The Most Hated Episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ Is About Walter White Catching a Fly
Most fans and critics agree that Breaking Bad was one of the best shows in the history of television. The dramatic series followed high school chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White as his quest for money and power gradually transformed his life. The metamorphosis of mild-mannered, bespectacled Walt into the ruthless murderer Heisenberg is both tragic and captivating.
But even though the series Breaking Bad overall is considered a huge success, there is one episode that fans either call a brilliant masterpiece or a total flop. No one can agree on whether “Fly” is Vince Gilligan at his best — or just a totally lazy cop out in an otherwise exciting season.
Why does everyone have such strong opinions about “Fly?” It’s all about perspective.
‘Fly’ is an episode about nothing
Unlike the spinoff prequel Better Call Saul, one element Breaking Bad thrived on was drama and action. From explosions to narrow escapes and elaborate cover-up schemes, each week audiences were treated to heart-pounding content that left them wanting more.
And that’s precisely why “Fly,” the tenth episode of the third season, was such a shock to fans. The entire episode focuses on Walter White trying to kill a fly that’s trapped inside Gus Fring’s superlab. Walt is going through a bout of insomnia — that could be his conscience catching up with him — and stays up all night coming up with various ways to trap and discard the fly, which could arguably screw up their latest batch of meth.
Jesse arrives and tries to help Walt catch the fly but quickly becomes confused by Walt’s obsession. The two discuss their families. Walt starts confessing to his role in Jane’s death but Jesse is distracted and shortly after, he kills the fly. Finally, Walt falls asleep. The last scene of the episode shows Walt experiencing insomnia again before noticing a fly land on his smoke detector.
Showrunner Vince Gilligan admitted they were trying to save money with ‘Fly’
Though he also defended the episode’s place in the series, Gilligan did admit that one major reason they did “Fly” was because of budgetary restrictions. “We were hopelessly over budget … And we needed to come up with what is called a bottle episode, set in one location,” Gilligan said.
The showrunner explained that by limiting the cast and setting, they were able to save big bucks. But Gilligan was quick to defend the decision from a creative standpoint, too.
“Even if financial realities didn’t enter into it, I feel as a showrunner that there should be a certain shape and pace to each season, and the really high highs that you try to get to at the end of a season — the big dramatic moments of action and violence, the big operatic moments you’re striving for — I don’t think would land as hard if you didn’t have the moments of quiet that came before them,” Gilligan explained.
“The quiet episodes make the tenser, more dramatic episodes pop even more than they usually would just by their contrast.”
Many critics appreciate the subtlety in ‘Fly’
Overall, the critics seemed to accept “Fly” as an episodic masterpiece more than the Breaking Bad audience, who mostly just found it boring. Several critics called it “the best bottle show ever” and others even went so far as to rank it among the top episodes of the entire Breaking Bad series.
Darren Franich from Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Some people despise ‘Fly’ for its artsy pretensions and its go-nowhere plot arc… But we can all agree that ‘Fly’ is one of the great bottle episodes of the new golden age of TV.”
Even those critics who didn’t love the episode at least appreciated the character development. The A.V. Club’s Tasha Robinson wrote that the episode presented “a vision of Walt that did not in any way coincide with the mental image I’d built of him over the course of the series, as a self-justifying, angry man who could be a real badass when required: Instead, we have to see him as irrational and petty to the point of rank stupidity, taking moronic action after action that clearly risks his safety and well-being… all to catch a fly.”