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Breaking bad 101, p.1

Breaking Bad 101, page 1


Breaking Bad 101

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Breaking Bad 101

  Foreword by Damon Lindelof


  Season 1

  Growth, Then Decay, Then Transformation S1 / E1


  In-Between S1 / E2

  “Cat’s in the Bag …”

  Missing Elements S1 / E3

  “…And the Bag’s in the River”

  Apply Yourself! S1 / E4

  “Cancer Man”

  The Point of No Return S1 / E5

  “Gray Matter”

  Enter Heisenberg S1 / E6

  “Crazy Handful of Nothin’”

  The Agreement S1 / E7

  “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal”

  Season 2

  The Devil in the Details S2 / E1

  “Seven Thirty-Seven”

  The Captured S2 / E2


  Fugue State S2 / E3

  “Bit by a Dead Bee”

  Descending S2 / E4


  Newton’s Third Law S2 / E5


  Nothing But a $10 Savings Bond S2 / E6


  Slow and Steady S2 / E7

  “Negro y Azul”

  Everyone Needs a Good Lawyer S2 / E8

  “Better Call Saul”

  Warning Light S2 / E9

  “4 Days Out”

  Damage Repair S2 / E10


  All You Get Is One Shot S2 / E11


  Know What’s Best S2 / E12


  Karma S2 / E13


  Season 3

  A Prayer to Santa Muerte S3 / E1

  “No Más”

  Seeing Red S3 / E2

  “Caballo Sin Nombre”

  Welcome Home S3 / E3


  An Effective Motivator S3 / E4

  “Green Light”

  Close But Getting Warmer S3 / E5


  The Learn’d Astronomer S3 / E6


  Ruined. Turned to Shit. Dead. S3 / E7

  “One Minute”

  Half the Man S3 / E8

  “I See You”

  Learning from the Best S3 / E9


  Contaminated S3 / E10


  My Last Door S3 / E11


  No More S3 / E12

  “Half Measures”

  Nowhere to Go S3 / E13

  “Full Measure”

  Season 4

  Trust Us S4 / E1

  “Box Cutter”

  Cold Blood S4 / E2

  “Thirty-Eight Snub”

  One Slip-Up S4 / E3

  “Open House”

  Finger Prints S4 / E4

  “Bullet Points”

  This Genius S4 / E5


  Another Coin Flip S4 / E6


  Lucky Cigarette S4 / E7

  “Problem Dog”

  Blood Is Thicker S4 / E8


  Dead Men Walking S4 / E9


  Zafiro Añejo S4 / E10


  Nothing Left S4 / E11

  “Crawl Space”

  Predator and Prey S4 / E12

  “End Times”

  Lilies of the Valley S4 / E13

  “Face Off”

  Season 5.1

  The Mysterious Mr. Lambert S5 / E1

  “Live Free or Die”

  Tick, Tick, Tick S5 / E2


  A Well-Oiled Machine S5 / E3

  “Hazard Pay”

  Sink or Swim S5 / E4


  Another Boy on a Bike S5 / E5

  “Dead Freight”

  Hydroflouric Acid and Methylamine S5 / E6


  This Whole Thing Could Have Been Avoided S5 / E7

  “Say My Name”

  An Honor Working with You S5 / E8

  “Gliding Over All”

  Season 5.2

  The Beginning of the End S5 / E9

  “Blood Money”

  Fresh in Her Mind S5 / E10


  My Brother’s Keeper S5 / E11


  Burn It Down S5 / E12

  “Rabid Dog”

  Back to the Burial Grounds S5 / E13


  And Despair S5 / E14


  Gray Again S5 / E15

  “Granite Slate”

  The Moment of Truth S5 / E16



  (Burst) Appendix


  To Marian

  who makes all of this possible

  It was the broken plate.

  The first and second episodes of Breaking Bad were good … but I was a snob, watching them with my arms crossed, grumbling to myself that this new entry on AMC’s airwaves was enjoyable, chewy pulp that fell below the high-water mark of the transcendently brilliant Mad Men.

  Then, I saw it. A quick glimpse inside a trashcan as Walter White discarded an empty can of beer. A beer he sipped while talking to a man with a bike lock securing his throat to a pole. A man affectionately named Krazy-8, who softly told Walter that he was not cut out for this kind of work. “This kind of work” being cold-blooded murder.

  I should probably back up. A few hours earlier, Walt compiled a list while sitting on the very same toilet he had just used to flush away the liquefied remains of Krazy-8’s cousin and partner in crime, Emilio, whom Walt had poisoned to death with improvised mustard gas in order to save his own life. But Krazy-8 somehow survived the gassing and now, bike lock around his neck in the basement, Krazy-8 needed to be dealt with. Split into two columns, the list weighed the pros and cons—Column A, titled “Let Him Live,” was rife with bullet points: “Judeo/Christian Principles,” “It’s the moral thing to do,” “Won’t be able to live with yourself,” and last but not least, “Murder is Wrong.” However, Column B, “Kill Him,” offers only one:

  “He’ll kill your entire family if you let him go.”

  And so, pants around his ankles, taking a shit, Walter White weighs the costs and consequences of taking another man’s life. And when he goes to Krazy-8, Walt begs him to give him a reason not to kill him. Because he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to break bad. And over the course of seven beautifully written and immaculately acted minutes, Krazy-8 does just that. He tells Walt that he wanted to study music at Oberlin, that, in fact, he spent years working in his family’s furniture store to earn the tuition. Turns out Walt even shopped at the very same establishment years back for his now teenaged son’s crib. And the two, jailor and jailed, sing the jingle for that furniture store together. And they bond. And Krazy-8 promises that he will exact no revenge whatsoever if Walt just lets him go. And Walt believes him. He nods, cheeks wet, relieved that he will not have to commit murder, as he shakes his empty beer can and says, “I’ll go get the key.”

  Shit. I left something out. The most important something, actually. Because earlier, before the list on the crapper, before the long talk about Oberlin and furniture, Walt makes Krazy-8 a sandwich (he even cuts off the crusts), but when he reaches the bottom of the basement stairs, he’s so overwhelmed by a coughing fit that he passes out. When he wakes up, the sandwich is on the ground beside the broken plate upon which it sat. Walt gathers up the wreckage and heads back upstairs to make a new sandwich, dumping the shards into the trash bin.

  The very same trash bin into which Wa
lt tossed his empty beer can right after grabbing the key that will free Krazy-8 from captivity below. But then he sees it.

  The broken plate.

  Walt walks away from it at first. Then returns. Takes out the pieces. Puts them on the counter and starts to put them together like a puzzle (I have a thing for puzzles) and as he does so, he already knows that puzzle will be missing one critical piece. And he starts to mutter, “No….” Over and over again. “No, no, no, no, no….” Because he knows where that missing shard of plate is. It’s clutched in Krazy-8’s hand. Just waiting to exact revenge upon him. And Walter is saying “no” because he now has no choice. He has to ignore everything in Column A because the only relevant information is in Column B. And we all know what “B” stands for.


  But seriously. It stands for “Bad.” And that is how Walter breaks when he returns to the basement and chokes the life out of Krazy-8, as his victim manages to stab him in the leg with that piece of broken plate. The missing piece.

  And it is here where the show transcends traditional storytelling and touches something greater. Because that empty space where the plate shard would fit is not the only missing piece in this episode. In fact, it begins and ends with a flashback (I have a thing for flashbacks) to Walt’s college days as he and his lab assistant, Gretchen, attempt to break down the precise chemical composition of the human body and come up .111958 percent short. Gretchen has a theory for what that mystery (I have a thing for mysteries) element may be—

  —The soul. But Walt shakes his head dismissively and responds, “There’s only chemistry here.” In other words … there is no soul.

  Which brings us, at last, to Sepinwall.

  Now hold on. I’m not saying he has no soul. Has he made me cry myself to sleep sometimes because he hated my writing? Sure. Who hasn’t? But that doesn’t mean he’s soulless. And the point I am attempting to make has nothing to do with souls. It has to do with depth. It has to do with insight. It has to do with a rare and incredible skill. Because Sepinwall does not simply “recap” episodes of television….

  … He helps us understand them. He doesn’t just tell us what happened. He tells us why it happened. And he doesn’t tell us if it’s good or bad. He tells us why it’s good or bad. Reading a Sepinwall postgame for an episode of a beloved show always enhances it, even if you disagree with his opinion. He is a storyteller, telling great stories about storytelling. Imagine the experience of watching a great football game with no play-by-play, and now imagine the same game with Howard Cosell calling it. This is the Sepinwall experience. Because he can take something that’s already great …

  … And transform it into something classic.

  This is what Alan (and his many excellent peers) have done for television. They’ve elevated it as an art form by investing thousands of hours of their own time into appreciating TV. And in some notable cases, depreciating it (cough—season three of Lost—cough), but always in the spirit of fairness. The process can be harsh, but necessary. Because Sepinwall breaks plates. He puts them back together. He identifies the missing pieces. And then he uses those pieces to stab you in the leg.

  And by you, I mean “me.” But as much as it hurts to be stabbed in the leg, I know this this without a doubt—it has made me a better writer. This introduction notwithstanding.

  So you bought this book. Maybe it’s because you loved Breaking Bad as much as I did and you’re ready for a deeper dive. Maybe you’ve never seen it and I just spoiled episode three for you and I’m really sorry about that but it’s early in season one and it’s not like I told you that Walter uses [REDACTED] and his Chekovian [REDACTED] to blow [REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED]1 or that Hank ultimately [REDACTED] while taking a [REDACTED] and reading [REDACTED].2

  Okay. I clearly don’t understand why you would buy a book about a show that you’ve never seen. I also may have a little disdain for anyone who has never watched Breaking Bad because it is so utterly brilliant that I refuse to take anyone who hasn’t seen it by now seriously. Sorry. I told you up front I was a snob.

  But Sepinwall is not a snob. He is a guide. He is a translator. He is a curator. He is a disapproving parent challenging his kid to do better because he knows they can. He is a fan who must put aside his love for something so that he can approach it with integrity. He is an experienced pro who has watched and written about more episodes of television than we can possibly fathom. He is a little boy who feels butterflies of excitement when he turns on his TV.

  So get ready to appreciate Breaking Bad all over again through the words of someone who loved it just as much as you did and spent almost seven years writing every word of it down. Because in addition to all the qualifications listed above, the author of this tome has one more worth mentioning. Because unlike Walter White and .111958 percent of the human body’s composition …

  … Alan Sepinwall has got a helluva lot of soul.

  Damon Lindelof

  December 26, 2016

  1 AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hi. Alan Sepinwall here. I agree with Damon’s point that odds are, if you’ve bought this book, it’s because you already know and love Breaking Bad. Which is why I’m cool with him giving away so much detail about Walt and Krazy-8. But I suggested he not go further than that with the spoilers, and … well … the handful of you who are new to the show can thank me after you’ve seen the season four finale.

  2 AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yeah, Damon’s gone mad with spoiler power here. (It would be like if I told you that on Lost, Locke is really [REDACTED.]) You can thank me again after you’ve reached the midpoint of season five.

  I watched the greatest hour of dramatic television ever made in a hospital bed, heavily dosed with pain-killers and IV antibiotics, my wife and mother and stepfather gawking at me like I had lost my damn mind for insisting on not only watching, but reviewing, an episode of TV only hours after I nearly died from a burst appendix. Perfect circumstances, right?

  As it turned out, the meds and sterile hospital atmosphere actually added to the experience of watching “Ozymandias,” an episode so dark, so ugly, and so monumental in terms of the Breaking Bad story as a whole, that I at times found myself floating above the room like Jesse Pinkman once did under the influence of other drugs, asking myself, Did that really happen? Or is that the morphine talking? When the episode ended, I banged out a thousand semi-coherent words that were not destined for posterity (but which have nonetheless been reprinted here in an—ahem—appendix) while my family (who were watching this as their very first Breaking Bad episode—sorry, guys!) continued to look on with dismay at my insistence on doing anything but sleeping off the surgery and letting my body fight the infection that was still ravaging it.

  By that point in the series, though, the only thing that would have prevented me from covering “Ozymandias” (and the two concluding episodes that followed) live would have been something worse than appendicitis. It wasn’t just professional dedication making me do it, but a kind of fever equal to the one that, because the appendix burst before the doctors removed it, kept me hospitalized for almost two weeks. (This meant that I watched and reviewed “Granite State” under similar circumstances, and even got to discuss that episode’s IV needle scene with my nurse immediately after, while she performed the same service for me that Ed had for Walt.) As both a critic and a fan, I had to see how this story was going to end, and I had to write down my thoughts on it all as soon as possible.

  I had been obsessive about recapping on some level for a very long time, thanks in part to another high school teacher looking for a creative outlet beyond the classroom—one who fortunately found a healthier outlet than cooking meth.

  When I first went online, as a college student in the early ’90s, one of the most important writers I found was Timothy W. Lynch, a California teacher who in his spare time recapped the various Star Trek spinoffs for Usenet’s rec.arts.startrek.current.1 The idea of breaking down TV series not only on an episode-by-episode basis, but often on a subpl
ot-by-subplot basis, was new and exciting to me, and I had Lynch’s writing in the back of my head when an NYPD Blue fan on asked if anyone could provide a summary of the show’s most recent episode (“Oscar, Meyer, Weiner” from season one), which they had missed. Inspired by Lynch, and looking for an excuse to not study for my finals, I obliged. People liked my write-up enough to ask if I could do that again the following week—many of them fans who had actually seen “Oscar, Meyer, Weiner,” but felt the experience was enhanced by reading about it afterward. Soon I was recapping each episode of the series, providing both plot synopsis and analysis in every recap.

  More than my grades, or even my work at the college paper, it was the writing about NYPD Blue that helped lead to my first job as a television critic for The Star-Ledger newspaper of northern New Jersey, where I would later go back to the recap format to cover a large swath of TV in the mid-to-late ’00s, from The Wire to Battlestar Galactica to The Office. As had been the case back in the day with NYPD Blue, the recaps enhanced the experience of watching the shows themselves—whether I was simply reminding people of jokes or dramatic moments they had enjoyed, explaining why a particular story did or didn’t work, or breaking down the deeper meaning of more ambitious shows like The Sopranos or Mad Men. If I cared about a show, I would find any excuse to write about it, and write about it, and write about it some more; never mind that getting back into recapping while I was still writing a daily newspaper column meant I was voluntarily doubling my own workload.

  What’s amazing about the confluence of “Ozymandias” and my burst appendix (beside the fact that I landed in a hospital that got AMC in high-def) is that when Breaking Bad debuted, I wasn’t even sure if I liked the show, and couldn’t have imagined a circumstance where I would literally be risking my health to recap an episode of it.

  Back in that abbreviated first season, I didn’t really know what to make of Vince Gilligan’s vision, other than the amazing role he had written for Bryan Cranston and the revelatory work former sitcom star Cranston was doing as Walter White. In my initial review of it for The Star-Ledger, I wrote of the volatile combination Gilligan created, “I’ve seen three episodes, and while the show hasn’t blown up yet, I still have no idea what it’s going to look like when all the elements fully mix together.” The series debuted while the TV business was in the midst of a programming drought due to the 2007–08 Hollywood writers strike, which offered me plenty of time to write as much as I wanted about the few original series still airing—yet I didn’t even bother writing recaps for two of the seven Breaking Bad episodes that aired that year. The five recaps I did write were mostly brief attempts to puzzle out my feelings about a show that kept defying my expectations: Why are they spending two episodes just on getting rid of those guys they killed in the pilot? Is Bryan Cranston going to keep coughing this much? Am I supposed to care about anybody who isn’t Walt? When will the story actually get going? Gilligan’s pitch—“We’re going to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface”—was intriguing, but the execution wasn’t at all what I expected, or what I thought I wanted.

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