INTERIORS: Breaking Bad

Interiors is an online film and architecture journal, published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Interiors runs an exclusive column for ArchDaily that analyzes and diagrams films in terms of space.

The Golden Age of Television has made way for shows that run counter to the traditional, expected narrative model. In the course of its five-year run, Breaking Bad has effectively transformed its protagonist into an antagonist, placing its hero/anti-hero in a distinctive landscape. In this sense, the use of space and location in Breaking Bad, filmed in Albuquerque, is noteworthy, from the use of actual locations that serve as the backdrop for businesses (car wash, Los Pollos Hermanos) to constructed sets that are used for characters’ homes (Walter White’s house, Jesse Pinkman’s house).

In our analysis, we focus on the three different spaces where Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) cook meth: the RV, Superlab and makeshift labs across Albuquerque. These spaces, much like the character of Walter White himself, a chemistry teacher who uses his teaching as a cover for his new life as a drug lord, disguise themselves with their exterior appearances, blending into their surroundings.  

The following diagrams all show a moment when Walter and Jesse cook meth. These respective spaces are based on the episodes "4 Days Out" (RV), "Fly" (Superlab) and "Hazard Play" (the makeshift labs). In addition to representing the different locations where Walter and Jesse cook, each diagram focuses on different steps in the process: measuring (RV), cooking (Superlab), and waiting for the meth to dry (makeshift labs).

Measuring in the RV. Image Courtesy of INTERIORS Journal

The RV

The RV, a 1986 Fleetwood Bounder that makes its first appearance in the first episode, and indeed the very first shot of the series, is very much a defining aspect of Breaking Bad. It’s where Walter and Jesse first cook meth together, but it’s also a space that brings these two characters together throughout the series.  

The RV camouflages itself as a moving vehicle, hiding the meth lab that has been constructed inside. The RV provides them with the freedom of moving around while cooking, making them “evasive.” Walter and Jesse cook in secluded areas, in the middle of the desert  As owners of the vehicle itself, the two are their own bosses and can take their lab virtually anywhere.

Their “rolling meth lab,” however, is far from professional. It’s made into a decent working space because of Walter’s knowledge of labs, but the two are essentially restricted within this space and are limited in their workload. 

There were two RVs used for Breaking Bad; one complete vehicle for exterior shots and another that was stripped down and constructed on a stage. This provided complete freedom during filming; removable walls allowed the production crew complete control.

In “Más,” we learn more about the background of the RV, including the fact that Jesse bought the RV from Combo, who stole the vehicle from his mother. In “Sunset,” Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) links Jesse to the vehicle, as Walter has a junkyard destroy the RV as a way of severing their connection to the RV.  In doing so, we learn that this “space” is expendable – unlike a physical building – a vehicle can easily disappear, if necessary. 

The junkyard owner comments that the RV will be destroyed beyond recognition and will be shipped across the Pacific and sold as patio furniture in China. Even after being completely destroyed, there is still a purpose for the RV. Of course, none of the original RVs were actually wrecked during this scene; in fact, the RV appears once again in a flashback in “Ozymandias.”

In our analysis, we analyze the space of the RV in the episode “4 Days Out.” In this episode, Water and Jesse are stuck in the desert after the RV’s battery dies. This episode confines the characters as well as the audience to the space within the RV. Although we spend the entirety of the episode in a meth lab, we focus on the relationship between the two characters, rather than the meth. 

Cooking in the Superlab. Image Courtesy of INTERIORS Journal

The Superlab

The Superlab, a physical location, a multimillion-dollar laboratory facility located under an industrial laundry business, is a significant upgrade in terms of space for Walter and Jesse. At this point in their careers, Walter and Jesse are now part of a complex drug empire, and it’s more than just their workspace that has been upgraded. The RV reflected the blandness of Walter’s life; as he moves up the ladder and becomes a drug lord, his workspace reflects his role in the drug empire.

In this sense, Walter and Jesse become “official” cooks, rather than amateur cooks. They are now employees for someone else. The Superlab makes its first appearance in “Más,” an episode in which Gustavo offers Walter a tour of the facilities.

It’s interesting to note that the RV is destroyed immediately after we are introduced to the Superlab, as if the two spaces cannot coexist. In this sense, the Superlab has replaced the original meth lab as the primary location.

The Superlab is constructed by Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) with the help of Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) for the purpose of manufacturing industrial amounts of methamphetamine. The meth is then shipped out through Los Pollos Hermanos trucks.

The Superlab is an extremely clean, modern, and professional workspace that meets Walter’s standards. However, it remains hidden due to its exterior appearance as a business.

Scenes from the RV (top), Superlab (middle), and Makeshift Lab (bottom). Image Courtesy of INTERIORS Journal

Walter and Jesse, however, are no longer in complete control of their workspace. This is further emphasized in “Madrigal,” when Gustavo installs security cameras in the lab and monitors their activities. Gustavo also has a close associate of his, Mike (Jonathan Banks) or Tyrus (Ray Campbell), present during all batches. Walter and Jesse are now being watched and have lost their freedom. They have become the "lab rats."

The lab consists of a staircase that leads down to the main workspace. In the first appearance of the lab, all the equipment is still in bubble wrap, emphasizing the fact that the lab was created solely for Walter’s use. Gustavo comments on the space itself, noting that the filtration system is state-of-the-art and will vent nothing but clean and odorless steam, through the same stacks as a laundry. This provides us with the sense of how impeccable the space is – from its design to its construction to its obscurity, the Superlab is undetectable from the public.

The Superlab is destroyed in “Face Off.” Walter assassinates Gus and wrecks the lab with Jesse by disabling its sprinkler system. In this episode, flammable chemicals damage the lab. Walter and Jesse cover their tracks by wiping their fingerprints as the lab burns. The lab makes another appearance in “Live Free or Die” as Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) investigate the remains.

The Superlab was constructed in a stage at the Albuquerque Studios (Q Studios). The exterior shots of the Superlab were filmed in an actual location, Delta Uniform & Linens. The name of the laundry business in the show, however, is Lavandería Brillante.

In our analysis, we analyze the space of the Superlab in the episode “Fly,” which is dedicated to the entire space of the lab. In this episode, Walter and Jesse desperately search for a fly in the lab. This episode once again confines the characters and the audience to their workspace, and like the RV, we remain in the lab as a way of further understanding the relationship among the characters. 

Waiting for the meth to dry in the makeshift lab. Image Courtesy of INTERIORS Journal

The Makeshift Labs

In the final season of the series, Walter and Jesse begin cooking again as a way of salvaging their earnings. Mike joins Walter and Jesse in a new partnership. Their new venture consists of cooking in people’s homes, disguised as a pest control company known as Vamonos Pest Control.

In tenting people’s homes for fumigation, Walter and Jesse also construct a tent in their living room and start cooking. These “makeshift labs” are significant in terms of space because, unlike the RV and the Superlab, these labs aren’t in a single location. These short-term, “provisional” labs are on the go and used for a few days only.

The makeshift labs also provide us with a space within a space. The labs are constructed inside a tent that is placed inside the living room of a home. In this sense, this space is once again hidden because of its exterior appearance as a house. It’s also noteworthy because its homeowners are oblivious to the meth lab that is being set up in their homes. The makeshift labs first appear in “Hazard Play.” This episode offers a look into the construction and subsequent deconstruction of the labs.

Walter and Jesse are once again in control in this workspace. They work for themselves and are their own bosses, but they lack physical control of the space because they are limited to the space of the house and are working against time.

In an aerial shot of a neighborhood, we see tents being placed on various houses, emphasizing how their work (and the meth itself) is spreading into people’s homes. The houses used for the scenes with the makeshift labs were actual homes used for filming. In our analysis, we analyze the first instance where Walter and Jesse cook in a home.

These diagrams, along with others, are available for purchase in our Official Store.

Courtesy of INTERIORS Journal

Interiors is an online journal, published on the 15th of each month, in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space. It is run by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Check out their Website, Issuu Site and Official Store and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

About this author
Cite: INTERIORS Journal. "INTERIORS: Breaking Bad" 07 Oct 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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