Breaking Bad (2008) was a unique show in many ways. No exception to that rule was the writing of the storyline itself, which evolved and transformed as each season passed. The end result was certainly nothing the writers had conceived when the show started, which is a credit to their creativity and adaptability. The story is widely considered one of the greatest television dramas of all time.
It’s worth wondering if the show would have ended with as rich and complex a cast of characters and plotlines had they not made a few pivotal decisions along the way.
For instance, the character of Jesse (Aaron Paul) was originally to be killed at the end of season one. As it was, his chemistry with lead Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was so genuine and well-received, they instead kept him alive. The simple fact that he wasn’t originally designed to survive the first season lets you know the subsequent seasons weren’t planned at the onset of the show, since Jesse is a crucial character to the entire Breaking Bad narrative. What was introduced as a juvenile, reckless, wannabe-gangster living room meth cook operating under the moniker “Captain Cook” became a deeply likeable, rich human being, and frequently the moral center of the show.
Walt’s DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) also received a character transformation as the material changed. His character started off cocky, boisterous, and obnoxious. He was the high-fiving, Mexican joke-cracking jock who was good at his job, but overwhelming in large doses. As the seasons moved forward, Hank’s personality toned down, and he transformed from that wisecracking frat boy to a rich, complicated character whose fate made for one of the most powerful episodes of recent television history.
One of the most incredible facts about Breaking Bad comes in the form of everyone’s favorite cleaner, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). His character was so organically produced that he wasn’t supposed to be there at all. Originally, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) was going to be a lawyer/fixer, and he was written as the one who showed up to deal with the corpse of Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter) upon her asphyxiated death. But as it happened, Odenkirk wasn’t available to fly to Albuquerque to shoot the scenes when the character was needed. As a result, series creator Vince Gilligan designed Mike so production could continue. This “accidental” character not only went on to become pivotal to the following seasons of the show, but was so well-received that he co-stars in Breaking Bad’s spinoff show Better Call Saul (2015).
And they aren’t the only ones. The writers didn’t know where this show was going when it started, and every character, minor or major, went through a transformation as their individual relationships with Walter White deepened.
All of this is evidence of truly brilliant, fundamental writing in which the characters’ actions truly drive the plot of the show. Breaking Bad clearly had no concrete timeline of events that the showrunners worked to hit - instead, they let the story develop the show — and it paid off. Who knows what the arc would have been like had Jesse died at the end of the first season. Mike's character would never have been necessary, as Jane wouldn't have been around. Walter's drug empire may have never reached the level where Gus was interested in him.
One thing is certain - it would be an entirely different program.