Breaking Down Breaking Bad: Pilot, Scene 20
In which I attempt to better understand the art of scene writing through a close reading of Breaking Bad, one scene at a time.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL – CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON
Walt’s chem lab is empty — school has ended for the day. Hurrying around, Walt peers in cabinets high and low, pulls out FLASKS, BEAKERS, TUBING, STANDS and BURNERS. He gathers all this up, loads it in a cardboard box.
He pauses, hit by a brief fit of COUGHING. He recovers, sniffs and feels his chest with his fingertips. Margaret the physics teacher sticks her head in the door behind him.
MARGARET: Hey, you’re still here.
WALT: Oh, hey.
MARGARET: I missed lunch — I was thinking of swinging by T.G.I. Fridays. I could use a drink. How ‘bout you?
Walt clearly would like to join her, and she knows it.
WALT: Shoot, I can’t. My other job.
MARGARET: Okay. Some other time. (notices the box) Whatcha doing?
WALT: Oh. Inventory. Not a week goes by my kids don’t break two or three pieces of glassware.
Margaret considers. Does she believe him? We don’t know. But then she winks at him, leaves. Walt glances at his box full of school property. Shit, that was close. He carries it to the door, pauses to peek out. No witnesses.
Walt flicks off the classroom lights with his back, then humps the heavy box down the hall and out of the building.
This scene was reduced to Walt just taking lab equipment.
It’s equally instructive to study what was taken out as it is to study what was left in. And here, what we learn is that Vince Gilligan thought it smart to keep “the world’s worst midlife crisis” focused to Walt’s Adventures in Drugland.
The only other time Walt will display non-meth-biz-related symptoms of a midlife crisis is when, later in the season, he splurges on a sweet ride for Walter Jr, and even that is more father-son catchup than it is self-serving droptop hoarding.
So if Walt is tempted to chase tail and cook meth, then his issues are a range of things, and we wouldn’t believe his family-man reasoning that he must cook meth to provide for his family. It’s important to believe that he’s completely happy and content with his family if we’re to forgive the rest of his deplorable actions.