What can TV teach L&D? Season 2 Ep. 6 – Breaking Bad

Here is a transcript of Season 2 Ep.6 – Breaking Bad.

Hi everyone, my name’s Tom Hickmore and in this episode of “What can TV teach L&D?” I’m looking at Breaking Bad.

I make drama for learning, so I’m taking popular TV drama and looking at it with an analytical eye, asking “What can we learn from this that we can be applied in the field of learning and development?”

The lovely Craig Taylor challenged me to explain the relevance of a tale of drug dealing, money and murder to a corporate culture.  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  It’s all about character. 

The series begins with Walter White inexplicably driving a motorhome in his underpants.  He crashes and, with sirens blaring in the background, leaves a video message for his family.

Funnily enough, this self-recording notion is an oft-used, low-budget device in L&D.  And it’s a great way to set up this character as well as this story.  But the whole pilot episode is designed to set up this character. 

We see Walter at his 50th birthday party, where he’s humiliated by his brother-in-law. 

Then at work, teaching chemistry to uninterested school kids. 

Walter has a disabled son and a child on the way. To make ends meet he has a second job at a car wash.  Whose car should he end up cleaning but that of his worst pupil.

It’s not long before poor Walter collapses … and is dragged off to hospital.  Where he is diagnosed with lung cancer.

Back at work, Walt has a meltdown. But he mentions nothing of this to his wife.  Instead, he rides along to a drug bust with his cop brother-in-law.  He’s intrigued by how much money there is in the drug trade. 

Left in the car when the cops enter the house, Walter spots his ex-pupil, Jesse, making a run for it.  Jesse, he realises, is the one they’re after! 

Instead of giving Jesse away, Walter visits him at home. When his new business partner asks Walter why he’s doing this, he says:

Now, when some idiot boys take the piss out of his disabled son, he attacks them!  His character is turning, and we empathise. 

This whole narcotic manufacturing thing leads to a dealer threatening to kill Walter

Walter is a teacher – it’s core to his character. Now he uses chemistry to escape and to kill these drug dealers. Now he’s a murderer – and we’re still rooting for him! 

At the end of this transformation, Walter finds his mojo with his wife again

Now, that is one brilliant construction of a character.  And character is how this drama keeps audience attention.  This sequence created a character that sustains and builds for 5 seasons!

In L&D we can feel inhibited about creating strong characters because, after all, we are writing about ordinary people like you and me.  But drama needs characters who are flawed and who make mistakes, not simply because they are interesting, but because if everyone’s perfect there’s no story. 

Naturally, large organisations have a fear of representing their staff as anything less than perfect.  Character is the key to this.  To make a flawed character empathic, show us their motivation.  A person at work might cut corners and not follow the rules – if they are stressed.  Show us the reason for their stress.  Make that part of your story. 

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