In which I attempt to better understand the art of scene writing through a close reading of Breaking Bad, one scene at a time.
In the original script, right before this scene was a quiet, reflective scene in which Walt just walks out of the car wash, quitting without a word. This was changed to what became one of the most popular scenes in the pilot, known for, “I said fuck you Bogdon, AND YOUR EYEBROWS!”
However great that scene is, it would’ve undermined the impact of the scene below had it come first.
One great lesson to take away from this switcheroo:
VG was obviously very conscious of abiding the laws of real time in the pilot script. But when it went to film, a whole lot of fudging went on.
There’s no call from Skyler for Walt to explain his whereabouts.
There’s no explanation about how Walt managed to get all his very serious medical tests done in a short afternoon.
He just gets home and it picks up from there.
And no one asked any questions. I only noticed it because I’m doing this project of studying the script, during which it’s helpful to compare it to scenes. Complete logistical sense should be lower on the totem pole than dramatic impact, because if the drama of the situation is telling the absolute truth, no one will notice that it’s only 5PM when it should be closer to midnight.
INT. NISSAN SENTRA - DRIVING - EVENING
Walt drives. Not speeding. No expression on his face.
His POV: it’s a straight shot up the 10 Freeway. The familiar TRIPLE OVERPASS looms ahead in the distance.
Walt stares at it like it’s the monolith in “2001.”
EXT. OVERPASS - CONTINUOUS
An AERIAL VIEW, looking straight down at this vast and complex concrete knot. Walt’s tiny Nissan is an ant trundling toward it. The car disappears from view underneath, as if being swallowed.
This was cut. It’s a beautiful scene, but more novelistic than dramatic, thus no big loss in the sense of storytelling. I do love the idea of an external POV overlooking everything and Walt’s being subsumed into a mass.
I have no idea what goes on in the mind of a man who’s just learned the particulars of his fate, but being tiny, helpless, and lost seem like they’d be up at the top of one’s mind.
INT. WHITE HOUSE - KITCHEN - EVENING
A glass of white wine. Skyler stands talking on the phone.
Nix the white wine. I think Skyler’s drinking would’ve just been distracting from Walt’s story, from an American moral indignation perspective.
SKYLER: (into phone) Absolutely. I sent it to you on the third. It’s number... wait a minute, let me get my checkbook.
She cups a hand over the phone, does nothing. After a beat:
SKYLER: (into phone) Here it is. It’s check number 1148. So my records show I paid that, and I certainly don’t feel like we owe any late... (listens) Alright. I guess then I’ll check with my bank and, I don’t know, if the post office lost it or something... alright then. Let me look into that. Thank you.
Walt enters, hearing the tail-end. Skyler hangs up.
SKYLER: You’re home early.
Walt nods, finds a beer in the fridge. His fingers tremble a little as he pries off the cap. Skyler doesn’t notice -- she’s sifting through a stack of bills.
Walt sits at the table. He drinks deep, rubs his mouth.
SKYLER: How was your day?
WALT: You know. Same.
SKYLER: Don’t tell me Amir’s sending you home at five now.
This was taken out. Again, it’s less important to focus on time than the characters’ trials.
WALT: No, just. Today.
SKYLER: (studying a bill) Did you use the MasterCard last month? $15.88 at Staples?
WALT: Uh. We needed printer paper.
SKYLER: Walt, the MasterCard’s the one we don’t use.
Walt nods, overwhelmed and hiding it. Skyler doesn’t know about his doctor’s appointment. Even if Walt wants to tell her, something stops him. He sips his beer, stares.
Walt doesn’t have the poker face he’ll soon develop.
Here Skyler asks him how his day was. You see it building in his face: he wants to come out with it. He wants to break down. He wants to let it all out.
But he can't.
Loud MACHINE GUN FIRE startles them both. Skyler yells into the living room.
SKYLER: DAMMIT, WALTER! TURN THAT DOWN! (more GUNFIRE) Go talk to him.
Walt rises, sets his bottle in the sink.
This part actually comes later in the episode, so I’ll get to it down the line.
Walt’s WANT is vague and probably a swirl of terrified survival mechanisms and alarms going off in his head, but the most concrete is that he wants to tell his wife.
The OBSTACLE: How do you tell a born worrier THE WORST NEWS IMAGINABLE? She in a tizzy over a late fee on a $15 MasterCard charge! He loves her, but he doesn’t know how to tell her such a terrible thing.
COMPLETION: He does nothing. He sips his beer. He folds into himself. Walt has no one to be strong for him, because he doesn’t think his wife can be that person. Then who else? We know from his birthday party he doesn’t have any real friends. He’s alone and dying.
Hence the next scene!