The late, great Breaking Bad was filled with some of contemporary television’s most unbelievably indelible moments. One particularly morbid scene from the show’s Season 2 also managed find a place in the annals of WTF-ism. However, according to a recent comment from one of the show’s writers, the obscenely explosive scene was initially conceived merely as a joke among the staff. Spoilers if you still somehow haven't seen Breaking Bad Season 2
Participating in a Comic-Con panel this past weekend recounted by The Wrap called “Inside the Writers Room,” former Breaking Bad writer Gennifer Hutchison dropped a rather intriguing anecdote about the iconic “turtle” scene in 2009’s Season 2, Episode 7, “Negro y Azul.” The episode revealed that Hank’s complacent criminal informant Tortuga (Danny Trejo) met a brutally poetic death when the slain snitch showed up to a scheduled meet with Hank and his new El Paso DEA colleagues as a decapitated head on the back of a turtle. Theatrics aside, the evil art project was also armed with a bomb, which killed and maimed some of the present company. While Hutchison was not credited for writing that particular episode, she did pitch the idea of the scene in question. As she explains:
It’s funny what you [think] is a bad idea. When I pitched it, someone said, ‘and then it should explode.’ And we laughed about it for two weeks. But the more you think on it, yes, it should explode.
While the initiated viewer might be left wondering what exactly is so funny about an exploding severed head, it may be helped by the context of Trejo’s Tortuga character. In this case, with the writers apparently drawing a blank on an appropriate fate to match the character’s horrendous hubris, a moment that might have been the result of some spitballed, caffeine-inspired insanity yielded the idea of having Tortuga (“turtle”) go out quite literally on his shield...err, shell.
After the initial laughs, it seemed attributing some absurd sadism to the mysterious assailant would be a spectacular way to initiate the story’s necessary escalation. We’d learn the following season by way of flashback that the snappy-dressing Salamanca cousins were responsible for Tortuga’s height adjustment, but at the time of the initial episode, it provided the right amount of mystery about the show’s shadowy figures.
Hutchison’s explanation shows how the creative process is often the result of variables that can’t quite be whittled down to a perfunctory science, as some of the most seemingly absurd ideas can often become the most poignant of moments. In this case, raucous randomness seemed to be responsible for the genesis of this iconic scene, which both manages to shock viewers and up the ante in terms of the continually escalating stakes in Hank’s fight against an array of elusive enemies. For Hank’s new position in El Paso’s DEA branch, this “joke” managed to become an unforgettable “welcome to hell” moment reminding him that the scum of Albuquerque pale in comparison to the deeper recesses of the rogues gallery.