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. PARKING LOT - AFTERNOON
CLOSE ON a fat handful of CASH. Dupree counts it, impressed.
We’re in a shopping center lot, mostly empty. In b.g. is the credit union. Dupree and Walt sit in Dupree’s Daytona.
DUPREE: It’s four grand. My guy wants forty-five hundred.
The price obviously changed.
Jesse’s TANGIBLE WANT here is set up. He wants the full amount and he wants to deal with zero overhead himself.
He’s just had a very close brush with the law, and just as he won’t risk cooking meth at his house, he won’t risk contributing anything but labor. He knows the suddenness with which things can go bad.
WALT: You’re a drug dealer. Negotiate.
In the filmed version, Walt says that it’s all the money he has, where in the scripted version it took an entire scene that was ultimately cut.
I chose not to write on the cut scene simply for the sake of getting a move on, but for posterity I’ll summarize it as Walt interacting with a very concerned bank teller who tries to advise Walt against clearing out his savings.
I’d also like to point out, just as a curiosity, that a responsible, prudent, and extremely intelligent 50-year-old man with only $7000 in savings is really quite amazing. Did he ever come up with a plan for retiring? Surely as a public school teacher he must have some sort of retirement plan he could clear out?
This is not a question that occurred to me until now, so I guess it’s just one of those weird details that you can get away with if you pass over it quickly enough. Yet another reason to cut the scene with the bank teller.
Dupree thinks about it, shoves the money in his pants.
DUPREE: You’re not how I remember you from class. I mean, like, not at all.
Walt checks his watch.
WALT: I gotta go.
Walt is already all business. He doesn’t have time to idly converse with Jesse.
This is the great relationship dynamic of the show that VG and Co maintained throughout: Walt treats Jesse simply as a means to an end.
DUPREE: Wait. Hold up. Tell me why you’re doing this. Seriously.
This is notably the first time that Jesse addresses Walt as an equal. There’s not much status-play here. This is a moment when Jesse’s guard is down, because he’s actually scared of what he might be getting into.
Just as with the money at the top of scene and the lab in Scene 22, Jesse wants zero overhead and zero liability.
WALT: (a beat) Why do you do it?
DUPREE: Money, mainly.
WALT: There you have it.
Walt still treats Jesse with a didactic air.
They both are convinced of their superiority over each other, but they judge by their own unique standards, standards that will always put them on top.
DUPREE: Nah. Come on, man! Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass...all a sudden at age, what, fifty he’s just gonna break bad?
Jesse returns to his condescending, but his guard is now down. He’s as honest as he’s yet been.
Also, speaking of standards: as a young guy, Jesse’s youth is one of those “superiority standards” by which he measures himself against Walt, while Walt sees himself as better than Jesse because he’s older than Jesse.
In most cases, their opinions of themselves are grounded in reality, but it’s different reality than the other person.
WALT: I’m forty-one.
NB: Walt is in fact 50 in the final version, and Jesse calls him 60.
DUPREE: It’s weird, is all. It doesn’t compute. If you’re like... crazy or something... if you’ve gone crazy, or depressed. I’m just saying. That’s something I need to know about. That affects me.
Walt stares at Dupree a long time, considers how to answer.
WALT: I am... awake.
This is almost comedic in its cliche, and I think that’s how it was intended to play, because Jesse’s reaction is legitimate confusion, and that’s what undermines the cliche.
But what's amazing about this line is that the audience is clued in on the fact that Walt is actually excited about this.
Despite what he just said, he's not just in this for money. Money is what gave him the idea, but even after handing over all of his savings to some punk hood he probably shouldn't be trusting, investing it all in something that's as illegal and dangerous as one can imagine, he can raise his hands with a satisfied sigh and say triumphantly that he's awake?
DUPREE: (a confused beat) What?
This is not a world where people can get away with saying silly faux-meaningful things like that.
Walt pulls the handle, opens his passenger door.
In the filmed version, Walt stands outside of Jesse’s car, which ends up being better staging considering Walt and Jesse’s attitudes toward each other. The physical distance, the boundary of Jesse’s door, and the different postures — which echoes Scene 21 — emphasize their internal states.
WALT: Buy the RV. We start tomorrow.
Walt gets in his old Nissan, parked beside the Daytona. Off Dupree, worriedly watching him go.
Again, this scene is basic coverage of the story. Not a whole lot of dramatization. Jesse’s TANGIBLE WANT drives the scene: he wants to know what Walt’s game is.
Jesse’s EMOTIONAL NEED here is comfort: he needs reassurance that he’s not walking into some sort of death trap orchestrated by an unstable walking midlife crisis and that if anything goes off the rails he won’t lose skin the deal. He's just gotten out of a very close brush with the law.
His OBSTACLE? Walt's not a comforting presence, so the COMPLETION is that he's left hanging.
Walt’s TANGIBLE WANT is simply to get the RV and to get started.
His EMOTIONAL NEED, however, is more or less blank. One could argue that he wants comfort too: the comfort of a plan that is rolling along smoothly. But he seems quite content, not to mention amazingly trusting of Jesse, all things considered.
The completion is that both wants are suspended: the RV will come later and Jesse’s ongoing suspense in feeling out the sanity of the situation will continue.
Jesse’s fear also sets up the next scene, which will demonstrate exactly what kind of edge Walt’s teetering on.