Breaking Bad has become an enviable televisual and cultural phenomena over the last few years. It’s often touted as one the very greatest programmes to ever grace the small screen.Starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, it charts the increasing depravity of Chemistry teacher, Walter White (Cranston), after he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Confronted with his mortality, and tired of his and his family’s daily hardships, he begins brewing crystallised methamphetamine with ex-student, and now partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman (Paul).
“Pilot” begins with a frenetic consecution of events that, in absence of the context the episode later provides, are truly mystifying, but crucially pique the uninitiated’s curiosity enough to maintain interest through the much less frantic subsequence of establishing characters and setting. It’s a methodology that Vince Gilligan would come to employ for a lot of Breaking Bad‘s episodes; present a portion of events as they conclude, return to the very beginning, and steadily piece everything together until the full picture is finally gleaned, and the contingence is understood.
At one point in this episode, Walt recites to his inattentive students the maxim that Chemistry represents change, growth, decay, and transformation — unknowingly alluding to the formulary evolution of his character, which would be charted across the rest of the series. Walt’s future degression is emblematic of this credo, just as his mentality is of the compositional nature of Chemistry itself.
His calculatory mindset means that the people around him are often conducted like elements of chemical compounds; combined or influenced in measured ways to produce the desired results. This aspect of his psyche becomes of greater predominance as Walt is further immoralised, but it’s still evident here — albeit to a lesser degree — particularly as he coerces Jesse Pinkman into partnership.
Jesse Pinkman, meanwhile, is a carefree, bottom-of-the-barrel, street-level, drug slinger. He’s impetuous and contumely, and his cocksure, unlearned attitude is of a direct contrast to that of the erudite Walter White. These two personalities that are so completely at odds with one another — hence the frequent hostilities — but establish a common ground in their mutual respect for the skill involved in producing their unparalleled product, even if they both accredit its brilliance from vastly antithetic points of view.
Jesse’s ardent construal that Walt’s methamphetamine is “art” is met by a typically dispassionate repudiation that it’s just basic Chemistry. The cold logicality of Walt’s personality, and the antipodal fervence of Jesse’s, clearly outlined in one simple exchange.
It’s these intricacies that Vince Gilligan adjuncts his scripts with — the brief windows into his characters’ minds — which are partly what make Breaking Bad such esteemed television.
Additionally, the equilibria of drama and humour that pervades this episode, and all those to come for that matter, is one of Breaking Bad‘s most appealing deviations from storytelling convention. This is chiefly attested during Emilio and Crazy-8’s arrival at the RV, greeted by a partially naked Walter White, whom the latter remarks looks like some sort of nudist (I wonder if it ever crossed his mind that he might be gazing upon the future kingpin of New Mexico’s crystal meth scene).