SSP004 Breaking Down Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a masterwork in storytelling. In this episode, Johnny, Sean, and Dave talk about the importance of story structure. They break down how the first episode Breaking Bad:

  • Sets up the protagonist’s character arc
  • Gives a sense of inevitability
  • Tells a confident story

If you have Netflix, you can watch the first episode of Breaking Bad here:
The time markers in the notes correlate with the podcast, not the Breaking Bad episode.

  • (14:18) In the opening scene we start with Walt in trouble. The cops are coming. He records a video for his family. Walt runs out to meet the cops in his underwear with a gun.

Starting State:

  • (15:20) Flashback to three weeks earlier and how it leads to the that moment. Walt’s life is mundane, he has little power or control over his life, and he feels emasculated.
  • (16:43) At school we see more of what his life is like. The scene uses the definition of chemistry to show the theme of the show. We see him being treated with disrespect by the students.
  • (18:28) Walt works at a car wash after his job teaching kids, reinforcing his powerlessness, and feelings of being undervalued.
  • (19:20) Walt drives home and struggles with the simplest things in life. A surprise birthday party is waiting for him when he arrives. We see he feels powerless and emasculated through his interaction with Hank. The seed of an idea is planted, followed by a lack-luster hand job.

Inciting Incident:

  • (22:41) Walt finds out he has cancer.
  • (23:44) Walt’s first taste of control and first act of defiance occurs when he’s asked to do something at the car wash that represents everything he hates about his life. He refuses and quits.
  • (24:58) Walt tells Hank he wants to do the ride along.

Plot Turn 1:

  • (25:28) During the ride-along, we meet Jesse and see how Walt responds to another taste of power when he realizes that he knows something Hank doesn’t.
  • (28:12) Walt confronts Jesse and makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
  • (31:40) Skyler and Marie’s relationship is presented, and Walt steals supplies from the High School.

Pinch Point 1:

  • (32:05) Walt and Jesse need to find a place to cook.
  • (35:52) Jesse uses the name of the show in dialogue.
  • (36:44) Walt buys an RV to cook in.


  • (36:58) Second act of defiance. Walt is helping his son buy jeans and kids are making fun of him. Walt attacks one kid in a rage.
  • (38:36) Walt and Jesse are in the desert with the RV and Jesse sees how great Walt’s cooking skills are.
  • (39:06) Walt and Jesse needs to find who to sell the drugs to. We meet Crazy 8 and Emilio.

Pinch Point 2:

  • (40:53) Walt is cooking when Jesse brings Crazy 8 and Emilio to meet him. Emilio recognizes Walt from the ride-along with Hank and suggests killing them. Walt strikes a deal: he’ll teach them how to cook like him if they let him live.
  • (41:30) Walt tells Emilio to put out his cigarette. He flicks out the window of the RV where it lands in dry grass. Walt mixes two toxic chemicals and traps the two inside to die. The cigarette catches fire.

Plot Turn 2:

  • (43:06) Walt puts a mask on Jesse and drives the RV away from the fire. He gets the RV stuck, so he gets out with the gun and we arrive at the point where we started. He sees it’s not the cops coming, but the fire department. The fire trucks pass them by.


  • (44:37) Walt goes home, cleans the money, and gets in bed with his wife. When his wife asks what happened, he instead makes love to her, asserting himself like he hadn’t before and feeling powerful.

Are you wondering what the ever-growing demand for superb storytelling skills means for your future? Check out our latest interview as Johnny and Sean dive deep into that question in “Storytelling Is the Future: How to Build On Your Self-Publishing Success.”
Download the interview from the info box or show notes in YouTube or head over to

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