The Art Of The Tease: The Best Breaking Bad Cold Opens
Of the many, many brilliant things about Breaking Bad, the cold opens might be the show's most impressive aspect. Possibly the best of any series ever. Seriously. Not only are the AMC drug drama's before the title teasers wonderfully written, they also often contain some of the most inventive and, well, fun direction on television. For lack of a better word, the cold opens are the place where Vince Gilligan and company (his fellow writers and directors) get to experiment, and the result is of a quality as pure as their protagonist's product. Although the cold opens highlighted here (and in the compilation videos embedded below) are from later years, Breaking Bad has had a commitment to making the opening sequence something special from the very beginning, whether it was the in media res flash-forward to start the entire series or the jarring jumps in time in the first season finale.
As the show progressed, the teasers got even more daring with the best being enjoyable as standalone short films (of sorts) yet also remaining integral to the AMC drama's narrative and/or themes. I could literally go through each and every episode's cold open and explain one by one why it's special and (how they aren't just audacious but also) perfectly set up the episode or season's storyline as well as let the audience make some of the same deductive leaps as Walt. For example - SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY - the pre-title sequence of "Hermanos" (Season 4, Episode 8) not only foreshadows Max's death at Hector's hands with a quick shot of blood in the water, it also made the coming flashback of Gus' drug dealing origins that much more intense. You knew something was coming. Hitchcock would approve.
There are several other openings that do the same great job of putting audiences on the edge of their seats and/or advance the show through non-linear storytelling (like the black and white plane crash thread in Season 2, Tuco's crazy cousins dominating S3 OR the mysterious B-Day flash-forward that opened S5) but, as I said before, my favourites are the ones that can function on their own. I love the cold opens that work as short (or little experimental) films and the extended sequence that starts "Better Call Saul" (Season 2, Episode 8) is a great example of the first scene functioning like a one act play. Badger getting busted after being so sure the buyer was a cop is one of my favorite scenes from the series that showcases Breaking Bad's signature absurdist humor and deserves (honorable) mention but still not 'special' enough to make my final four. WIthout further adieu...
"Negro Y Azul"
The four videos pretty much speak for themselves but I will add a few words about why I think these particular cold opens are extra-special. This narcocorrido parody from the seventh episode of the second season isn't as ridiculous as it seems at first glance even though it did leave me chuckling just like a good telenovela. I know they're 'dramas.' I didn't know that these music videos were a real thing until I stumbled across AMC's 'Making Of' Featurette for "Negro Y Azul" and it only made me love the opening sequence even more. But the tribute to Heisenberg isn't just some bit of fun, it also serves a narrative and thematic purpose as an inventive way to inform the audience that both the blue meth and his legend had crossed the border (and the cartel). We all know how important reputation and empire building are to Walt.
The next cold open that caught my eye as out of the norm (and again, this for a show where there are almost all out of the norm) was the pre-title sequence for "Kafkaesque." Like the previous entry, the beginning of ninth episode of the third season also has a spoof element to it, starting as a commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos proper before going behind the scenes of the business to show where the drugs go once Walt and Jesse finish a cook. The Pollos commercial is one of many parodies of non-national advertising that appears on the show and the Better Call Saul ad from, well, "Better Call Saul" is also a favourite. It also reminds me of Gale's karaoke video. But neither are in the cold open. The beginning of "Kafkaesque" also isn't just a silly throwaway, since it shows the process and several important upcoming settings, most notably the trucks that will soon be ambushed.
"Fly" is one of the most fascinating Breaking Bad's period. The tenth installment of the third season (yep, the episode after the previous entry on the list) finds Walt obsessing over the presence of a contaminant in the lab, the titular fly, and then convincing a reluctant Jesse to join in his ridiculous and futile pursuit of the pest. The bottle episode was directed by Rian Johnson (writer-director of Looper) and it opens with one of the most abstract cold opens in the show's entire run. I can't tell if we're witnessing the 'birth' of the fly or what but the symbol of decay has become a motif with insects (flies in particular) being featured in several installments. Oh, and the addition of the lullaby, "Hush, Little Baby," makes it all the more creepy. And memorable. I can't wait to see Johnson's episode this season. It's titled "Ozymandias" and is likely to pick up on the same themes.
My favourite cold open of the entire series comes only two episodes after the last entry, meaning that the tail-end of Season 3 is stacked full of special opening sequences. That's three of four, not a bad streak. The teaser for "Half Measure" is also a spoof, this time depicting local prostitute (and Jesse's friend) Wendy as the star of her own sitcom, complete with a catchy theme song. In a stunning and original fashion, the short sequence reintroduces (as well as catches us up with) a Breaking Bad character that had been long absent from the show before hinting at why she's been brought back. Once again the seed is planted for the rest of the episode and done so in a way that we've never seen before. Black humor, visual flair and creeping realizations. Okay. You twisted my arm. Here are (almost all) the rest cause they're pretty rad. See you in two hours...
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