Air Date: 2008
Writer: Vince Gilligan
Creator: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gun, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt
Premise: A down on his luck chemistry teacher resolves to use his smarts to enter the methamphetamine drug trade.
Most drama pilots like to close on a holy-shit moment that leaves the viewer desperate for more. Breaking Bad, innovative from the very start, flips the script and opens with such a scene. Even if you finish the hour and decide the show's not for you, you're definitely going to sit through it no matter what, because it fucking starts with that mesmerizing shot of pants billowing in the air, followed by an RV, filled with bodies tearing through the desert, and then our lead in underoos recording a farewell message to his family before raising a gun in the direction of some oncoming sirens.
We'll learn later that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is rotten, that his dire circumstances in the pilot are just a means for his transformation. The more time he spends exposed to the criminal element the more his soul erodes, until he becomes the villain of his own story in just one year in show time. And what a difference a year makes, because here it's hard not to root for the guy to turn to a life of crime. Walt's life is a series of increasingly shitty situations: He's a genius relegated to teaching uninterested high schoolers; he has a shit job at a local car wash; his wife is pregnant; and he has cancer.
Breaking Bad revels in process, so amidst Walt's reconnection with ex-student Jesse (Aaron Paul) and their narrow escape from bloodthirsty drug dealers, the real triumph is that Walt doesn't end the hour as a meth-cooking badass nor on his way to being one, just yet. His chemical smarts gets him into this mess, and as will become a pattern on the series, chemical ingenious saves his bacon. But after surviving the seemingly un-survivable mess that opens the pilot, he returns home to wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) aggressive and full of vigor. She asks, "Walt, is that you?" It is indeed. The transformation has begun. —FT