and misdirection.
- Michael Bowen as Jack Welker – Todd's uncle and the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.
- Kevin Rankin as Kenny – Jack's second in command.
Special guest appearances
- Danny Trejo as Tortuga – A Mexican cartel member and DEA informant.
- DJ Qualls as Getz – An Albuquerque police officer who brings Badger into police custody, prompting Walt to turn to Saul Goodman.
- Jim Beaver as Lawson – An Albuquerque arms dealer who obtains several guns for Walt.
- Steven Bauer as Don Eladio Vuente – The leader of the Juarez Cartel who has a history with Gus.
- Robert Forster as Ed – A vacuum cleaner repairman whose undercover business is a new identity specialist.
- Charlie Rose as himself.
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||7||January 20, 2008||March 9, 2008||AMC|
|2||13||March 8, 2009||May 31, 2009|
|3||13||March 21, 2010||June 13, 2010|
|4||13||July 17, 2011||October 9, 2011|
|5||16||8||July 15, 2012||September 2, 2012|
|8||August 11, 2013||September 29, 2013|
|Film||October 11, 2019||Netflix|
The complete series was released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 26, 2013, in a collectible box shaped like one of the barrels used by Walt to bury his money. The set contains various features, including a two-hour documentary and a humorous alternative ending that features Cranston and his Malcolm in the Middle co-star Jane Kaczmarek playing their characters Hal and Lois, in a nod to the final scene from Newhart.
Season 1 (2008)
The first season was originally intended to be nine episodes, but due to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike only seven episodes were filmed. It ran from January 20 to March 9, 2008.
Walter, diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, conspires with Jesse to cook methamphetamine ("meth") as to pay for his treatment and provide financial security for his family. Jesse secures a recreational vehicle to cook in, while Walter devises a production route using unregulated chemicals, creating a highly pure product tinted blue. After a run-in with the Mexican drug cartel, Walter adopts the name "Heisenberg", with his "blue sky" meth his signature product. Hank and the DEA become aware of this new figure in the drug trade and begin their investigation.
Season 2 (2009)
Jesse's dealers become unsafe, and Walter hires Saul to connect them to Gus as a buyer for their latest batch. Jesse dates Jane, and she relapses on heroin; Jesse becomes unreliable. Walter refuses to pay him his half of the sale to Gus, but Jane blackmails Walter. Walter returns to Jesse to apologize, but allows an unconscious Jane to choke on her own vomit. With Jesse in rehab, Walter seems content until he witnesses a midair collision of two planes, a result of Jane's father, an air-traffic controller, becoming distraught over her death while on the job.
Season 3 (2010)
On April 2, 2009, AMC announced that Breaking Bad was renewed for a third, 13-episode season. It premiered on March 21, 2010, and concluded on June 13, 2010. The complete third season was released on Region 1 DVD and Region A Blu-ray on June 7, 2011.
Gus offers Walter a job cooking meth at a hidden lab. Walter demands Jesse be his assistant rather than Gus' choice of Gale. Skyler learns of Walter's meth cooking and demands a divorce. Hank's investigation leads him to Jesse, but finds no evidence and assaults Jesse, forcing him into a short leave. Hank is forewarned about an attack from two assassins, and kills them though he becomes paralyzed. Jesse's behavior becomes erratic, and Gus replaces him with Gale. Walter fears Gus will kill him and Jesse once Gale learns enough, and instructs Jesse to kill Gale.
Season 4 (2011)
On June 14, 2010, AMC announced Breaking Bad was renewed for a fourth, 13-episode season. Production began in January 2011, the season premiered on July 17, 2011, and concluded on October 9, 2011. Originally, mini episodes of four minutes in length were to be produced before the premiere of the fourth season, but these did not come to fruition.
Gus tightens security at the lab after Gale's death. Gus and Mike work to drive a wedge between Walter and Jesse, seeking to coerce Jesse to be their solitary cook while at the same time eliminating the Mexican cartel. Skyler accepts Walter's meth cooking, and works with Saul to launder his earnings. Hank, while recovering, tracks Gale's death to Gus and the drug trade. Gus releases Walter and plans to kill Hank. Walter tricks Jesse into turning against Gus, and has Hector detonate a pipe bomb in the same room as Gus, killing them both.
Season 5 (2012–13)
On August 14, 2011, AMC announced that Breaking Bad was renewed for a fifth and final season consisting of 16 episodes. Season five is split into two parts, each consisting of 8 episodes. The first half premiered on July 15, 2012, while the second half premiered on August 11, 2013. In August 2013, AMC released a trailer promoting the premiere of final season with Bryan Cranston reading the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, over timelapse shots of Breaking Bad locations.
Walt, Jesse, and Mike start a new meth business. When Todd kills a child witness during their theft of methylamine, Jesse and Mike sell their share to Declan. Walt produces meth for Declan, and Lydia starts distribution in Europe, which is so successful Walt makes US$80 million, which he buries on the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation. Hank attempts to prove Walt is Heisenberg. Walt kills Mike and hires Jack's gang to kill Mike's associates and Jesse. The gang turns on Walt, kills Hank, captures Jesse, and takes most of Walt's money. Walt uses the remainder to escape to New Hampshire.
Walt intends to surrender, but changes course after Elliott and Gretchen minimize his involvement in starting Gray Matter. He leaves his money in a trust Elliott and Gretchen will administer for his children. He confesses to Skyler that he dealt drugs because he liked it. At Jack's compound, Walt kills Jack, Todd, and the rest of their gang with a remote controlled machine gun and frees the imprisoned Jesse. Wounded, he asks Jesse to kill him, but Jesse refuses and departs. Walt reminisces in Jack's meth lab and slowly loses consciousness. A police officer takes his pulse.
Themes and symbols
If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end. I feel some sort of need for Biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. My girlfriend says this great thing that's become my philosophy as well. 'I want to believe there's a heaven. But I can't not believe there's a hell.'
In a piece comparing the show to The Sopranos, Mad Men and The Wire, Chuck Klosterman said that Breaking Bad is "built on the uncomfortable premise that there's an irrefutable difference between what's right and what's wrong, and it's the only one where the characters have real control over how they choose to live". Klosterman added that the central question of Breaking Bad is: "What makes a man 'bad' – his actions, his motives, or his conscious decision to be a bad person?" Klosterman concluded that, in the world of Breaking Bad, "goodness and badness are simply complicated choices, no different than anything else".
Ross Douthat of The New York Times, in a response to Klosterman's piece, compared Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, stating that both series are "morality plays" that are "both interested in moral agency". Douthat went on to say that Walter White and Tony Soprano "represent mirror-image takes on the problem of evil, damnation, and free will". Walter is a man who "deliberately abandons the light for the darkness" while Tony is "someone born and raised in darkness" who turns down "opportunity after opportunity to claw his way upward to the light".
Devotion to family
The show explores most of the main characters' connections to their families in great detail. Walt justifies his decision to cook crystal meth and become a criminal because of his desire to provide for his family. In the third season he tries to exit the business because it has driven Skyler to leave him. Gus convinces him to stay, telling him it is a man's job to provide for his family, even if he is unloved. In the final episode of the series, however, Walt finally admits to Skyler that the main motivation for his endeavors in the meth business was his own interest, in spite of secretly securing the $9.72 million he had managed to salvage for her and the children. Jesse's loneliness in the early seasons of the show can be partly explained by his parents' decision to kick him out of their home due to his drug-related activities. This parental disconnect brings him closer to Jane, whose father berates her for her drug use. When Walt crosses paths with Jane's father, Walt refers to Jesse as his nephew and laments the fact that he cannot get through to him. Jane's father responds by telling him to keep trying, saying "Family. You can't give up on them, ever. What else is there?" Jane's subsequent death, which Walt purposefully did not prevent, is a major factor in her father causing the airliner crash at the end of the second season.
Even the show's more hardened characters maintain ties to family. In the second season, Tuco Salamanca spends time caring for his physically disabled uncle, Hector. When Tuco is killed by Hank, his cousins vow revenge. Their actions are further explained in a flashback, where Hector explains to the brothers that "La familia es todo" ("Family is everything"). Gustavo Fring's franchise Los Pollos Hermanos translates to "The Chicken Brothers". This refers to the fact that the company was co-founded by Gus and a man named Max, with whom he shared a close personal connection. When Max is killed by Hector Salamanca, Gus vows to destroy the Salamanca family. In the first part of the fifth season, it is explained that Mike Ehrmantraut's intentions for being in this business were to provide for his granddaughter's future, and by his final episode he is conflicted when having to leave her in a park by herself once he has been warned that the police are onto him. During the second part of the fifth season, white supremacist Jack Welker says "don't skimp on family", and he lets Walt live after capturing him in the desert because of love for his nephew Todd Alquist, who has great respect for Walt. Lydia Rodarte-Quayle repeatedly demands that if Mike insists on killing her, that he leave her in her apartment so her daughter can find her, fearful she will think Lydia abandoned her. Much like Walt and Mike, Lydia seems to engage in the meth business in order to provide for her daughter, with actress Laura Fraser stating in an interview that Lydia's daughter is important to how "Lydia justified what she did to herself".
Pink teddy bear
A motif within the second season is the image of a damaged teddy bear and its missing eye. The teddy bear first appears at the end of the music video "Fallacies" for Jesse's band "TwaüghtHammër", which was released as a webisode in February 2009 leading to the second season. The teddy bear can also be spotted on the mural on Jane's bedroom wall during the final episode of the second season, further connecting the crash to Jane. It is seen in flashforwards during four episodes, the titles of which, when put together in order, form the sentence "Seven Thirty-Seven down over ABQ". The flashforwards are shot in black and white, with the sole exception of the pink teddy bear, which is an homage to the film Schindler's List, in which the color red is used to distinguish a little girl in a coat. At the end of the season, Walter indirectly helps cause the midair collision of two airplanes; the pink teddy bear is then revealed to have fallen out of one of the planes and into the Whites' swimming pool. Vince Gilligan called the plane accident an attempt to visualize "all the terrible grief that Walt has wrought upon his loved ones" and "the judgment of God".
In the first episode of the third season, Walt finds the teddy bear's missing eye in the pool skimmer. Television critic Myles McNutt has called it "a symbol of the damage [Walter] feels responsible for", and The A.V. Club commented that "the pink teddy bear continues to accuse". Fans and critics have compared the appearance of the teddy bear's face to an image of Gus Fring's face in the fourth-season finale.
Walter White's name is reminiscent of the poet Walt Whitman. During the series, Gale Boetticher gives Walt a copy of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Prior to giving this gift, Boetticher recites "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer". In the episode "Bullet Points", Hank finds the initials W.W. written in Boetticher's notes, and jokes with Walt that they are his initials, although Walt indicates that they must refer to Whitman.
In the episode "Hazard Pay", Walt finds the copy of Leaves of Grass as he is packing up his bedroom, briefly smiles and leaves it out to read. This occurs at an especially high point in his life, where he feels that things are coming together and he is succeeding in all his ventures. A poem in the book, "Song of Myself", is based on many of these same feelings, furthering the connection between Walt's life and Whitman's poetry. The mid-season finale of season five, "Gliding Over All", is titled after poem 271 of Leaves of Grass. In the episode, Hank finds Leaves of Grass in Walt's bathroom and opens it to the cover page, where he reads the hand-written inscription: "To my other favorite W.W. It's an honour working with you. Fondly G.B." Upon reading this, Hank becomes visibly shocked, realizing the truth about Walter for the first time, which provides the opening premise for the second half of the final season.
Reception and legacy
Breaking Bad received widespread critical acclaim and has been praised by many critics as one of the greatest television shows of all time. On the review aggregator website Metacritic, the first season scored 73 out of 100, the second 84 out of 100, the third 89 out of 100, the fourth 96 out of 100, and the fifth 99 out of 100. The American Film Institute listed Breaking Bad as one of the top ten television series of 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2013, TV Guide ranked it as the ninth greatest TV series of all time. By its end, the series was among the most-watched cable shows on American television, with audience numbers doubling from the fourth season to the fifth. A 2015 Hollywood Reporter survey of 2,800 actors, producers, directors, and other industry people named Breaking Bad as their #2 favorite show. In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked it third on its list of 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
For the first season, the series saw a generally positive reception. New York Post critic Linda Stasi praised the series, particularly the acting of Cranston and Paul, stating "Cranston and Paul are so good, it's astounding. I'd say the two have created great chemistry, but I'm ashamed to say such a cheap thing." Robert Bianco of USA Today also praised Cranston and Paul, exclaiming "There is humor in the show, mostly in Walt's efforts to impose scholarly logic on the business and on his idiot apprentice, a role Paul plays very well. But even their scenes lean toward the suspenseful, as the duo learns that killing someone, even in self-defense, is ugly, messy work."
The second season saw critical acclaim. Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker stated "Bad is a superlatively fresh metaphor for a middle-age crisis: It took cancer and lawbreaking to jolt Walt out of his suburban stupor, to experience life again—to take chances, risk danger, do things he didn't think himself capable of doing. None of this would work, of course, without Emmy winner Cranston's ferocious, funny selflessness as an actor. For all its bleakness and darkness, there's a glowing exhilaration about this series: It's a feel-good show about feeling really bad." San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman claimed "The first three episodes of Season 2 that AMC sent out continue that level of achievement with no evident missteps. In fact, it looks as if Gilligan's bold vision for Breaking Bad, now duly rewarded against all odds, has invigorated everyone involved in the project. You can sense its maturity and rising ambition in each episode." Horror novelist Stephen King lauded the series, comparing it to the likes of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet.
The third season also saw critical acclaim. Time proclaimed, "It's a drama that has chosen the slow burn over the flashy explosion, and it's all the hotter for that choice." Newsday stated Breaking Bad was still TV's best series and it stayed true to itself. Tim Goodman praised the writing, acting, and cinematography, pointing out the "visual adventurousness" of the series. Goodman went on to call the show's visuals "a combination of staggering beauty – the directors make use of numerous wide-angle landscape portraits – and transfixing weirdness." After the finale aired, The A.V. Club said that season three was "one of television's finest dramatic accomplishments. And what makes it so exciting – what makes the recognition of the current golden age so pressing – is that the season has not been, as [another reviewer] put it in another context, 'television good.' The heart-in-the-throat quality of this season comes as much from the writers' exhilarating disregard for television conventions as from the events portrayed."
Season four won near-universal critical acclaim. The Boston Globe referred to the show as a "taut exercise in withheld disaster" and declared the show "riveting". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette labeled the series "smart and thought provoking that elevates the artistic achievements of the medium". Season four was listed by many critics as one of the best seasons of television in 2011. Time listed Walter White's "I am the one who knocks" line as one of the best television lines of 2011. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette listed it as the best series of 2011 while noting that "Breaking Bad is that rare TV series that has never made a seriously damaging storytelling misstep." The A.V. Club's review of the finale summed it up as a "fantastically fitting end for a season that ran in slow motion, starting and continuing with so many crises begging for resolution week after week. Now the decks are cleared, but that doesn't mean anybody is home free. Nothing's ever easy on Breaking Bad." The reviewer continued to exalt the season, and proclaimed, "What a season of television – truly something none of us could ever have expected, or claimed we deserved."
Both halves of the fifth season received overwhelming critical acclaim. Following the end of the series, critic Nick Harley summarized his commendation of the show: "Expertly written, virtuosic with its direction, and flawlessly performed, Breaking Bad is everything you could want in a drama. Critics will spend the next decade dissecting and arguing about what made it great, but the reasons are endless and already well documented." During the final season, the show also received praise from George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, particularly the episode "Ozymandias"; Martin commented that "Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros." In his review of the second half of season 5, Seth Amitin of IGN stated, "This final batch of Breaking Bad is one of the best run of episodes TV has ever offered," and praised "Ozymandias" in particular, referring to it as "maybe the best episode of TV [he's] ever seen". Jonah Goldberg of National Review called it "the best show currently on television, and perhaps even the best ever". The veteran actor Sir Anthony Hopkins wrote a letter of praise to Bryan Cranston, telling him that his "performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen – ever". He lauded the rest of the cast and crew as well. The letter first appeared on Steven Michael Quezada's (who portrayed DEA Agent Steven Gomez) Facebook page, and in spite of it being taken down, the letter soon went viral. In 2013, Guinness World Records named Breaking Bad the highest-rated TV series of all time, citing its season 5 Metacritic score of 99 out of 100.
Breaking Bad premiered on the same night as a critical game in the 2008 NFL playoffs, an intentional decision by AMC hoping to capture the adult male viewership immediately following the planned end of the game. However, the game ran into overtime, cutting into the show's timeslot in most of America. As a result, the pilot had only about 1.4 million viewers. Coupled with the ongoing writers strike, the first season did not draw as large of a viewership as they were expected. However, with subsequent seasons, viewership increased, avoiding the usual trend of downward viewership that most serialized shows had. Ratings further increased by the fourth season as, prior to airing, the previous seasons had been added to Netflix, boosting interest in the show. The second half of the final season saw record viewership, with the series finale reaching over 10.3 million viewers.
|Season||Timeslot (ET)||Episodes||Premiered||Ended||Average viewers|
|Season 1||Sunday 10:00 pm||7||January 20, 2008||1.41||March 9, 2008||1.50||1.23|
|Season 2||13||March 8, 2009||1.66||May 31, 2009||1.50||1.30|
|Season 3||13||March 21, 2010||1.95||June 13, 2010||1.56||1.52|
|Season 4||13||July 17, 2011||2.58||October 9, 2011||1.90||1.90|
|Season 5A||8||July 15, 2012||2.93||September 2, 2012||2.78||4.32|
|Season 5B||Sunday 9:00 pm||8||August 11, 2013||5.92||September 29, 2013||10.28|
Awards and nominations
The series received numerous awards and nominations, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards and 58 nominations, including winning for Outstanding Drama Series in 2013 and 2014. It also won two Peabody Awards, one in 2008 and one in 2013.
For his portrayal of Walter White, Bryan Cranston won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series four times, in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014. Cranston also won the TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Drama in 2009 and the Satellite Award for Best Actor – Television Series: Drama in 2008, 2009, and 2010, as well as the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series and the Saturn Award for Best Actor on Television in 2012.
Aaron Paul won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Paul also won the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television in 2010 and 2012. Anna Gunn won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2013 and 2014. For his work on season four, Giancarlo Esposito won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
In 2010 and 2012, Breaking Bad won the TCA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama, as well as the TCA Award for Program of the Year in 2013. In 2009 and 2010, the series won the Satellite Award for Best Television Series – Drama, along with the Saturn Award for Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The series won the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Dramatic Series in both 2012 and 2013. In 2013, it was named No. 13 in a list of the 101 Best-Written TV Series of All Time by the Writers Guild of America and won, for the first time, the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. Overall, the show has won 110 industry awards and been nominated for 262.
Variety held a Q&A with most of the original writing staff to reflect on the show's run, the final season, the writing process and alternative endings. Along with creator Vince Gilligan, fellow writers and producers Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison, Moira Walley-Beckett, Sam Catlin and George Mastras joined to discuss memories from the show's humble beginnings, character transformations that concluded in the final season as well as surprising developments along the way. For instance, the character of Jesse Pinkman was originally supposed to die halfway through season one in a tragic drug deal gone horribly wrong. The reasoning behind this decision was that Jesse served his purpose "in a meat-and-potatoes, logistical sense. The character would give Walt his entrée into the business" before meeting his demise. However, this was eventually done away with as the story progressed beyond Gilligan's early scripts.
The writers also opened up on their collaborative process and how their form of storytelling evolved with the show. According to writer George Mastras,
"Screen time was precious, and infusing every moment with the emotion [was the point], not just forming the pieces of the puzzle to tell the story, which is hard enough. If you’re going to take five seconds of screen time, you’d better damn well be sure that there’s an emotion there. It may be very, very subtle, but trust the audiences to pick up on that, because audiences do."
The development of certain characters posed challenges. Skyler White became unsympathetic to most viewers in earlier seasons as she was often presented as an obstacle to Walt's ultimate agenda. The writers struggled to change the dynamic and realized that "the only way people were going to like Skyler was if she started going along with what Walt was doing." It was a tricky shift to alter on screen because they didn't want to betray her character so they justified the change by using her past job as a bookkeeper to segue into her helping Walt money launder his cash under the guise of a car wash. Breaking the individual episodes was another form of problem solving for the writers. They stressed the importance of not letting the "master plan" stop them from staying true to the world they created. There came a point where tracking the characters on a moment-by-moment basis proved to be more useful rather than general direction of the story. Peter Gould said they would always start with the last thought in a character's head. “Where’s Jesse’s head at? That was always the prelude to the breakthrough moment, because when you said that, it’s usually because we had gotten attached to some big plan or some big set-piece that we thought had to be there, but the characters didn’t want to do what we wanted them to do."
Rian Johnson's experience on the show
Director Rian Johnson worked on three episodes ("Fly", "Fifty-One" and "Ozymandias") and in an interview with IGN shared his memories from behind the camera. He shed some light on the process including the fact that he sat through "tone meetings" with Vince Gilligan. The two of them talked about every dramatic beat in a script, the distinct visual look of the show and how the tonal shift of each scene had to feel natural while serving the main storyline of the particular episode. Johnson also revealed that he learned so much about working with actors because of his directing of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, describing the experience as a "free masterclass."
When asked about the show's lasting legacy, Johnson offered up his thoughts,
"I think the seriousness and depth with which it took its characters is the thing that really makes it stand apart for me. And that’s where the power of it comes from. Obviously, starting with Walter White, there’s just very few stories that are told on that scale, that have a character who is that deeply considered at the center of it. And I’ve heard people describe it as Shakespearean, and I know that word gets tossed around a lot, but I think in this case it really does apply. And that speaks, not so much to the fact that he goes to a dark place, but the fact that his entire journey is so deeply resonant, because it’s so deeply considered."
Spin-offs and adaptations
On March 13, 2013, after several days of speculation fueled by Univision, Sony confirmed that it would be making a Spanish-language remake of Breaking Bad titled Metástasis starring Diego Trujillo as Walter Blanco (Walter White) and Roberto Urbina as José Miguel Rosas (Jesse Pinkman), alongside Sandra Reyes and Julián Arango in unnamed roles. On October 2, 2013, the cast list was revealed to include Reyes as Cielo Blanco (Skyler White) and Arango as Henry Navarro (Hank Schrader), and that the show would be set in Colombia. The equivalent of Saul Goodman is named Saúl Bueno.
Better Call Saul
In April 2013, it was revealed that AMC and Sony were interested in a spin-off series that would focus on Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), with Gilligan and series writer Peter Gould developing the project. In September 2013, AMC and Sony Pictures Television officially ordered Better Call Saul, set as a prequel to Breaking Bad. The series focuses on Saul's life 6 years before he became Walter's lawyer, and premiered on February 8, 2015.
From August 11, 2013, to September 29, 2013, eight episodes of the live talk show, Talking Bad, aired on AMC, following Breaking Bad. The host, Chris Hardwick, and guests – who included celebrity fans, cast members, and Breaking Bad crew members, discussed episodes that aired immediately preceding the talk show. Talking Bad was inspired by the success of Talking Dead (also hosted by Hardwick), which airs immediately following new episodes of The Walking Dead, and the talk shows share a similar logo and theme music.
In July and August 2013, amidst the host of games, merchandise, podcasts, and various media AMC had released on the "Exclusives" section of the show's official website, over the course of the series, the digital comic book Breaking Bad: All Bad Things was released in August 2013. The comic "recaps the first four-and-a-half seasons of Walter White's descent from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to drug kingpin".
Prior to the start of production of the fifth season, Jeffrey Katzenberg had approached the series' creators and offered them to produce three additional episodes at US$25 million a piece (compared to the normal US$3.5 million cost of each episode, as to create material for his future streaming platform, Quibi. The episodes would have been broken up into 5 to 10 minute chapters as to fit Quibi's micro-format. The Breaking Bad team turned down this offer, namely as there was not much material they could continue into these episodes.
Sequel feature film
Rumors of a Breaking Bad film, under the working title Greenbrier, had arose beginning in 2018. The film was formally announced in February 2019, and was later revealed to be named El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. The film will first be released exclusively on Netflix on October 11, 2019, with subsequent airings on AMC. The film stars Paul reprising his role as Jesse, following the events of the series finale "Felina", as the character searches for his freedom.
In 2015, series creator Vince Gilligan publicly requested fans of the series to stop reenacting a scene in which Walter angrily throws a pizza on his roof after his wife refuses to let him inside; this came after complaints from the home's real-life owner. Cranston reprised his role of the character in a commercial for Esurance which aired during Super Bowl XLIX, one week before the premiere of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul.
Walter White obituary and funeral
A Breaking Bad fan group placed a paid obituary for Walter White in the Albuquerque Journal, October 4, 2013. On October 19, 2013, a mock funeral procession (including a hearse and a replica of White's meth lab RV) and service for the character was held at Albuquerque's Sunset Memorial Park cemetery. A headstone was placed with a photo of Cranston as White. While some residents were unhappy with the makeshift gravesite for closure with the show, tickets for the event raised nearly $17,000 for a local charity called Healthcare for the Homeless.
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