Breaking Bad was a very popular and critically praised series during its reign from 2008-2013. The series is one of the highest rated in the history of television and won several prominent awards. It is known for its deep symbolism with a foundation of moral dilemmas and violence that pull on your heart strings. The main character of the series is a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White with terminal cancer, who had to “break bad” and cook meth in order to set up his family with enough money to survive. The character with the second biggest presence in the show is his former student turned drug dealer, Jesse Pinkman a troubled young adult with a good soul. I chose to review one of the most unique and thematic episodes in the series called ‘The Fly”. This episode’s plot is based around Walt trying to kill a fly that has made its way into his meth lab, and he stops everything he is doing to accomplish this task. This may sound like a mundane plot but there is a much deeper meaning to his motives and expressions, carrying the storyline to a meaningful place.
At this point in the series, Walt has committed a lot of crimes. He has created and distributed narcotics, killed people, deceived ones that he has loved, etc. You can see in this episode the heavyweight of all these crimes put on his shoulders. He has become very stoic and complacent and seems preoccupied with his thoughts. This episode’s story is told in one setting, the meth lab. Jesse and in particular Walt are literally trying to kill a fly for the entire episode. Very rarely do you see any TV show or movie have such little events happen. I praise the writers of this show for creating such a landmark case of storytelling. This episode evoked the ‘less is more’ style in creating a narrative, Ernest Hemingway made popular in writing. There is zero plot development in this episode, no action, and zero expansion in any other aspect. This approach of simplicity makes the story more meaningful, creating richer layers of importance within ordinary actions by the characters. Thus, the killing of the fly was not just killing a pesky insect, it was the trying to clear the conscious of a sinful man. Although he has done evil things, Walter White was not an evil man, he still had a soul. The killing of the fly was him trying to wipe away his conscious and guilty riddled mind. Every time he tried to kill the fly he failed and ended up injuring himself. Which translates to Walt always failing when trying to do the morally right things in his life. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get the motivation to kill the fly out of his mind. Which means no matter how hard he tried, he could never get the pain and guilt of the awful things he has done out of his mind. Jesse eventually kills the fly, but at the episode ends with Walter seeing a new fly.
The production of this episode stood out among the rest of the episodes in the series. It cost the least amount of any episode because it was set in one place the meth lab, required no special effects, and had only two actors in it Bryan Cranston (Walt) and Aaron Paul (Jesse). This episode had a lot of creative use of framing in on Walters’ face in key points showing his pure anguish and misery of wanting to kill the fly (his conscience). At one point the camera was from the point of view of the fly with the sounds effects that a bug would give, which was an extremely creative way to give the viewer a different vision of the story. The color red was used a lot in this episode, in the lab, the color of the floor and the walls are both red, which could symbolize the blood of people Walter has killed. I believe they did a spectacular job with the aesthetic qualities of this episode, literally the most unique thing I have ever seen. The genius to have only two characters, one setting, and no real plot was innovative beyond measure.
Two key values are expressed in this episode for Walter White, they are denial and love. Walt is in denial of the crimes he has committed and the people he has hurt. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions Walt choosing to try to wipe them away and forget them. They say ‘ignorance is bliss” and I believe Walter would rather live by that sentiment that acceptance and forgiveness. Another value we see is the love through friendship that this task gives Walter and Jesse. They get much closer during this episode both trading stories that endear themselves to one another. The fact that Jesse drops everything to help Walter on his mission kill to the fly, shows his strong care and love for Walt. This episode makes them friends not just coworkers and creates a butterfly effect for them in the future saving each other from harm. There was no portrayal of women or minorities, violence, or sexual content in this episode.
Simplicity is what makes this episode a masterpiece. It sets it apart from any other episode I have seen in television, going the path less traveled in every single regard. To only have on set, two characters and no plot development is truly rare. The fly resembled Walter’s guilt over his past crimes, and it will never leave him. Him having some light in him means that he will always try to avoid the inevitable darkness. However, not much plot in this episode the bond between Walt and Jesse exponentially grew. I believe the programs overall quality was a 10/10, yes It is an acquired taste with no action, but the austerity is the real point and art form.