[Spoiler Alert: Only read if you have finished all seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad]
The last episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad has long since aired and the show’s entirety is now available for purchase and streaming, so it’s as good a time as any to remember the art of the show so you can go back and appreciate some of it. One of the most impressive aspects of Breaking Bad’s fifth and final season was that, before the episode aired, we still didn’t know exactly where the show was going. That question became a talking point for fans everywhere because of two flash-forward opening scenes in the last season that established an older, grittier Walt (Bryan Cranston) seemingly returning to New Mexico to settle the score.
That technique — called a “cold open” — is something the Breaking Bad writers have used in the past, but none have garnered the same kind of interest as in the fifth season. A cold open, sometimes called a teaser, is the technique of jumping directly into a scene before a show’s title sequence is shown; it is usually used in an attempt to immediately immerse the audience in the story before viewers might feel the need to change the channel. But for Breaking Bad, the cold open has become one of the show’s most interesting and creative features.
In the last season of Breaking Bad, the flash-forward cold opens establish the direction of the series but in no way revealed enough to say for sure what would ultimately happen in the shows resolution. Even before the last two episodes aired, we only had a glimpse of where the show would likely take us.
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In the first of the fifth season’s two flash-forwards, a year elapsed from the “current” events of the series, and a scruffy-looking Walt bought an M60 from a gun dealer. In the second of the two openings, Walt returned to his old home, which was then dilapidated and ruined, and retrieves the ricin he hid in his room behind the electrical socket. Both cold opens gave the viewers clues about where it was all going, but not enough to connect the dots — at least, not then.
Of course, if you look back at the entire series now that the show has aired its final episode, it becomes clear how much time and care the writers have given to the art of cold opens and openings in general. Here are five great opening scenes from five seasons of Breaking Bad.
Season 1: “Pilot”
The first episode of Breaking Bad established the plot structure the show’s creators would come back to throughout the series. The episode opens with landscape shots of the New Mexico desert before cutting to a pair of brown trousers falling from the sky and a speeding RV, driven by Walt, running over them. After Walt drives the RV into a ditch, he quickly records a last message to his family on a video camera before taking his gun and pointing it down the road in the direction of approaching sirens. Cut to the Breaking Bad title sequence.
Even though the first season of Breaking Bad isn’t held in as high esteem as some of the later seasons of the show, Breaking Bad writers still found a way to get curious viewers hooked on the story right off the bat. By throwing viewers right into the episode’s climax before rewinding and showing the events that led up to it, the writers made it clear that this was a show to watch because of its unique blend of action, humor, and dark content.
In later seasons, the technique of introducing viewers to the destructive aftermath of the episode before working backwards became one of Breaking Bad’s most interesting features.
Season 2: “Seven Thirty-Seven” and Others
The cold open in the first episode of Season Two, “Seven Thirty-Seven,” indicated to Breaking Bad viewers that that something very bad was going to happen in the new season. Shot in high-contrast black and white, the opening images slowly revealed that something terrible has happened at Walt’s home: a stuffed animal’s eye floats through the pool; the sounds of sirens grow closer; and, finally, a startlingly pink teddy bear submerged in the pool gradually turns toward us to reveal a half-burnt face (an image and idea that has persisted throughout the series.)
Needless to say, the cold opening made a big impression on Breaking Bad viewers, who rightly believed that Walt and Jesse were in huge danger in the second season. As the season continued, Breaking Bad writers revealed more of the scene, which grew to include on-site responders, evidence bags, broken car windows, and two body bags. These recurring images, especially the half-burnt, pink teddy bear, became the season’s biggest subject of debate as fans tried to predict where Walt would end up.
Breaking Bad’s writers structured the plot of the entire season before filming, allowing them to tease the conclusion of Season Two without revealing too much information. The damage to Walt’s house is ultimately revealed to be the result of a plane crash over Albuquerque, New Mexico, that Walt has inadvertently caused through his actions.
Season 3: “No Más”
The third season of Breaking Bad had fans buzzing after the first images in the season opener revealed a sun-soaked Mexican village with a large group of people crawling through the dirt streets. It gets even more interesting when a Mercedes drives up to the village, attracting glances from village residents as the car stops and two ominous-looking fellows get out. Donning expensive suits and boots tipped with silver skulls, the two get on their hands and knees and follow the others to a small shrine of Santa Muerte, the Mexican Saint of Death, and the camera pans to show us a sketch of Walt.
While season two had plenty of close calls for Walt and Jesse, the first episode of season three establishes just how dangerous the situation had gotten for Walt. The two assassins seen crawling through the dirt in the season opener weave through the third season’s plot, leading to a stunning conclusion in the seventh episode, called “One Minute.” But for Walt, the assassins are a smaller fish to fry when compared to his new business with Gus Fring.
Season 4: “Bullet”
The fourth season of Breaking Bad has a number of great opening scenes, but one of the best involves everyone’s favorite clean-up guy, Mike, as he sits in the back of a refrigerated truck to protect it from hijacks. Sure enough, when the cartel stops the truck and unloads multiple machine guns into the back, where Mike is hiding, he’s still somehow able to get the upper hand, shooting the two cartel soldiers and escaping unscathed — almost. As Mike walks away from the truck, he lifts his snow hat to reveal that the tip of his ear nearly was shot off, and simply gives an annoyed sigh.
Besides being the sentimental pick following the most recent season’s turn of events, the opening to “Bullet” also further established Mike as being one of the coolest, baddest members of Breaking Bad. Featuring beautiful cinematography and a gritty, silent performance by actor Jonathan Banks, the opening of this episode is one of many scenes in the series that made Mike one of Breaking Bad’s most popular characters.
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Season 5: “Dead Freight”
Aside from the fantastic openers from the fifth season, where Walt is shown to be one year older and arming himself with an M60 machine gun, no opening had more power than the first scene in “Dead Freight.” The episode begins with various shots of a young boy motorbiking across an empty desert landscape. He slows to a stop and walks over to a tarantula, producing a glass jar to capture it. Then, as he places the jar back in his pocket and gets back on the motorbike, he hears a train in the distance and starts his bike off toward the sound.
One of the reasons the opening to “Dead Freight” is so good is because it sneaks up to you in the final scene and remains sadly prophetic in subsequent viewings. Given that the train heist sequence later in the episode was one of the most exciting moments of the series, the reveal of the boy is as shocking as it gets, even before Todd takes it upon himself to fix things. Subsequent viewings may elicit an entirely different response given that viewers then know the fate of the boy — and the distant sound of a train suddenly becomes ominous and sinister.
Check out every Breaking Bad cold open from seasons two through four below and let us know what your favorite opening scenes are from the series.
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