The Writers Guild of America strike in 2007 saved Breaking Bad from making some huge mistakes with the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston). The 2007 WGA strike lasted for 100 days, and current estimates suggest that the 2023 strike could last just as long, if not longer. One of the WGA’s demands is that writers get better royalty payments from streaming services like Netflix. The streaming service was key to Breaking Bad‘s success outside of America, and desire to see Vince Gilligan’s seminal crime drama drove a lot of Netflix’s early subscriptions. It’s fair to say that without writers like Gilligan, Netflix simply wouldn’t have built their huge customer base. However, during the first WGA strike, Breaking Bad had only just begun its journey to attaining legendary status.
Breaking Bad‘s journey could have been very different if the WGA hadn’t walked out in 2007. There’s an urban myth that the time afforded to Vince Gilligan by the strike convinced him not to kill off Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in Breaking Bad season 1. However, Gilligan later confirmed that he had already made that decision prior to industrial action being called, but the strike did change the outcome of two other plot points that the Breaking Bad writers’ room were considering. These two potnetially huge moments could have completely changed the trajectory of Walter White’s story had the 2007 WGA strike never happened.
The 2007 Writers’ Strike Gave Breaking Bad More Time To Plan
The 2007 WGA strike meant that Breaking Bad was abruptly curtailed after only seven episodes were shot. This meant that the episode “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” was the de facto finale to Breaking Bad season 1. In the context of the wider story, the episode works well as an understated conclusion to Breaking Bad season 1 because it introduced the blue meth that will guarantee Walter’s infamy. However, had the strike not gone ahead, the Breaking Bad writers’ room were considering some big moments with which to end season 1.
The additional time given by the strike meant that the writers had more time to think about where they would take Walter’s story, and the fruits of these discussions can be seen when season 2 picked up the story of Walter and Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz). Kidnapping Walter and Jesse, Tuco was eventually killed by Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), a fatal shooting which began a story that would humanize the brash DEA agent. Before the strike, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould had conceived of two other ways to develop the Tuco storyline, and each story idea would have run the risk of Walter’s family discovering his Heisenberg identity far too early.
Breaking Bad’s Original Season 1 Cliffhanger Would Have Ruined Walter White
Two of the abandoned ideas for Breaking Bad‘s season 1 finale were later outlined in Alan Sepinwall’s book Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion. Rather than Tuco holding Walt and Jesse prisoner in the home he shared with Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), the drug lord would have taken more direct action to deal with Walter White. One potential plot line for the end of Breaking Bad season 1 would have seen Tuco and his men invade Walter’s home, which would have revealed his Heisenberg alter-ego to his wife Skyler White (Anna Gunn).
Walter’s disappearance at the start of Breaking Bad season 2 does ultimately lead to Skyler realizing her husband’s dark secrets, however his imprisonment by Tuco is far easier to explain away than a home invasion would have been. It’s hard to see where the show would have gone from there after introducing danger into the White household so early in the story. Furthermore, bringing the Salamancas into the White’s home would have quickly raised the suspicions of Hank and the DEA, making it almost impossible for Walter to continue his criminal enterprise undetected.
Another plan for the original ending for Breaking Bad season 1 was Walter witnessing Tuco murder Hank’s DEA partner Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). It would certainly have been an interesting test of whether Walter was cut out for this new criminal lifestyle. Walter helping Hank find Steve’s killer would have unmasked him as Heisenberg, or it would have forced him to get incredibly creative. Perhaps Walter would have manipulated Jesse into reaching out to Hank with the intel that would ultimately lead the DEA agent to avenging his partner’s death.
How Breaking Bad Could Have Played Out If The Strike Never Happened
It’s interesting to ponder what would have happened if the 2007 writers’ strike hadn’t gone ahead, and Breaking Bad pressed ahead with one or both of their ideas for the season finale. Walter White’s story would have probably played out in a very similar way, but it would have required a far greater suspension of disbelief from the audience. If Breaking Bad had gone ahead with the home invasion plot it’s hard to see where it would go next. If Walter wasn’t a chemistry teacher with a meth dealer as a former student, and a DEA agent for a brother-in-law then he could maybe convince Skyler that it was a case of mistaken identity. That’s not Walter’s character, however, and there would be no way for him to reassure Skyler without turning her into an unquestioning and compliant wife.
Meanwhile, the death of Gomez in Breaking Bad season 1 would have robbed the show of one of its most powerful scenes in the final season, it would still have provided Hank with cause to kill Tuco, as he does in season 2. However, a revenge killing would have denied Hank the PTSD plot that helped to humanize the character. Thankfully, these missteps in the plotting of Breaking Bad were avoided by the WGA strike, and the show became one of the most acclaimed dramas of the 2010s. It’s further proof that writers desperately need the right conditions with which to create the hugely compelling stories and characters that define the cultural landscape.