737 Down Over ABQ: ‘Breaking Bad’ and the Power of Dread

by Mike Worby

Breaking Bad is legendary in the television space. It is a show that has a look, feel and quality which is consistently at the top of its game for the entire five season run of the show. Despite the fact that each season has a very different trajectory from the others, one thing that is consistent throughout the show is a feeling of dread. Dread of Walter’s cancer returning, dread of the criminal elements of Albuquerque, and dread of the inevitable consequences of one’s actions.

The sinister mystery element of Breaking Bad‘s second season allow for a special kind of dread to permeate the show.

It is this final dread, the dread of the unknown, that permeates season 2 of Breaking Bad. Beginning with a black and white cold open at the start of the season, and a decidedly contrasted pink teddy bear, showrunner Vince Gilligan built a sense of mysterious and sinister dread that had fans speculating through the entirety of its thirteen episode run.

Three further cold opens were peppered through the season as well, with each one offering a further trickle of new information. The ominous nature of these openings, along with the iconic picture of the scorched pink bear, an obvious child’s toy, left viewers fixated on what would be the source of oncoming horror down the road.

Breaking Bad
The first one, in “737”, only confirms that whatever happened, the police are on their way to the White residence. The second, in “Down”, added the details of hazmat workers combing the residence and collecting evidence, including a pair of glasses that looked strikingly similar to Walt’s. The third, in “Over”, added further gravitas, by panning over two body bags on the driveway. The final one, in “ABQ” gave us a plume of smoke rising above the neighborhood, before fading into the present, telegraphing to the audience that the day they’d been dreading had arrived.

While the premise of Breaking Bad, and the brutal consequences of operating in the drug trade, had already given us plenty of awful circumstances to chew on, it turned out that everything most fans had predicted, from the murder of Walt’s children to a meth lab explosion in his home, had been way off base. Only fans shrewd enough to know the names of the episodes, and piece together the names of the 1st, 4th, 10th and 13th episodes, had even a sniff at predicting the true nature of the disaster: 737 Down Over ABQ.

The truth was, as we all now know, that Walt had inadvertently caused the deaths of hundreds of people through a butterfly effect-like series of events. After allowing Jesse’s girlfriend Jane to die of an overdose, her grief-stricken father had returned to work prematurely in his role as an air traffic controller. When he begins sputtering, and slipping the name of daughter into directions, he fails to notice two planes careening into the danger zone. As Walter looks on in his yard, he witnesses the carnage firsthand, and as the pink bear plummets into his pool, he is forced to look his demons in the face.

There is a near-Shakespearian element to the tragedy, as Walter only allows Jane to die because he thinks it will save Jesse from the certain doom their mutual addiction is forcing him toward. Since Jane got Jesse addicted to heroin, and is egging Jesse into antagonizing Walt for the money he is owed, she is the driving force that may not only get them both killed, but also jeopardize Walt’s freedom as well. He weeps as he allows her to die, and then is forced to face the unintended disaster he created as a result. He has become monstrous, and must look upon the carnage that his monstrous alter ego, the villainous Heisenberg, has wrought.

This horrendous tragedy is added a further flavor of poetic irony when you consider that Walter had a chance encounter with Jane’s dad in a bar, where they both ruminated about their troubled charges, not knowing that the two were related to one another. Facts such as these eventually allow Walt, and others, to piece together how and why the deaths of so many occurred, though only Walt is forced to live with the terrible guilt of what his actions inevitably caused.

The red herring nature, and the sinister mystery element of Breaking Bad‘s second season, allow for a special kind of dread to permeate the show. While other seasons would encapsulate and further their own agendas of suspense related to oncoming events, none match the tone, pacing and sheer shock of season two.

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