This is a rewatch, so be prepared that spoilers will land with all the romance of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
An RV is ripping across the Arizona desert, driven by Walter Hartwell White (Bryan Cranston), who’s wearing nothing but his underwear, shoes, and a gasmask. Slumped forward on the dashboard, in the passenger seat, is a second individual, also sporting a mask. In the back of the RV, there are two bodies sliding about the floor like dead fish in a shallow pool of meth-lab chemicals, as broken glass and other paraphernalia swirl around them. With his gasmask fogging up, Walter crashes along the roadside. He stumbles out of the side door and throws off the mask, gasping for breath. In the distance, sirens are screaming, closing in on him. He hurriedly leaves a video message for his family, then stands in the middle of the road, arm outstretched with a handgun aimed at what’s coming.
It’s hard to imagine a more appropriately—excuse the pun—combustible opening to a series that’s now widely regarded as one of the finest in television history. The desperation in Cranston’s expressions is palpable as he fumbles with the recording device to set the record straight for his family. It’s the scene of a man, alone and troubled, driven to brutal acts of violence that his conscience denounces but are inevitable. Listen for the break in his voice as his hand covers the lens, finding it hard to tell his son that life is coming to an end. No mistaking it, Breaking Bad digs deep into the human motivation of a man on the brink of chaos. After the title credits (which ingeniously highlights letters from the periodic table of elements), the pilot jumps back three weeks to show the gradual unravelling of Walter, his questionable decisions, and the consequences that bring him to standing in his tighty-walter-whiteys in the blistering heat.