Breaking Bad features plenty of memorable 21st century TV moments, but one influential line from early in the series – where the show title is directly referenced – is often overlooked. Vince Gilligan’s acclaimed AMC crime drama gifted fans, and pop culture in general, with a handful of now-immortalized quotes. Notable examples include Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) famous deliveries of “I am the one who knocks” and “Say my name” – and even Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) absurdly frequent, personalized use of the word “b****.” Interestingly though, it’s not Walt who utters a line that hits on his character’s titular journey.
It’s this very fall from grace (or, at least, “regular” life), this transformation from Walt to Heisenberg throughout Breaking Bad, that drives the show. The series’ plot is set in motion when Walt is diagnosed with inoperable, and (what is believed to eventually become) terminal lung cancer in the very first episode. Out of options and looking for a way to support his family, while also taking a plunge into a lifestyle that is anything but monotonous or conventionally “normal” like his old existence, he and Jesse set out to build a meth-centered empire. Walt truly does morph into a starkly different person over the course of the show, even eventually admitting that he stayed in his life of crime longer than he could possibly justify because he was “good at it” and it made him feel “alive.”
This concept is ever-present within the project, as its events very much live up to the show title. For any fan looking to go back and binge-watch the beloved series, the title is spoken by Jesse in Breaking Bad season 1, episode 1. After Walt gives him money to buy an RV that’ll function as a mobile meth lab, he questions why his ex-chemistry teacher is dabbling in the criminal world. He sarcastically mocks Walt by saying, “Some straight like you, giant stick up his a** – all a sudden at age, what, 60, he’s just gonna break bad?” Although Jesse is off by a decade in age (Walt has just turned 50), his joke-riddled query ends up being spot-on. As the world now knows, Walter White didn’t just break bad, he ended up embodying and excelling at it.
In addition to the line referencing the show’s title, the pilot also had other meaningful gems embedded within it. Today, with five seasons’ worth of Breaking Bad hindsight, there’s plenty to pick up on. Another line, which is a powerful act of foreshadowing via an initially mundane-seeming statement, is uttered by Walt when he’s first shown teaching in his classroom. He tells his students about the ever-changing nature of both chemistry and life in general, “It is growth, then decay, then transformation.”
Like Jesse’s comment referencing the series title later in the episode, this line is another that camouflages in with the scene perfectly. To a first-time viewer, the meaning is self-explanatory and ordinary. Of course, in the context of the entire project, it means a lot more than that. In this case, it foreshadows Walt’s character arc. Right from the pilot, he feels as though his back is against a wall. He then ventures down a path that forces him to grow, change, and develop components of himself that he never would’ve dreamed of tapping into before the show’s timeline.
Unfortunately, his growth and success as a criminal lead to personal decay from a moral and father-/husband-related standpoint. Walter becomes truly irredeemable throughout Breaking Bad. He actually becomes Heisenberg, and his transformation – which is so fascinating to watch – is complete by the series’ end. Creator Vince Gilligan is known for – among plenty of other things – his masterful placement of creative details within the acclaimed crime drama. The seamless inclusions of Breaking Bad’s show title and other instances of clever foreshadowing within the pilot, which are fun little “Easter eggs” of sorts for viewers, are perfect examples of this.