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Recap / Breaking Bad S1E1 "Pilot"

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Why is a 50-year-old man standing in the desert in his underwear with a handgun? That's a long story...
"The DEA took all your money, your lab. You got nothing. Square one. But you know the business. And I know the chemistry. I'm thinking...maybe you and I could partner up."
Walter White
The first scene we see is several landscape shots of desert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Suddenly, a pair of khakis falls from the sky and is quickly run over by a speeding RV, driven by the owner of the khakis, Walter Hartwell White. He's driving the RV in his white underpants and wearing a gas mask. A young man in the passenger seat has a gas mask as well, but appears to be unconscious. In the back, broken glass, liquids, and two more un-moving bodies are careening around. Walter's mask becomes foggy, and he drives off the road and crashes. He emerges, flinging the gas mask from him in frustration, before donning his shirt and re-entering the RV to retrieve a videocamera and a handgun. He records a tearful message saying goodbye to his family and then stands on the road pointing the pistol toward the sound of oncoming sirens. Cue title sequence!

After the credits, we flash back to three weeks earlier. Walter is exercising and staring at a plaque commemorating his contributions to Nobel Prize-winning research. At breakfast, his wife Skyler makes him a plate of eggs with veggie bacon spelling out "50". It is Walter's 50th birthday today. His son, Walter Jr., who has cerebral palsy, mocks the veggie bacon and his mother's healthy food crusade. Walter and his son then drive to JP Wynne High School, where Walt Jr. is a student and Walt Sr. is a chemistry teacher. Walter is also shown working as a car wash cashier, his second job to make ends meet. One of his students happens to spot him wiping down car tires and takes a picture. Humiliated, Walter returns home late to find a surprise birthday party for him, with many guests. His brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, a DEA agent married to Skyler's sister Marie, is holding a casual demonstration of his pistol and passes around to Walt, then takes his drink from him as the party toasts, leaving Walt holding the firearm instead. Hank is also featured on the news busting a local meth lab. Walt is astounded at how much money the criminals have made.


Next day at the car wash, Walt suffers a coughing fit and collapses outside by the cars, and is rushed to the hospital by ambulance, against Walt's protests. After a scan, a doctor tells him he's been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Walt seems to take the news well, hides it from Skyler, but explodes at his car wash supervisor, Bogdan, and angrily quits. Sitting alone by his poolside at dawn lighting matches, he calls Hank to take him up on the offer to ride along with him for a drug bust. The DEA busts Emilio Koyama's meth lab, while Walter sits in the car and witnesses Emilio's partner, Jesse Pinkman, escaping from the house next door while a naked woman throws his clothes out of the window. Walt recognizes Jesse as a former high school student of his. Later that evening, Walt stops by Jesse's house to make him an offer: they go into business making meth together, Jesse handling the business and Walter handing the chemistry. He subsequently threatens to turn Jesse in if he doesn't agree.


Their partnership settled, Walt steals a box full of chemistry equipment from his own classroom at the high school, while Jesse purchases a RV for them to use as a lab. They drive into the desert and cook, with Walt in his underwear to keep the smell out of his clothes. Jesse declares Walter "an artist", and is clearly impressed with his technical abilities. Jesse takes a sample to his distributor Krazy-8, cousin of Emilio. Emilio unexpectedly shows up, out of jail on bail, and falsely accuses Jesse of ratting him out to the cops. The two threaten Jesse and ask where he got his sample. The three drive out to the RV where Walt is still cooking, but when Emilio recognizes Walter from the bust, the two assume he's working with the DEA and pull their guns on Jesse and Walt. Jesse tries to run away, but falls on a rock and is knocked out as Emilio and Krazy-8 threatens to kill them both. Walter, picking on Krazy-8's admiration of his meth, talks them into sparing him and Jesse if he teaches them his recipe. He begins cooking, but deliberately mixes the wrong chemicals to cause an explosive cloud of gas and runs out of the RV, holding the door shut as the two inside are poisoned. Walter suddenly notices that the desert grass has caught fire from Emilio's stray cigarette butt, and frantically puts gas masks on himself and Jesse before driving off in the poisoned RV.

Now we're back at the opening teaser, and Walter is staring down the road menacingly. He suddenly decides not to commit Suicide by Cop and puts the gun to his head and pulls the trigger, only to discover the safety is on. His efforts to unlock it only result in a misfire into the ground. The siren vehicles emerge and are revealed to be fire trucks, not police cars as Walt had feared, and are merely rushing past to get to the brushfire they left behind. Jesse emerges from the RV, sporting a black eye, as Walter vomits in the middle of the road. We then see Walt drying all of the cash from the botched drug deal in the family dryer, and getting into bed with Skyler, who is concerned about where he's been. In response, Walt starts seducing her, turns her around for some very intense Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex. Skyler is clearly shocked, asking "Is that you?" as the credits roll.

This episode provides examples of:

  • Bait-and-Switch: The sirens that drive Walt to attempt suicide turn out to be fire trucks.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Bogdan's are truly impressive, though Walter seems to be annoyed by them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: As we first see Walter as a car wash worker, there's a guy in the background speaking angrily on the phone. He speaks Romanian and it means, "What I said, you idiot, is you have to be here at eight in the morning. You make me sick! Go to hell!"
  • Black Comedy: Jesse clumsily tripping and knocking himself out on a rock as he tries to run from Emilio and Krazy-8.
  • Compartment Shot: Used when Walt fishes laundered money out of a washing machine.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The meth lab owner just so happens to be one of Walt's former students.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • When Hank and Gomez are about to go into Jesse's meth lab, Hank calls Gomez 'Frank' while it will be later established that Gomez's first name is 'Steve'.
    • This is the only episode in the entire series to feature uncensored nudity thanks to the topless woman at the meth lab; the show was later picked up by AMC, which was far more strict on it (though Walt's butt frequently appears, his front is always hidden). Notably, a later episode takes place in a strip club yet never shows a nipple.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The very first scene is of Walter White recording a video confession to his family when he thinks that he's about to be busted for cooking meth. Though seemingly innocuous on first watch, Walt's argument in his own defense—that he only had the best intentions, and wanted to provide for his family—gives valuable insight into how he rationalizes his criminal acts; the series that follows is essentially one long dismantling of that claim, as we gradually find out that it's not nearly as true as Walt wants it to be. As several people have pointed out, the specific phrasing of Walt's claim ("I only had you in my heart!") is particularly telling, as it can be understood both as "I only wanted to help you!" and "I don't care what happens to anyone but you!"
    • Jesse first shows up stumbling down a window half-naked just moments after the DEA barged into the meth lab he is supposed to be working in.
    • Skyler's ECM happens when she is giving Walt a handjob as his birthday present... But before Walt could climax, Skyler gets distracted when she sees something else come up, leaving Walt in the cold.
    • As for Hank, it's when he takes his brother-in-law's glass, raises it for a toast... and then drinks from it himself.
    • Walter Jr. eats the first of many breakfasts.
  • Establishing Series Moment: The opening RV scene. Walt desperately drives only in his underpants, with an unconscious figure beside him and two more in the cabin, only to crash into a ditch soon after. It's a simple and subtle hint how things will just go downhill from this point on.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Hank and Gomez are supposedly elite DEA agents and yet somehow fail to notice that the car with the license plate 'The Capn' parked right next to their van despite knowing that the suspect's alias is 'Cap'n Cook'. As such, they arrest Emilio, believing him to be the suspect.
  • Fan Disservice: Bryan Cranston makes the first of many appearances in his tighty whitey briefs, and it is not pleasant...
  • Fanservice: ...contrasted with the topless woman kicking Jesse out of her house. According to Vince Gilligan on the DVD commentary, that scene was a very popular one for the crew to watch the filming of. Apparently, the script had been passed around.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: On the ambulance ride to the hospital, the paramedic does a basic examination of Walt's chest and asks if he's a smoker. Sure enough, the hospital scan identifies he has stage 3 lung cancer.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • A very dark example. Walt's bungled suicide attempt at the end (he tries to shoot himself with the safety on) may draw a breath of relief from the viewer in the moment, but in retrospect it would have prevented a vast amount of death and suffering down the road.
    • Jesse being out of his first meth lab during the DEA's drug bust gives him a chance to escape, only to be spotted by Walt who happened to be riding along. Thanks to this, their whole (rocky) partnership was given a chance to begin.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Walt is told by the doctor when he got cancer in his birthday, that in the best case scenario, he has only two years to live...
    • The amount of vindictiveness Walt shows to the bullies in the clothing store shows just how sadistic Walt can be, which becomes more and more apparent as the show goes on.
    • Jesse denies ratting Emilio out to the DEA, but can't explain how they came to target him. We learn later on that Krazy-8 was a narc.
    • When tagging along to the drug bust, Walt identifies the toxic gas that can come from a mishap in a meth lab (phosphine gas). Not only does it show his knowledge about manufacturing meth, but Walt also intentionally creates the gas in the climax to turn the tables on the drug dealers holding him at gunpoint.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Walt begins his baby steps to become a Nightmare in this episode.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Walt and Skyler at the end of the episode after Walt's first hazard-filled day of making crystal meth. Doubles as Shut Up Sex as Walt is clearly uncomfortable with Skyler's questions.
  • Guile Hero: Walt talks Krazy-8 and Emilio into sparing him and Jesse... and then casually poisons them with his chemistry skills.
  • How We Got Here: The teaser. It's actually set up to be such a bizarre situation that you assume the season or even the whole show will build up to it, but instead they manage to catch up within one episode.
  • Humiliation Conga: Walt teaches chemistry to apathetic high schoolers, works a menial job in which he is disrespected, forced to stay late on his birthday, and mocked by his students, his brother-in-law casually (and likely unintentionally) belittles him, and his wife can't even be bothered to take her eyes away from her laptop while giving him a half-hearted handjob as a "birthday present." Happy birthday, Walt.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Happens while Jesse tries to get Walt to reveal why he decided to cook meth.
    Jesse: Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass, all a sudden at age — what, sixty? He's just gonna break bad?
    Walt: I'm fifty.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Walt has one that turns out to be lung cancer.
  • Jerk Jock: One makes fun of Walt Jr. at a clothing store. He's a Dirty Coward to boot, as he flees from Walt despite towering over him.
  • Lecture as Exposition: In his chemistry lesson, Walt describes how energy can either be released gradually and unnoticeably or suddenly and violently. In the episode's climax, he uses mercury fulminate, the explosive he described in class to successfully threaten a violent drug lord.
  • MacGyvering: Walt pulls this off when he realizes that Krazy-8 and Emilio fully intend to kill him and Jesse. The lab is set up for cooking crystal meth. But he's quick enough on his feet to improvise a plan that involves luring them into the RV on the promise of showing them a new meth recipe, beginning the concoction of poisonous phosphine gas banking on the fact that his captors will lack the chemistry knowledge to recognize what he's doing, and then completing the final step that results in a gaseous explosion. The final point, and the resultant surprise it causes for his captors, gives him just the split second he needs to bolt out of the RV and hold the door against his victims.
  • Not With the Safety On, You Won't: Walter doesn't have a lot of experience with firearms. Good thing in the short term, as it's the reason his head is still attached.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jesse spotting Walt in the police car. Not only has he been spotted, but the witness is someone who personally knows and can identify him. Luckily for him, Walt doesn't intend on ratting him out.
  • Papa Wolf: Don't make fun of Walter Jr in front of his father. Just don't.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Hank, what's the first rule of gun safety again? Always assume the gun is loaded? Don't pass around a gun between your brother-in-law and your nephew at your brother-in-law's birthday party.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: The punk that Walt attacks had no idea how right he would turn out to be when he called Walt a "psycho" for attacking him.
  • Right-Hand Attack Dog: Krazy-8 has a Rottweiler, trained to bite thighs, directly into the femoral artery.
  • Rule of Symbolism: To deal with the punks making fun of Walt Jr., Walt exits the store from the back and then enters it through the front to sneak up on them, as though Walt is exiting and Heisenberg is entering.
  • Stress Vomit: Walter ends up throwing up when he realizes that he’s in all likelihood, killed Krazy-8 and Emilio.
  • Suicide by Cop: Walter initially wants to do this, until he decides that he is Driven to Suicide instead. Neither one works.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: After his cancer diagnosis, Walt quits his carwash job by cussing out his boss, messing up the air freshener displays and storming off.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Hank interrupts Walt's birthday party to show a news report of a drug bust showing how much money drug dealers can make, then offers to take Walter on a ride-along to a meth lab, claiming he should get a little excitement in his life. If he hadn't, Walter probably wouldn't have asked to go on one, he wouldn't have been reunited with Jesse, and he wouldn't have begun his long, dark road into trafficking meth.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Stress Vomit: or no, you still don't actually see Walt vomit.

"Is that you?"