“Breaking Bad” illustrates the consequences of violence

Vince Gilligan created AMC’s multi-Emmy-winning series “Breaking Bad,” about a former school teacher who turns to a life of crime when he is diagnosed with a fatal illness. The show, which bowed in January 2008, will conclude its final season this year.

“In a realistic depiction, there are con­sequences to every vio­lent action.”

Violence has always been a component of our show. We try to think through these violent moments in great detail — emotionally as well as logistically. And though we intend for them to strike a deep chord with the audience, we never mean to sensationalize them.

When it comes to depictions of violence in entertainment, it seems to me they exist in two basic forms. One is the realistic portrayal, in which there are consequences to every violent action. The other is the cartoony version, where the moment is meant to play as funny or simply cool. For instance, there’s the scene we’ve all watched a thousand times in old movies and TV shows where the hero shoots someone dead, then makes a funny quip and goes on with his day. Admittedly, I’ve written such scenes throughout my career, and may do so again in the future. But I see how a lifetime of that goofy fake stuff could tend to desensitize viewers to the real thing.

When we conceived of “Breaking Bad,” we wanted to create characters who were in the process of changing. In a sense, our show is about how life — and the problems and choices it throws at us — can slowly morph us as individuals. For the most part, the violence in the story is intended to have a transforming effect on our characters.

Popular on Variety

We work in a writers’ room and the storytelling is a group effort. We go over every step of the script, beat by beat, point by point, and discuss in great detail what the characters are feeling — their hopes, their fears, their goals and obstacles — throughout the episode. That process applies to the bloody scenes as well. We consider what happens to our characters after an incident of violence. It doesn’t matter whether they were dealing it or being dealt it: We figure there will always be repercussions, consequences to the violent act, for everyone involved. How does it darken them? How does it affect their feelings and behavior from that point onward? These are questions we ask ourselves.

When filming scenes of violence, there’s always a meat-and-potatoes component to the planning. Where do we place the squib? Where should the body fall? A lot of it comes down to choreography, to “dance steps,” as it were. But there’s another element, as well. Violence and high emotions go hand-in-hand — and any emotional moment needs to be discussed thoroughly with our actors so that they can figure out how to play it. Often, they help us writers understand how it needs to be played.


More Voices

  • Oscar Statue Oscars Placeholder

    Oscars 2020 Predictions: Who Will Get Nominated?

    The Oscar race is on. And it’s about to get a lot more intense when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the nominations for the 92nd Oscars on Jan. 13. Golden Globes shutout “The Irishman” is favored to earn several nods, as will “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which went home [...]

  • Golden Globes Analysis Oscar Race

    Why Golden Globes Will Likely Have Little Effect on Oscar Nominations (Column)

    With the Globes now behind us and Oscar noms rapidly approaching on Jan. 13, what should we be paying attention to in Hollywood’s biggest film awards race? Surefire bets are Globe winners Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), who already has one Oscar, and Brad Pitt, who should garner his third acting nomination for his work in Quentin [...]

  • Renee Zellweger "Judy" Pathe

    Golden Globes Predictions: Who Will Win in the Film Categories?

    With the Golden Globes just around the corner, there’s only one thing that seems inevitable: Renée Zellweger will win for best actress in the drama category when the awards are handed out on Jan. 5. Besides that, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. can go in so many different directions, as the Globes are arguably the [...]

  • Joe Talbot Jimmie Fails Last Black

    Want a Career in the Arts? Build a Community (Guest Column)

    Last November, 400,000 writers from around the world agreed to spend a month with their friends writing novels. They met in libraries and cafés, cheered on by 1,000 volunteers. One writer, a 20-year-old college student, recently signed a two-book publishing deal. Previous novelists have had their books turned into Hollywood movies. And it wasn’t just [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Can 'Little Women' Recover for Oscars After SAG Nominations Shutout?

    Where in the world was “Little Women”? That was the big question this morning when the 2020 SAG Award nominations were announced. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel was completely shut out by Wednesday’s nominations. It comes on the heels of “Little Women” snagging just two Golden Globe noms for Saoirse Ronan for lead [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    Golden Globes: Six Things to Know About the Film Nominations

    Most of Monday morning’s Globe nominations didn’t come as a big surprise. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” have been ruling awards season – their many nominations were expected. But Globe wins don’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold — about half of best pic wins have been in sync [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content