Five Moments of Honesty in Television – Number Four: The Pillow Scene in Breaking Bad
Walter White's behemoth arch in Breaking Bad will perhaps go down as the most complex character development in television history, and that uncanny transformation is attributed to Bryan Cranston's brilliant performance. In just five seasons, viewers witnesses a tender, affable science teacher transform into a vile, loathsome kingpin.
White's metamorphosis is the result of hubris unlike any other, and Cranston's fierce complexity resonates throughout the series. However, underneath all of White's determination and grit lies a dying man's compassion and humanity. Lest the viewer not forget, White's initial reasoning for this titanic transformation is his cancer, a cancer that eats away at his soul.
In this heartbreaking scene from the first season, White's family stages an intervention in which they plead with Walt to treat his cancer with chemotherapy. His wife, Skyler, passes around a Talking Pillow that grants the person in possession permission to speak. When Walt is finally allowed an opportunity to hold the pillow, he declares that he wants a choice, the choice to say no to treatment. What follows is an emotional confession from a broken man never feeling as though he has had a chance to truly live.
Experiencing Walt's sense of humanity and compassion so early on in the series is what drives the viewer to continue rooting for him, even as they witness his vile transformation from protagonist to antagonist. It's a complex performance very few can pull off, but Bryan Cranston carries it with confidence, grace, and ease.
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