The Link is Out There
or: The Connection Between The X-Files and Breaking Bad.
Remember that strange phenomenon that Seinfeld had with guest stars who went on to lead rich careers? The list of before-they-were-famous cameos goes on quite endlessly. Most would be cast in mega-sitcoms of the time. To name a few: Bryan Cranston (pre-Malcolm in the Middle), Jane Leeves (pre-Frasier), Brad Garrett (pre-Everybody Loves Raymond), Kristin Davis (pre-Sex and the City) and Debra Messing (pre-Will & Grace). Maybe casting directors were looking at Seinfeld for screen tests but any connection is pretty thin.
Though we’re not here today to talk about Seinfeld. We are here to discuss the parallel between a certain bona fide neo-Western, by the name of Breaking Bad, and sci-fi classic The X-Files. The latter, which premiered almost thirty years ago, follows FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). They tackle special bureau unsolved cases involving paranormal experiences whilst a government conspiracy lies in their midst. Breaking Bad is indebted to the legacy of The X-Files through its creators and the actors that would memorably appear in guest spots along its original nine-year run.
Breaking Bad’s concept would stem from a joke between creator Vince Gilligan and X-Files writer Thomas Schnauz. The X-Files had ended and both unemployed, quipped that the solution to fiscal woes would come from setting up a meth lab in the back of an RV. Vince Gilligan wrote thirty X-Files episodes and became a credited producer from season four onwards. Schnauz would go on to write, and occasionally direct, multiple episodes of Breaking Bad, including the memorable “One Minute” and “Say My Name.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and a bunch of aliens.
Prominent television director and frequent Breaking Bad collaborator Michelle MacLaren got her first big-series break with The X-Files back in 2000. She directed the season nine episode “John Doe” which was written by Gilligan. “John Doe” follows Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) as he winds up in a corrupt Mexican town with no collection of his identity. The similarities are clear. Patrick plays the fractured anti-hero with bubbling anger that Cranston would superbly round off. The south-of-the-border setting, strong orange accents and shadowed neo-genre atmosphere are akin to Breaking Bad’s signature look. MacLaren directed eleven episodes of Bad, the most of any director, and has been mentioned as one of the show’s most valuable creators.
Robert Patrick (right) stars in the Gilligan-written "John Doe"
Along with “John Doe,” several episodes penned by Gilligan share common features with Breaking Bad’s arresting tension. “Pusher” dug into the psychological horror of its central villain while “Memento Mori” dealt with the emotional fallout of Scully’s cancer diagnosis. “Bad Blood” investigated the unreliability of perspectives in a deeply humorous way, reminding us that there were nice moments of comic relief in his later work. “Drive” made use of the sweeping deserts of south-west America and how law enforcement is tied deeply with its citizens. “Monday” perfected the intrigue of the pre-title openings and “Dreamland” (starring Michel McKean of Better Call Saul) mixed straight action with deeper drama.
Left to Right: "Pusher", "Memento Mori" & "Bad Blood"
McKean is far from the only actor to star in both The X-Files and the Breaking Bad universe. Bryan Cranston would lead season six’s “Drive” as Patrick Crump, an anti-Semitic redneck afflicted by a government experiment which induces piercing sound waves which can only be relieved by heading west. Gilligan recalled this episode when seeking an actor for Walter White. He needed someone that could convey a villain with sympathetic depth. Though we despise Crump’s views, we feel remorse when his circumstances cost him his life. Given his recent appearance in the comedic Malcolm in the Middle, developers at AMC were initially skeptical in casting Cranston. Gilligan convinced them otherwise using this episode.
Bryan Cranston & Aaron Paul in "Drive" and "Lord of the Flies", respectively
Aaron Paul would appear in Schnauz’s “Lord of the Flies” as a lawless teenager (in the figurative sense). He directs a band of riotous oddballs in a homemade video that follows a few measly daredevil stunts that end in the accidental death of his friend. Paul is quintessentially Jesse in his short role. With the writing of Bad by his side, Paul would expand this snippet of frantic, and childish misbehaviour.
Other actors that made rounds in both series include Dean Norris (Hank Schrader) as a recklessly stubborn Marshal in the graphic “F. Emasculata”. Raymond Cruz (Tuco Salamanca) stars in “El Mundo Gira” as a desperate illegal immigrant caught in the mysterious death of his love. Danny Trejo (Tortuga) appears in "Redrum," playing a killer hidden behind a web of lies that indicted an innocent man. Lastly, Michael Bowen (Uncle Jack) starred in “Surekill” as an exterminator chasing a bounty.
Dean Norris & Raymond Cruz
When production moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles in season six, the show would resemble what Albuquerque-set Breaking Bad became with its sun-basked suburban expanse. The X-Files knew how to capitalise on setting to achieve a desired tone, and this expertise spilled over into Breaking Bad, which effectively transformed an unorthodox location into an interlocked bubble of drama.
Desert scenarios in both shows
Though from two completely different thematic leagues, the two shows are historically linked. What we have with Breaking Bad is an output of a talent pool that banked on their shared circumstance, and past experiences, to craft one of television’s all-time greats.