- This article is about the TV series. For the first episode of the series, see Pilot.
Walter White was a very ordinary, middle-class chemistry teacher, who also worked a second job at a car wash in order to make enough money to feed his family. But one day, he collapses, and is given a terrible diagnosis: stage-3 inoperable lung cancer. While watching the news along with his family and friends on his 50th birthday, namely a segment on a methamphetamine drug bust, he discovers the amount of profit in the meth business. His DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader offers Walter a ride-along to a methhouse sting. A while later, Walter accepts, and accompanies Hank on a drug bust. While on the ride-along, he finds out that his former school student Jesse Pinkman is part of the drug house operation, and watches him escape. As Walter considers the financial benefits of drug trafficking for his pregnant wife Skyler, and his physically disabled son, Walter Junior, he sees only one way out; forcing Jesse to teach him about the drug trade. Using his chemistry knowledge, Walter ends up making the purest methamphetamine that anyone has ever seen. Thus, both are drawn deeper and deeper into the abyss of organized drug trafficking.
Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Breaking Bad revolves around Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a struggling high school chemistry teacher with a teenage son who has cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte), and a pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn). When the already tense White is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he breaks down and turns to a life of crime, producing and selling crystal methamphetamine with his former student, Jesse (Aaron Paul), in a desire to secure his family's financial future while avoiding detection from his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris).
Breaking Bad has received widespread critical acclaim, particularly for its writing and Cranston's performance on the show, and has won several Emmy Awards, including three consecutive Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series wins for Bryan Cranston as well as an Outstanding Supporting Actor win for Aaron Paul.
Vince Gilligan, who had spent years writing the series The X-Files, expressed interest in creating a series in which the protagonist of the story became the antagonist. Gilligan has stated numerous times that his goal was to turn the protagonist, Walter White from Mr. Chips into Scarface. The concept of the RV emerged as Gilligan talked with his fellow writer Thomas Schnauz regarding their unemployment.
Gilligan has stated that it was difficult to develop a story for Walter White because the character was very dark. Gilligan later said that the idea of Walter's character intrigued him so much that he "didn't really give much thought on how well it would sell", stating that the premise made him want to give up because it was "such an odd, dark story" that could have difficulties being pitched to studios. During the course of the series, as time progressed, Gilligan and the writing staff made Walt increasingly unsympathetic.
The series is set and filmed in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico. The AMC network, on which the series premiered January 20, 2008, originally ordered nine episodes for the first season (including the pilot), but the Writers Guild of America strike limited the production to seven episodes. The original versions of the script were to be set in Riverside, California, but Albuquerque, New Mexico was chosen due to the financial situations at the time. Breaking Bad is shot in 35 mm film, and reportedly costs $3 million per episode to produce.
In July 2011, Gilligan indicated that he intended the series to finish with the fifth season. Negotiations began regarding the final season, and AMC proposed a shortened fifth season to cut costs, but producers declined. Sony then approached other networks to pick up the show if a deal could not be made with AMC, but on August 14, 2011, AMC renewed the series for 16 episodes.
Lead actor Bryan Cranston stated in an interview that: "The term 'breaking bad' is a southern colloquialism and it means when someone who has taken a turn off the path of the straight and narrow, when they've gone wrong. And that could be for that day or for a lifetime."
- "You're going to see that underlying humanity, even when he's making the most devious, terrible decisions, and you need someone who has that humanity – deep down, bedrock humanity – so you say, watching this show, 'All right, I'll go for this ride. I don't like what he's doing, but I understand, and I'll go with it for as far as it goes.' If you don't have a guy who gives you that, despite the greatest acting chops in the world, the show is not going to succeed. "
- ―Vince Gilligan, about Bryan Cranston
Gilligan casted Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White because of the fact that he had worked with him in a sixth season episode of The X-Files. Cranston played a man with a terminal illness who took the X-Files protagonist Fox Mulder hostage. AMC network executives were originally hesitant about the casting choice, knowing Cranston only from his role of Hal from Fox comedy series Malcolm in the Middle, but were soon convinced after Gilligan showed them the X-Files episode.
Gilligan originally intended for Aaron Paul's character, Jesse Pinkman, to be killed off by the end of the first season of the series. The concept was that after Pinkman had been killed off, that this would be a plot device to plague the main protagonist with guilt. However, by the second episode of the first season, Gilligan was so impressed with Paul's performance that he recognized it would be a "colossal mistake" to kill off the character.
Scripts and dialogue regarding the scientific subjects of the series were provided by the professor of organic chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, Donna Nelson. Nelson also illustrated the chemical structures and wrote chemical equations which were used as props. According to Gilligan, Nelson approached the production crew and stated her interest in the show, offering her assistance regarding the subject of chemistry. She also offered assistance on electrical engineering, and physics. Gilligan accepted the offer to maintain the scientific accuracy on the scripts. Before a script was published, Gilligan would allow Nelson to proofread it and check it for any scientifical errors or add descriptions and dialogues to it. Gilligan states that he was able to "dumb down certain moments of dialogue" regarding chemistry when Walter White speaks to his students. The production crew also had assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration based out of Dallas.
Chemical Elements in the Credits
The credits feature symbols of chemical elements from the Periodic Table in green (for example, the symbols Br and Ba for bromine and barium in Breaking Bad and the symbol Cr for chromium in Created by Vince Gilligan). The credits at the beginning of the show usually continue this, with cast members' names usually including one chemical element symbol if appropriate.
The opening credits also feature the formula C10H15N which is repeated several times in each frame that it appears. This is the molecular formula for methamphetamine. It indicates that each molecule contains 10 carbon atoms, 15 hydrogen atoms and one nitrogen atom.
The number 149.24 is also repeated in the introduction, which is the molecular mass of the methamphetamine compound.
Of interesting note is the fact that until the second part of season 5, the electron configuration of barium (Ba), which is 2-8-18-18-8-2, and chromium (Cr), which is 2-8-13-1, were both incorrectly listed as 2-8-18-7, being erroneously copied from that of bromine (Br).
- Read more about episode titles at Episode Title Meanings.
Breaking Bad's episode titles typically relate to the events of the episode, a quote from another source, or a common expression. For example, the episode title "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" is taken from the movie Fargo, and also reflects how Walt is trying to impose his will on the drug business and hopes not to resort to violence.
The episode names of the first, fourth, tenth, and thirteenth episodes of Season 2 form a sentence which reveals an event that takes place in the season finale (737-Down-Over-ABQ). These episodes all include a mysterious opening teaser in black and white, featuring a scorched pink teddy bear floating in a pool. Several episode titles are also in Spanish, a reference to Hispanic culture in New Mexico as well as the influence of Mexican drug cartels in the story.
An online customizable video was used to promote season one. Users would receive a webcam message from Walt urging them to live their life to the fullest, at the end of which he would score their name from a list. The promotion is still live at www.waltswisdom.com. A viral marketing campaign has also been produced for season two, users can experience meeting Walt from a first-person perspective. The promotion is located at www.waltswarning.com. The charity website set up for Walter White in Season 2 by Walter Jr is also available at www.savewalterwhite.com. Promotion for season three includes an elaborate website devoted to Bob Odenkirk's character "Saul Goodman". The site includes legal advice, fashion tips, customer testimonials and more. It is located at www.bettercallsaul.com.
Breaking Bad has received critical acclaim in addition to numerous awards and nominations, including seven Emmy Awards. Bryan Cranston won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series three years in a row. Aaron Paul won for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2010 and 2012, and Anna Gunn won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2013. Vince Gilligan and the rest of the producing staff finally nabbed the prestigious Outstanding Drama Series award in 2013 for the first half of Season 5.
The third season premiere was the highest rated episode in the series' history at that time; having been watched by 2 million viewers, with an additional 1.1 million viewers with the repeat airings later the same night, increasing 40% from the second season premiere. The rest of the third season episodes averaged between 1.2 and 1.8 million viewers.
The fourth season premiere received 2.6 million viewers, increasing 32% from the third season premiere. The fifth season premiere received 2.9 million viewers, ranking it as the most-watched premiere of the series. Viewership jumped 102% for the midseason premiere when 5.9 million people tuned in for "Blood Money". The third-to-final episode "Ozymandias," also refered to by Vince Gilligan as "the best episode we ever had had or ever will have" was watched by 6.4 million viewers. The penultimate episode "Granite State" continued the trend and was watched by 6.58 million viewers. The series finale "Felina" blew away the previous episode's record and was watched by 10.3 million viewers when it aired on September 29, 2013.