Early Breaking Bad Influences

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Breaking Bad: See it if you can handle the violence

Years before Breaking Bad came on the air, there were two shows that were influential in its formation: the Homicide: Life on the Street Subway episode, and the X-Files Drive episode. All three shows are interconnected. Vince Gilligan wrote the X-Files episode of Drive as well as Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan borrowed heavily from Subway to make the X-Files episode Drive, and that in turn was a huge influence on Breaking Bad.

Drive and Subway:

  • The majority of the episode focuses on intense dialogue between one man trying to save another.
  • Lange/Crump are trapped in dire, near-death circumstance.
  • Changing their circumstances puts them in worse danger.
  • Lange/Crump are angry, distrustful and out of control at first.
  • Lange/Crump seem doomed.
  • There is a grotesque element to the plot: exploding head, man pinned under subway.
  • There is a flare of hope right before the tragic end.
  • This is not Lange/Crump’s fault.
  • Police initially aren’t sure who was responsible for the crime.
  • Mulder/Pembleton walk away deeply saddened.

Drive and Breaking Bad:

  • Same intense writing by Vince Gilligan.
  • Crump/White are dying (at least initially, in White’s case).
  • Crump/White are in a race against time.
  • Crump/White are in dire circumstances to save themselves or their families.
  • Crump/White make morally questionable judgments.
  • Crump/White will kill in desperation.
  • Crump/White have an unstoppable energy.

X-Files Drive episode review

Vince Gilligan wrote the X-Files Drive episode as well as Breaking Bad. In Drive, Bryan Cranston plays a man named Crump who is forced to drive west at ever higher speeds lest a vibration in his inner ear cause his head to explode. Mulder had just seen this happen to Crump’s wife, so he is inclined to believe something unusual is going on. However before he can investigate further, Crump takes Mulder hostage and forces him to drive west. It’s a morally questionable judgment that we see echoed in Breaking Bad.

As the Drive episode unfolds we see elements of typical X-Files government conspiracy. A government-based radio transmitter had recently issued a noise near Crump’s home that is likely the cause of the infection. Although Scully was getting closer to a cure, the majority of the episode focused on Mulder’s stressful drive west with Crump. Mulder is sympathetic to the Crump, but Crump starts out extremely distrustful and dangerous. Crump accuses Mulder of being part of the Jewish conspiracy as well as the evil government. Crump is a racist gun-wielding jerk, insisting on being called “Mr” Crump.

Regardless, Mulder goes all out to help this guy. Either because he knows this is Crump’s dying hour, or because he does not want Crump to be the victim of an giant goverment conspiracy, Mulder is nice to him. Mulder does not want this unpleasant man to die. He finds ways of driving west despite several obstacles.

Well, on behalf of the International Jewish Conspiracy I just need to inform you that we’re almost out of gas. Mulder says this gently, as though speaking with a friend. Unable to fill up at the pump quickly enough, Mulder steals a car and continues west with Crump in tow.

One might think there is nothing to like about Crump. However over the course of his dialogue with Mulder, Crump warms up. Crump shares a story of his morning breakfast with his wife. Crump reveals his very human fear of losing his life. We begin to empathize. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, he’s definitely got some good and bad in him.

See it if you don’t mind a little hokey atmosphere

Subtract a few points for predictable government conspiracy