It’s hard to even think about Breaking Bad without picturing the desert. The setting of barren wastelands covered in sand and rock formations served as the location of some of the show’s biggest moments and fit the minimalist aesthetic of the show quite nicely.
It felt as if anything could happen out in the desert. Alliances could be made, or someone could stab someone else in the back. People could be saved from certain death, or it could be the place for a character’s final stand. Looking back on Breaking Bad‘s most intense, thrilling, and iconic moments, the desert plays a big role that was a pivotal setting for the show’s characters and themes.
Hank Finds Tortuga
Danny Trejo’s character of Tortuga was gone too soon in Breaking Bad, but at least he went out in a memorable way. He is introduced when Hank begins working for a task force of which Tortuga is an informant.
Hank discovers the grisly way the cartel does business when he and his team go out to the desert to meet Tortuga. Their informant eventually arrives, but it is just his severed head resting on a turtle. When the officers go to investigate, it turns out to be a trap, triggering a bomb.
Walt And Jesse Intimidate Saul
Though he wasn’t introduced until season 2, Saul Goodman quickly became one of the most popular characters on Breaking Bad. He is brought into the show when he is hired by Walt and Jesse to act as a lawyer for one of their dealers.
When Walt and Jesse begin to fear Saul knows too much, they kidnap him and try to intimidate him, which doesn’t go well. Not only is it a funny sequence that proves Saul is smarter than he looks, but it also sets up some details that are paid off in the spinoff series Better Call Saul years later.
Walt Tells Jesse To Start Over
When Walt and Jesse began working together, it was a very reluctant partnership and they often found themselves arguing. However, they did eventually build a bond, even if their relationship was always a bit unhealthy.
As Jesse continues to struggle with guilt, Walt takes him out into the desert and suggests he go start a new life somewhere. Jesse accuses Walt of just looking out for his own interests and trying to manipulate Jesse. But then Walt hugs Jesse, allowing him to break down. It is a rare moment when Walt and Jesse felt like father and son.
Mike Confronts Walt
The death of Gus Fring was one of the most iconic moments in the series and the beginning of the show’s final season shows the aftermath of that event. Upon learning of Gus’s death, Mike races out to the desert to meet Walt and Jesse.
While it was meant to be a meeting to figure out their next move, Mike immediately pulls a gun on Walt and plans to shoot him. Jesse is able to calm him down, but it puts Walt and Mike on a collision course that suggests their partnership will be short-lived.
Gus Fires Walt
Though it was Jesse who Gus Fring initially didn’t trust, he later sees the young man’s potential. At the same time, he grows more frustrated with Walt, leading to this incredibly tense confrontation.
Walt is kidnapped by Gus’s men and brought out into the desert. Quite bluntly, Gus tells Walt that he is fired and that he will no longer be cooking for him. He also tells him he will kill Hank to stop his investigation and if Walt tries to interfere, he will kill his entire family. It is a moment that really shows how ruthless Gus can be when cornered. This will play out later in the series when Walter is forced to kill Gus to prevent the drug boss from assassinating him and Jesse.
While some great shows took a while to get going, Breaking Bad started with an iconic scene right off the bat. Walt is introduced in the first scene racing an RV through the desert while wearing his underwear and a gas mask. He then begins taping his confessional as the sound of sirens is heard.
The pilot then flashes back to reveal how this man got to this point. It sets up the whole captivating idea of the show of how a seemingly ordinary man can find himself mixed up in this world. The scene grabs the viewers from the very beginning and establishes the nihilistic tone of the series.
Walt And Jesse Are Stranded
It makes sense that the desert provided an ideal meth cooking spot for Walt and Jesse as it ensured they wouldn’t be disturbed. However, one episode also shows the downside of such a location as they become stranded with no help in sight.
The whole episode is an intense race against the clock as the two men try to find a way to get the RV’s battery going again before they die out in the middle of nowhere. It also allows the relationship between Walt and Jesse to grow in the midst of this desperate situation.
Say My Name
Walt changed in a number of ways over the course of the series. But one of the most notable ways was how much his ego grew. It is at its height following the death of Gus Fring when Walt begins to really see himself as the head of a true drug empire.
When meeting with a criminal named Declan out in the desert, Walt stands up to the man with total confidence and calls the shots. Declan tries to play tough at first, but he soon realizes he is talking to “the” Heisenberg. Walt’s delivery of “You’re god*** right” shows how much the power has gone to his head. Walter has clearly crossed a line at this point, and there’s no going back.
The Train Robbery
Breaking Bad has always had the feel of a modern-day western so it makes sense that the show would eventually get around to doing a staple of the genre: a train robbery. It is a thrilling episode as Walt, Jesse, Mike, and Todd attempt to steal chemicals from a transport train.
They manage to get the train to stop out in the desert where they imagine there will be no witnesses. Despite some setbacks and complications, they pull off the daring heist only to notice a young boy, Drew, witnessing the crime. Todd then ruthless kills the boy in one of Breaking Bad‘s most senseless deaths. Like in countless other scenes, the desert functions as a spare background that frames Drew’s death with an empty landscape and an almost silent soundtrack.
Hank’s Last Stand
The entire episode entitled “Ozymandias” is a stunning piece of television storytelling beginning with the intense and heartbreaking showdown in the desert. After Hank tricks Walt into leading him to his money, he is ready to make an arrest only for Jack Welker and his Nazi goons to show up.
Following a shootout, Walt tries to bargain with Jack to spare Hank’s life and even offers up his fortune. While the audience might convince themselves this will work, Hank is smart enough to read the situation. He stoically accepts his fate as Jack executes him. It is a heartbreaking death to begin the best episode of Breaking Bad and the desert is the perfect place for Walter’s downfall to climax.