Pilot (Breaking Bad)
|Breaking Bad episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1|
|Directed by||Vince Gilligan|
|Written by||Vince Gilligan|
|Produced by||Karen Moore|
|Cinematography by||John Toll|
|Editing by||Lynne Willingham|
|Original air date||January 20, 2008|
|Running time||58 minutes|
"Pilot" (titled "Breaking Bad" on DVD and Blu-ray releases) is the pilot episode and series premiere of the American television drama series Breaking Bad. It originally aired on AMC on January 20, 2008, and was written and directed by series creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan.
Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his pregnant wife Skyler and their teenage son Walter Jr., who has cerebral palsy. Walt supplements his low teaching salary by working part-time at a local car wash, where he ends up being humiliated in front of two of the students he teaches. On his 50th birthday, Walt returns home to a surprise party arranged by Skyler. The following day, he collapses at the car wash and is raced to the hospital, where he is told that he has developed inoperable lung cancer and has, at best, two years to live. Walt opts to keep this news from his family and from Skyler's sister Marie Schrader and her husband Hank, a DEA agent.
After returning to work at the car wash, Walt suddenly lashes out at his boss and walks off the job. Having earlier seen a news report showing a large amount of money recovered from one of Hank's drug busts, Walt takes up a previous offer to go on a ride-along as Hank and his partner Steven Gomez raid a known meth lab. As the DEA agents clear out the house, Walt observes his former student Jesse Pinkman sneaking out a back window. Later, Walt tracks down Jesse's address and blackmails him into helping him produce crystal meth without revealing why. Walt turns over his life savings to allow Jesse to purchase a Fleetwood Bounder RV to use as a mobile lab. Walt then steals supplies from the high school chemistry lab needed for the process.
Walt and Jesse drive the RV into the desert and begin to cook. Walt's expertise in chemistry enables them to create crystal meth that Jesse claims is the purest he's ever seen. Jesse drives back into town to show a sample to his distributor, Krazy-8 Molina. He realizes too late that Krazy-8 is a cousin of Emilio Koyama, his partner that was busted on the earlier raid and now free on bail. Emilio believes Jesse set him up to get busted, but Jesse promises to prove his loyalty by driving them to the RV. When they meet Walt, Emilio recognizes him from the raid and thinks that he is an informant, leading him and Krazy-8 to hold the two at gunpoint. Jesse tries to run but trips and falls and hits his head on a rock, knocking himself out. Walt barters for his life by offering to show them how he produced the meth. As they watch Walt inside the RV, Emilio flicks away a cigarette outside, which causes a brush fire to ignite. The two gangsters hold Walt at gunpoint and force him to cook meth, but Walt instead synthesizes phosphine gas with red phosphorus, which causes Emilio and Krazy-8 to pass out after they inhale it.
Hearing sirens in the distance, Walt quickly dons a gas mask and puts one on Jesse before pulling him into the RV's passenger seat, still filled with phosphine fumes. Walt frantically drives the RV away from the spreading brush fire. As shown in medias res at the start of the episode, Walt drives the RV into a ditch and stumbles out of the vehicle, discarding his gas mask. Believing that he is about to be captured by the police, Walt records a video message to his family before trying to shoot himself with a pistol, unaware the safety is still on. As the sirens near, Walt is relieved to find they are only fire engines responding to the fire, and quickly hides his weapon. Jesse wakes up and joins Walt as they watch the fire engines race by. The two have the RV extracted from the ditch by a Native American man with a front-end loader and then drive back into town, making sure Emilio and Krazy-8 are secured in the RV before leaving it at Jesse's home. Later that night, Walt returns home and meets his wife's troubled queries with a new sexual vigor, which leaves her asking, "Walt, is that you?"
Breaking Bad was created by television writer Vince Gilligan, with the crux of the series being the protagonist's journey into an antagonist. He stated "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 is to turn him from Mr. Chips into Scarface. The concept of Walt as a meth dealer came to fruition when Gilligan was talking with fellow writer Thomas Schnauz, and they joked regarding their unemployment that the solution was "putting a meth lab in the back of an RV and driving around the country cooking meth and making money." The script was originally set in Riverside, California, but at the suggestion of Sony, Albuquerque was chosen for production due to the favorable financial conditions offered by the state of New Mexico, and the setting was moved there too because otherwise "we'd always have to be avoiding the Sandia Mountains" in shots toward the East, according to Gilligan.
Gilligan cast Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White based on having worked with him in a sixth season episode of the science fiction television series The X-Files, where 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 were wary of casting Cranston, due to his being mostly known for his comedic role as Hal on the series Malcolm in the Middle. The executives offered the role to John Cusack and Matthew Broderick, who both turned it down. After seeing Cranston in the X-Files episode, the executives were convinced to cast him. Cranston gained ten pounds for the pilot to reflect the character's personal decline, and had his hair dyed brown to mask his natural red highlights. Cranston collaborated with costume designer Kathleen Detoro and makeup artist Frieda Valenzuela to make the character of Walt both bland and unremarkable, and impotent.
The episode received mostly positive reviews. Robert Bianco of USA Today praised Bryan Cranston's performance calling it "riveting and remarkable". Jonathan Storm of Philadelphia Inquirer praised the show calling it "unpredictable and stimulating". Barry Garron of The Hollywood Reporter called the show "suspenseful and surprising". Donna Bowman of The A.V. Club wrote a positive review, citing Cranston's "mesmerizing", "nihilistic" and "hulking yet impotent" performance and Gilligan's "keenly observed screenplay."
Bryan Cranston won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for this episode at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards. Vince Gilligan was nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series and won the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama. Lynne Willingham won Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series and John Toll was nominated for Outstanding Cinematography for a One Hour Series.
In 2013, Vince Gilligan recalled the viewership for the episode being below a million viewers. "We went up against some big football game, and we got crushed", Gilligan was quoted as saying during an episode of The Colbert Report.
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