In which I attempt to better understand the art of scene writing through a close reading of Breaking Bad, one scene at a time.
This just might be my favorite scene of this episode because it acts as a thesis statement for the entire show. We will watch the growth, decay, and transformation of a chemist.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL - CLASSROOM - DAY
Hours later. This is a chemistry classroom -- black-topped lab tables with gas spigots. Walt is lecturing to seniors.
Contrast this with Walt’s award for contributing to Nobel-prize-winning research. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
WALT: Chemistry is the study of what?
I put in italics everything that was added to the shoot that wasn’t in the original pilot script.
No one answers. Walt singles out a LONG-HAIRED STONER
BEN: (a beat) Chemicals.
Snickers from the smart kids. Walt smiles.
WALT: Chemicals. No. Chemistry is…Well, technically chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change. (a beat) Think about it. Electrons change their orbits, molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. That’s all of life, right? The constant... The cycle. Solution, dissolution, over and over.
Walt seems to be talking mostly to himself. A pep talk.
Despite the stage directions, Bryan Cranston performs this as a rousing speech. He does seem to be talking to himself, from a child-like part of him filled with wonderment, but it’s not a pep talk. It’s a passionate outpouring.
Walt’s WANT is obviously to inspire the kind of wonder and awe for chemistry in his students that he himself holds.
WALT: Growth then decay. Transformation. It’s fascinating, really.
Up to this point, Walt’s OBSTACLE is the apathy of his students, but then he’s met with a bigger foe…
Handsome, blonde CHAD sits slouched in the back with his hand jammed in the lap of his cheerleader GIRLFRIEND. He whispers to her and she giggles. Walt snaps out of it.
Walt’s WANT here shifts from being a good, inspirational teacher to WANTING respect and the deference he deserves. This frustration is what will really grate Jesse coming up real soon.
WALT: Chad, is there something wrong with your own table?
It seems for the moment that Walt has won. He resumes teaching, a frustrated victory, but—
WALT: Okay, ionic bonds—
Walt is interrupted as…
Chad sighs heavily and drags his stool back to an adjoining table. Doing so, he makes as much NOISE as he can.
The defiant little prick fights back. Walt’s WANT is demoted once again, from BEING INSPIRATIONAL to BEING RESPECTED to BEING ALLOWED TO CONTINUE WITH HIS LESSON PLAN EVEN IF HE’S IGNORED.
WALT: (Off Chad) Are you done?
Chad nods smugly. Walt continues.
WALT: Alright, ionic bonds. Chapter six.
Walt’s COMPLETION is pretty sad. He’s letting himself get pushed around. While he doesn’t bow down, the Status Game being played here continually undermines his authority and he’s powerless to stop it.