In which I attempt to better understand the art of scene writing through a close reading of Breaking Bad, one scene at a time.
EXT. BUNGALOW - GARAGE/BACK YARD - AFTERNOON
Chemicals, labware, supplies -- the last of the carload of stuff Walt brought gets packed into a back corner of Dupree’s messy old garage. Dupree covers it with a tarp.
DUPREE: This doesn’t stay more than a day.
WALT: What, aren’t we gonna cook here?
DUPREE: No, we’re not gonna cook here. This is my house. I don’t shit where I eat.
WALT: Then where are we going to work?
DUPREE: You tell me. This is your deal, man. You wanna smoke it up, smoke it up at your house. (off Walt’s look) Nah. I didn’t think so. Oh, well.
Silence as Walt considers. Stubs at the dirt with his heel.
WALT: What if we rented a self-storage place? One of those little orange garages? Worked out of there?
DUPREE: Nah, they’re onto that. They got dogs that sniff around. (grudgingly) RV. That’s what you want.
WALT: What, like a Winnebago?
DUPREE: I know a dude wants to sell his. He just goes camping with it -- but a mobile meth lab’d be the bomb. You can drive way out in the boonies. Be all evasive. (gauging Walt’s interest) Forty-five hundred’d get you in.
Off Walt, already calculating how to swing this.
I hope studying a basic, straightforward scene (like this) can be as enlightening as the more intense and suspenseful scenes that made Breaking Bad famous. Let’s dig.
Walt’s TANGIBLE WANT is to get to work and, perhaps without realizing it in any explicit way, foist the risk of this endeavor onto Jesse. This isn’t part of a plan. It’s mere oversight.
What’s his EMOTIONAL NEED? We’ve got five to choose from:
Respect? On some level, sure, but nothing cries RESPECT ME! in this scene like it does in others.
Love? Definitely not.
Validation? Hm, nope.
So it’s Comfort he’s after. He wants to know that his plan is on track, but Jesse derails him.
And what’s Jesse’s TANGIBLE WANT? Get this stuff out and away from his house, which is quickly accomplished. After that’s mopped up, to agree upon an alternative.
(We don’t find out until much later in the show that Jesse’s ulterior motive is extorting money from Walt. But that doesn’t effect this scene.)
But what could his EMOTIONAL NEED be? I suppose it could be COMFORT. It is comforting to know you don’t have a meth lab in your garage. And he wins. His Emotional Need swerves into VALIDATION; he just wants his idea accepted. If that’s the case, Jesse wins and sends Walt’s needs and wants scurrying off to be satisfied.
In the next scene, Jesse’s laughing all the way to Walt’s bank.
The previous scene was a battle, status-game-wise. Jesse’s aloofness versus Walt’s fastidiousness, ending with Walt playing over Jesse. In this scene, there’s hardly a game: Walt is at Jesse’s disposal.
I’m tempted to say that the dearth of power struggle makes this a boring scene. But consider the macro effect of a quiet scene fudging the power dynamic, varying the rhythm of the script. Walt is out of his wheelhouse even in the company of a kid for whom he holds zero respect.
And if Walt loses the status game at the end of a scene, that means he's learning. This defeat, I'm sure, will turn up later as a victory.
If it weren't for this scene, Walt would never start the portable lab under guise of an exterminator.