|Breaking Bad episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1|
|Directed by||Vince Gilligan|
|Written by||Vince Gilligan|
|Produced by||Karen Moore|
|Cinematography by||John Toll|
|Editing by||Lynne Willingham|
|Original air date||January 20, 2008|
|Running time||58 minutes|
"Pilot" (titled "Breaking Bad" on DVD and Blu-ray releases) is the series premiere of the American television crime drama series Breaking Bad. The episode was directed and written by series creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan. It first aired on AMC on January 20, 2008.
In the episode, chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Keeping it a secret from his pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and their teenage son Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), Walt decides that he wants to spend his last years saving money for his family. After going on a drug bust with his brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), Walt spots his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and later blackmails him into helping him cook meth in an RV.
In its initial airing, the pilot received mostly positive reviews from critics, who praised Gilligan for his script, and Cranston for his performance. At the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, the episode received various nominations, with Cranston winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and Gilligan earning a nomination for Outstanding Directing.
Walter White is a high-school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, living with his pregnant wife, Skyler, and their teenage son Walter Jr., who has cerebral palsy. Walt is heavily dissatisfied with his life, feeling overqualified as a high-school teacher and resenting his degrading part-time job at a car wash. Shortly after his 50th birthday, Walt collapses while at the car wash and is taken to the hospital, where he is told that he has developed inoperable lung cancer and has, at best, two years to live. Walt opts to keep the news from his family and from Skyler's sister Marie Schrader and her husband Hank, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.
Returning to work, Walt lashes out at his boss Bogdan Wolynetz and walks out. Having seen a report showing large amounts of money recovered from one of Hank's drug busts, Walt takes up a previous offer to go on a ride-along as Hank and his partner Steven Gomez raid a meth lab. As DEA agents clear out the house, Walt observes his former student Jesse Pinkman sneaking out, whom he later tracks down and blackmails into helping him produce crystal meth. After Walt steals chemistry supplies from the high school, he asks Jesse to purchase an RV to use as their meth lab.
The pair drive the RV into the desert and begin to cook. Due to Walt's expertise in chemistry, Jesse claims their crystal meth is the purest he has ever seen. Jesse drives back to show the product to his distributor, Krazy-8 but encounters Krazy-8's cousin, Emilio Koyama, who believes Jesse set him up during the drug bust. To prove his loyalty, Jesse drives them to the RV, where they meet Walt. Emilio recognizes him from the raid, leading him and Krazy-8 to hold the two at gunpoint, and causing Jesse to accidentally knock himself out. To save his life, Walt offers to show them how he makes meth. During the cook, Emilio flicks away a cigarette that causes a brush fire and Walt synthesizes phosphine gas with red phosphorus, apparently killing Emilio and Krazy-8.
Hearing sirens, Walt attempts to flee, but drives the RV into a ditch. He stumbles out and records a video message to his family before unsuccessfully trying to shoot himself. He then realizes that the sirens are not the police but are from firetrucks responding to the fire. Walt and Jesse drive back, leaving the RV with Emilio and Krazy-8 at Jesse's home. Walt returns home, meeting his wife's troubled queries with new sexual vigor.
Breaking Bad was created by television writer Vince Gilligan, with the crux of the series being the protagonist's journey into an antagonist. Noting how television shows usually kept their main character in the same state to prolong the series, Gilligan said he wanted to make a show serving as a "fundamental drive" towards change. He added that his goal with Walter White was to turn him from Mr. Chips into Scarface. The concept of Walt as a meth dealer came to fruition when Gilligan was talking with fellow writer Thomas Schnauz, and they joked regarding their unemployment that the solution was to drive around cooking meth in an RV.
Gilligan cast Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White based on having worked with him in "Drive", an episode of the sixth season of the science fiction television series The X-Files, where Gilligan worked as a writer. Cranston played an anti-Semite with a terminal illness who took Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) hostage. Gilligan said the character had to be simultaneously loathsome and sympathetic, and that only Cranston could play the part. AMC officials were wary of casting Cranston, due to him being mostly known for his comedic role as Hal on the series Malcolm in the Middle. The executives offered the role to John Cusack and Matthew Broderick, who both turned it down. After seeing Cranston in the X-Files episode, the executives were convinced to cast him. For his role, Cranston met frequently with a chemistry teacher to learn about the subject, gained fifteen pounds to reflect the character's personal decline, and had his hair dyed brown to mask his natural red highlights.
Various actors auditioned for the role of Jesse Pinkman, including Reid Scott, Colin Hanks, and Penn Badgley. However, the audition of Aaron Paul for the character, which he himself said was "awful", called the attention of Gilligan and casting director Dawn Steinberg. When Sony refused to hire Paul on the basis that he didn't look like a meth dealer, Gilligan told them that he wouldn't make the show if Paul wasn't picked for the role. For the role of Hank Schrader, Gilligan spoke with an actual DEA agent to learn more information on the character. Dean Norris, who had a history of being typecast as law enforcement and military-type characters, stated that "I guess you have a certain look, it's kind of an authoritative law enforcement-type look, and that look is certainly the first thing that people cast you with before you get a chance to do some acting."
The script was originally set in Riverside, California, but at the suggestion of Sony, who was producing the pilot, Albuquerque was chosen for production due to the favorable financial conditions offered by the state of New Mexico. Filming for the episode began on March 6, 2007, concluding after several weeks on March 21.
The pilot episode of Breaking Bad received mostly positive reviews, with Barry Garron from The Hollywood Reporter praising the premiere for its suspense, and Jonathan Storm, from The Philadelphia Inquirer, finding it unpredictable. Meanwhile, Robert Bianco of USA Today focused on Bryan Cranston's performance, which he said was "riveting and remarkable", and The A.V. Club journalist Donna Bowman wrote a positive review, giving the episode a grade rating of an "A-", and citing Cranston's "mesmerizing", "nihilistic", and "hulking yet impotent" performance along with lauding Vince Gilligan's screenplay. Furthermore, the Chicago Tribune television critic Maureen Ryan complimented Cranston's role, and noted the premiere as a "slam dunk" compared to the two following episodes. After the series concluded, The Ringer ranked "Pilot" 6th out of all 62 Breaking Bad episodes, where Alison Harman noted that "the addictive hook of the pilot helped power viewers through the couple of seasons it took for Breaking Bad to hit its stride".
In 2013, Gilligan recalled the viewership for the episode being below a million viewers due to a football game that aired at the same time. However, The Hollywood Reporter revealed later in the same year that the pilot had been watched by 1.41 million people instead.
Vulture.com ranked the episode 10th overall.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Nominee(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Primetime Emmy Awards||September 21, 2008||Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series||Bryan Cranston||Won|||
|Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series||Lynne Willingham||Won|
|Outstanding Cinematography for a One Hour Series||John Toll||Nominated|
|Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series||Vince Gilligan||Nominated|
|Writers Guild of America Awards||February 7, 2009||Television: Episodic Drama||Vince Gilligan||Won|||