Breaking Bad wasn’t just one of the most densely plotted and beautifully acted TV series of the last several decades–it was also one of the most visually stylish. It’s gotten its due for that in the past–enough has been said about the episodes that visionaries like Rian Johnson and Michelle MacLaren have directed to fill a hefty pamphlet on the ins and outs of innovative TV directing–but what we haven’t spent much time talking about is how much its distinctive visual identity owes to the distinctive visual identity of a similarly groundbreaking piece of filmmaking that came a good decade before: namely, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
In this video essay from film editor Jorge Luengo Ruiz, the visual parallels between Breaking Bad and Pulp Fiction are put on full display. They include some undeniable nods–more than one shot in Breaking Bad involved putting the camera in the trunk of a car as someone opens it to retrieve a weapon, a shot Tarantino famously used to great effect; and the “heroin spoon to injection to bloody syringe” sequence is hard to argue with–and others that could fairly be characterized as coincidental (Krysten Ritter’s black bangs and bob haircut in season two doesn’t seem like it was necessarily intended to invoke Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction). Still, while you can chalk some details up to coincidence (there are only so many ways to shoot people sitting at a diner booth), anyone who tried to claim that the visual identity of Breaking Bad didn’t owe a great debt to Tarantino’s most famous film would have a pretty hard time making their case after watching Ruiz’s video. But all that really means for those who are invested in defending Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan’s genius is that he–like Jesse Pinkman learning how to cook meth under Walter White–knew well enough to take inspiration from the very best.