By Adam Vitcavage
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that "Breaking Bad" is celebrating its ten year anniversary since premiering on AMC. Jan. 20, 2008 feels so long ago. George W. Bush was still president. John Edwards was still technically in the running for the Democratic nomination and Hillary Clinton was six months from withdrawing. Apparently, our current president had a daily talk show on the radio that ended in 2008.
I’ve seen every episode of the groundbreaking series exactly once. Needless to say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Walter White in his tightie-whities. It wasn’t even really on my radar for an anniversary until I was listening to Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald on The Watch podcast. Greenwald swooned over the series and how it changed the TV landscape. I won’t ruin the duo’s views and legitimately am endorsing listening to their recent episode (same goes for TV Avalanche from Uproxx).
I decided to give a half-list slash half-review of the critically acclaimed pilot. How much do I actually remember? Not much. So, buckle up into the RV and let’s head to Albuquerque.
- That in medium res opening lasts a mere four minutes and builds so much tension it hurts. Knowing the evil Walter becomes makes his earnest videotaped confession/love note to his wife extra delectable. He only had her in his heart. That’s true at the beginning of this show, but definitely not by the end of season five. He’s so pathetically impotent that it’s really hard to believe he becomes Ozymandias, King of Kings.
- Ugh! That opening credit song. How did "Breaking Bad" get everything right? It’s just not fair.
- The characterization of the main cast is perfectly nailed in the first 30 seconds of each character’s scene. Skylar is domineering and controlling. Walt Jr. is a smartass. Marie is jealous. Hank is his job. There was only one ending for Hank from the moment we meet him.
- There was a lot more buildup to the revelation of his cancer diagnosis. It was never rushed and Vince Gilligan gave Walt room to breathe as the character’s true self before having his world flip. Most poorly executed pilots would push the hospital visit earlier and have a character scrambling the rest of the first act. But those first twenty or so minutes are the only time we really get a feel for Walter White.
- I live for Walter’s first outburst. “Fuck you and your eyebrows” and “Wipe down this” are really the first showing of the wrath of Heisenberg. They’re such memorable lines because they’re so out of character. He’s so non-threatening that it’s funny.
- I knew Walter first saw Jesse right after the meth house bust, but I forgot about Aaron Paul’s ass falling off the roof. It’s just another example of a primo setup for who this character becomes. It’s worth rewinding a few times. And that misdirect of him actually being “Captain Crunch” was a perfect beat within that scene. Seriously, Gilligan is a genius.
- The chemistry—I don’t even hate myself for this pun—between Walt and Jesse is undeniable from the first handful of scenes between the two. It’s amazing that the writer’s strike saved Pinkman’s life. Also, they say the title of the show at around 36 minutes!
- I was always annoyed with how little Walt Jr. got to do throughout the series. His character didn’t need to have much to do, but a personal preference would have been more father/son time to show the dichotomy between Walt’s relationship with him and Jesse. But how Walt protects his son in the clothing store is probably my favorite moment of the pilot. So “Cat’s in the Cradle” of me, I know.
- One of the best aspects of "Breaking Bad" is its slow burn. The pilot is no different, but it does know how to throw in a bang. That build up of sirens in the opening pays off with such a sigh of relief, head scratch, and soft chuckle. Gilligan managed to made me go “of course” without it feeling so obvious.
- Walt revealing that he has cancer to Skylar while in bed with her in the final moments, but instead being sexually assertive was the only way to come full circle with who Walt was and who he is now. He still has a hell of a journey ahead of him, but even his wife knows something has changed. After all, she has the final question of the episode, “Walt, is that you?” No, Skylar, the Walt you knew is already gone. The one who knocks is coming.