Analysis of Breaking Bad

Summary Breaking Bad is a story that follows the life of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is unhappy with his life. He is struggling with his daily routine, including dealing with personal tensions and temptations. After receiving a diagnosis of stage 3 multiple myeloma, he becomes distressed and starts making bad decisions. Walter decides to make meth with his former student, Jesse, to support his family after he dies. They set up a meth lab in an abandoned Winnebago and cook high-grade meth. Their first sale goes wrong, leading to Dupree's accidental concussion and Krazy-8's death. Throughout, Walter faces challenges while trying to hide his new criminal life from his family and the police.


Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The story has an interesting premise, with a unique and unexpected opening scene that grips the viewer's attention. The script incorporates strong character development, showcasing Walter's mundane life and his desperation for a change. The stakes are high, the tension is palpable, and the action is intense, all of which keep the viewer engaged. However, some of the scenes fall short, and the screenplay could benefit from tighter pacing and better pacing. There are some structural issues that need to be addressed that impair the narrative flow.
Suggestions: The script would benefit from some structural and timing changes to improve the pacing issues. Reducing the number of mundane and slow scenes and focusing on the primary plot would also help the story. The characters are well developed, but they need to be more fully explored to make the viewer empathize more with them. Some of the dialogue needs further attention, and the narrative would benefit from some more visual storytelling. These changes would help improve the overall quality of the script.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:

Walter Jr.

Walter Jr. is a complex character who goes through multiple stages of personal development throughout the movie. As a teenager struggling with cerebral palsy, he faces unique challenges that often isolate him from his peers. However, he possesses a strong will to overcome his difficulties and maintain a positive outlook on life. He has a close relationship with his father and uncle, both of whom he idolizes and looks up to. Walter Jr. has a keen interest in pop culture and frequently watches violent movies, which reflects his desire to escape from reality and live vicariously through fictional characters. Despite his shortcomings, Walter Jr. is a resilient individual who displays a great deal of courage and strength in the face of adversity.



Walt

Walt is a formerly mild-mannered chemistry teacher who, after a cancer diagnosis, turns to cooking and selling meth to provide for his family. He is highly knowledgeable and meticulous when it comes to cooking meth, acting as if he were a scientist. He is also secretive and unpredictable, willing to take risks and defy societal norms. Although his motivations are complex, he is driven by a desire to provide for his family and assert control over his life.



Skyler

Skyler is a woman in her mid-thirties, who is currently pregnant with her second child. She is a devoted wife but is often at odds with her husband, Walt. One of her primary concerns is propriety, and she places great importance on social norms. Despite her desire to present a perfect image to the outside world, she is struggling with her husband's recent changes in personality and growing secrecy. She wants to support him, but she also feels frustrated and conflicted.



Dupree

Dupree is a complex character who has gone through various phases throughout the movie. Initially, he is a paranoid and anxious man on the run. As he enters the drug trade, he becomes a street-wise meth cook who is skeptical of Walt's abilities. He is curious about their drug operation and eventually becomes more respectful towards Walt's expertise. Dupree is seen as reckless and impulsive, and he often puts himself and Walt in danger. Despite this, he grows increasingly reliant and loyal to Walt throughout the movie. Although hesitant at first, he becomes a committed partner in crime who is awed by Walt's skill. In the end, he suffers a concussion during a chase with Emilio, but continues to follow Walt in their drug operations.



Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Walter Jr. Walter Jr.'s character arc begins with him being a typical, rebellious teenager who struggles with his disability. However, as he becomes more involved in his father's drug business, he starts to mature and develop a sense of responsibility. He realizes the danger that his family is in and begins to take measures to protect them, even going so far as to use his disability as a means of gaining sympathy from potential foes. Although he initially struggles with the ethical implications of his actions, he ultimately comes to accept his role in the family business and becomes a pivotal player in the final season. While Walter Jr.'s involvement in the drug business adds an interesting layer of complexity to his character, it also feels somewhat contrived and forced. Additionally, his character arc lacks a clear sense of direction and purpose, which can make it difficult for the audience to fully engage with his journey.
To improve Walter Jr.'s character arc, it may be beneficial to focus more on his personal growth and development outside of the drug business. This could involve exploring his relationship with his disability and how it shapes his identity, as well as his struggles with fitting in and finding his place in the world. Additionally, giving him a more defined goal or motivation could help to give his arc a sense of purpose and direction.
Walt Walt's arc begins with the shock of his cancer diagnosis and his initial reluctance to enter the drug trade. However, as he becomes more involved, he becomes increasingly confident and ambitious, taking on more risks and breaking more rules. His actions have unintended consequences, leading to conflicts with his family and dangerous enemies. He eventually realizes that he has become a monster and tries to make amends, but his past catches up with him and he meets a tragic end. While Walt's transformation from mild-mannered teacher to drug lord is compelling, his arc feels rushed at times and his motivations are sometimes unclear. Additionally, his treatment of his wife and partner, Skyler, at times feels cruel and unnecessary.
To improve Walt's arc, more attention could be given to his inner struggle as he navigates his diagnosis and newfound criminal enterprise. His actions could also be more closely tied to the emotional toll of his illness, rather than just a desire for power and control. Finally, his relationships with other characters could be explored in greater depth, particularly his complex dynamic with Skyler.
Skyler Over the course of the movie, Skyler's character arc centers around her relationship with Walt and her struggle to come to terms with his transformation into a criminal mastermind. Initially, she is largely in the dark about Walt's double life and is consumed with practical concerns such as their finances and household bills. As she becomes more aware of Walt's actions and begins to understand his motivations, she experiences a range of emotions, from hurt and anger to love and acceptance. In the end, she ultimately decides to align herself with Walt and even becomes complicit in his criminal activities, demonstrating her evolution from a cautious and conventional wife into a willing participant in her husband's illegal schemes. The character arc itself is well-constructed and develops Skyler's character in interesting ways. However, it could benefit from more nuance and complexity. Skyler's transformation from a conventional wife to a criminal accomplice feels a bit too sudden and convenient, and it would be more compelling if there were more moments of conflict and tension between her and Walt as she grapples with the moral implications of his choices. Additionally, Skyler's character could benefit from more agency and a clearer motivation for her actions - at times, she feels more like a passive observer of Walt's story rather than a fully-realized character in her own right.
To improve the character arc, it could be useful to explore Skyler's backstory and motivations in more depth. What drives her desire for propriety and social norms? What are her own goals and desires beyond being a good wife and mother? Additionally, the story could benefit from more scenes that focus on Skyler's inner emotional life and her internal struggles as she reconciles her love for Walt with her growing horror at his criminal actions. Finally, incorporating more narrative tension and conflict between Skyler and Walt could help make her transformation feel more organic and less abrupt.
Dupree Dupree's character arc is one of growth and transformation. At the beginning of the movie, he is a paranoid man on the run with no direction in life. As he enters the drug trade, he becomes more confident and assertive. He is initially skeptical of Walt's abilities but starts to take the process more seriously once he sees Walt's expertise. His loyalty to Walt grows stronger throughout the movie, even after suffering a concussion during a chase with Emilio. By the end of the movie, Dupree has transformed into a committed partner in crime, who is still reckless but has a newfound respect for Walt's abilities. The character arc for Dupree is well-developed and shows a clear transformation from a paranoid man on the run to a committed partner in crime. However, his recklessness and impulsive behavior could have been explored in more depth to provide insight into his motivations. Additionally, his loyalty to Walt could have been explained in more detail to give a better understanding of their dynamic.
To improve the character arc for Dupree, it would have been helpful to explore his recklessness and impulsive behavior in more detail. This could have been achieved by giving more backstory on his past experiences or motivations. Additionally, having more scenes that show the dynamic between Dupree and Walt could have provided a more in-depth understanding of their relationship. Overall, the character arc for Dupree is well-developed, but with some minor adjustments, it could have been even more impactful.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
MortalityWalt receives a devastating diagnosis that sends him into a state of shock and disbelief.The theme of mortality is paramount in this screenplay as Walter, a character who is a symbol of mundane life, is forced to face his mortality.
DesperationWalt resorts to selling meth to provide for his family after his diagnosis.The theme of desperation is central to this screenplay as Walt turns to illegal activity despite his morals and ethics to provide for his family.
GuiltWalt struggles with guilt after stealing supplies from the school's chemistry lab.The theme of guilt is evident in this screenplay as Walt struggles with the moral implications of his decisions.
Family dynamicsWalt's mundane life is characterized by his family's pressure on him, and he resorts to selling meth to provide for them.Family dynamics drive Walt's motivations in this screenplay, as his family's pressure is one of the primary reasons he turns to a life of crime.
Self-doubtWalt is struggling with self-doubt while dealing with his unfulfilling job and family obligations.Self-doubt is a recurring theme in this screenplay, as Walt is a character who is unsure of his role in life and his purpose.
CrimeWalt delves into the criminal underworld, starting off as a supplier of drugs.The theme of crime is explicit in this screenplay, as Walter delves deeper into the criminal underworld to secure his family's future.
EscapismWalt attempts to escape his mundane life by watching movies.The theme of escapism is present in this screenplay as Walt tries everything to escape from his humdrum life.
Terminal illnessWalt is diagnosed with a terminal illness, forcing him to face his mortality.The theme of terminal illness is pervasive in this screenplay, as Walt's actions are triggered by his diagnosis and his need to provide for his family before he dies.



Screenwriting Resources on Themes

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Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

YouTube Videos

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Story, Plot, Genre, Theme - Screenwriting Basics Screenwriting basics - beginner video
What is theme Discussion on ways to layer theme into a screenplay.
Thematic Mistakes You're Making in Your Script Common Theme mistakes and Philosophical Conflicts
Goals and Philosophical Conflict
internal Goals The protagonist's internal goal is to leave behind evidence that will protect his family once he is caught by the authorities. He also seeks a sense of purpose and fulfillment, as well as excitement and fulfillment outside of his mundane life.
External Goals The protagonist's external goal is to evade the authorities and maintain his false identity as a drug enforcement agent. He also aims to provide for his family financially through his involvement in the meth industry.
Philosophical Conflict The overarching philosophical conflict revolves around the morality of Walt's actions and his shifting moral compass as he becomes increasingly involved in the drug trade. It challenges his sense of right and wrong, as well as his beliefs and values.


Character Development Contribution: These goals and conflicts contribute to the character's development by forcing him to question his values, make difficult decisions, and confront his fears. They push him out of his comfort zone and lead to significant personal growth and transformation.

Narrative Structure Contribution: The goals and conflicts shape the narrative structure by creating tension, raising stakes, and driving the plot forward. They introduce obstacles and challenges for the protagonist to overcome, creating a compelling and dynamic storyline.

Thematic Depth Contribution: The goals and conflicts add thematic depth to the screenplay by exploring profound questions about morality, identity, and the human condition. They delve into the consequences of one's actions and the complexities of navigating ethical dilemmas.


Screenwriting Resources on Goals and Philosophical Conflict

Articles

Site Description
Creative Screenwriting How Important Is A Character’s Goal?
Studio Binder What is Conflict in a Story? A Quick Reminder of the Purpose of Conflict

YouTube Videos

Title Description
How I Build a Story's Philosophical Conflict How do you build philosophical conflict into your story? Where do you start? And how do you develop it into your characters and their external actions. Today I’m going to break this all down and make it fully clear in this episode.
Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great By Michael Arndt: I put this lecture together in 2006, when I started work at Pixar on Toy Story 3. It looks at how to write an "insanely great" ending, using Star Wars, The Graduate, and Little Miss Sunshine as examples. 90 minutes
Tips for Writing Effective Character Goals By Jessica Brody (Save the Cat!): Writing character goals is one of the most important jobs of any novelist. But are your character's goals...mushy?