Breaking Bad’s Fly Explained: Here’s What The Divisive Episode Means

Summary

  • The “Fly” episode of Breaking Bad was divisive but inventive, with some criticizing its slow pace while others praised it as a subtle character exploration.
  • The fly in the episode symbolizes Walt’s guilt and his need for control, reflecting his transformation into Heisenberg.
  • While the bottle episode format of “Fly” faced criticism as a budget-saving measure, Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White, appreciates the episode for its focus on Walt’s anxiety.


The deeper meaning behind the Breaking Bad “Fly” episode shows that while it was one of the series most divisive, it was also among its most inventive. Breaking Bad season 3, episode 10 was criticized by some for being too slow and lacking any plot development. Others praised the Breaking Bad fly episode as a subtle character exploration. “Fly” primarily focused on Walt and Jesse, with Walt already sleep deprived thanks to a fly on the ceiling above his bed. His day got worse when their calculations resulted in a short supply of meth.

After Jesse left for the day, Walt stayed behind to deal with a fly buzzing around the lab, worried that it would contaminate the meth. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan explained that “Fly” was a bottle episode, meaning that it was contained in one location. The reason for the Breaking Bad fly episode was financial as the show couldn’t afford additional filming locations. The episode was directed by Rian Johnson, and many have credited the cinematography as being the best throughout the series. Although “Fly” has been criticized for adding nothing to the story, its real meaning is deep.

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Break Bad’s Fly Symbolism Explained

The Fly Represents Walt’s Guilt

A fly on Walt's glasses in Breaking Bad

In reality, the fly represented Walt’s guilt. Breaking Bad season 3 was a crucial time for Walter White’s transformation into Heisenberg. At the start of the Breaking Bad fly episode, Walt watches a fly on his ceiling that’s stopping him falling asleep. The same thing happens at the end of the episode, bringing the events full circle. Guilt can be a trigger for insomnia, which explains Walt’s situation in the fly episode. While trapped in the lab with Jesse, Walt brought up Jane’s death. Jesse was still unaware of Walt’s involvement, and overwhelming guilt almost forced Walt to spill the truth.

The fly could also be a symbol of Walt’s obsession and need to be in control. Walt feared the fly would contaminate the lab, so he didn’t let up until it was dead, even locking Jesse out of the lab while he went after the insect. Walter White’s high kill count in Breaking Bad is the ultimate manifestation of this need for control, though it’s a power struggle that plagued Walt’s entire life. Whether it was his family, his health, or his colleagues, Walt needed to be calling the shots. If not, his obsessive behavior would take over.

Another fly was shown in Breaking Bad season 5 after Walt killed Mike Ehrmantraut. This added more speculation that the insect’s appearance was directly connected to Walt’s guilt for taking another life. Gilligan was a master at adding hidden themes and motifs throughout the series and spin-offs like El Camino and Better Call Saul, but so far the fly appears to just be a fly. In fact, as it is Jessie who ultimately swats the fly dead, foreshadowing that no matter what he does, Walt isn’t in control of his own destiny.

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Why Breaking Bad’s Fly Episode Was So Divisive

Walter and Jesse cooking meth in Breaking Bad

The Breaking Bad fly episode bottle episode format has been used by many TV shows to stretch budgets, cut costs, or pad out seasons, and although the episode does a great job of justifying its existence, “Fly” does hit a lot of pain points in the wider critique of bottle episodes — many fans saw straight through it as an excuse for using as little budget as possible, for example. TheFly” bottle episode isn’t even bad television, but it did feel out of place in a drama like Breaking Bad.

Suffice to say, Breaking Bad didn’t invent bottle episodes — Friends contained plenty of bottle episodes that fit with the wider show’s structure — but this particular one did hold up the narrative, especially following an event as harrowing as Jane’s Breaking Bad overdose. The controversy stems more from the fact that the bottle episode in Breaking Bad was a potentially frustrating pause in the story, slowing the pace in a show that already drip-feeds story details episode by episode.

Bottle episodes are never received well though, generally speaking, but the Breaking Bad fly episode does at least have amazing cinematography going for it. More importantly, as argued by supporters of “Fly,” not every episode needed to advance the plot in order to be considered valid. In fact, the Breaking Bad fly episode allowed for an in-depth examination of Walter White’s guilt following the preventable death of Jane, and the following episodes of gained some subtle depth thanks to its inclusion.

Human beings are, after all, at their most natural when alone, and seeing how Walter White deals with a relatable annoyance like a fly gave audiences a measure of what he really felt under the surface. “Fly” definitely has more going for it than most bottle episodes in other shows, but even so, it was the clear product of behind-the-scenes constraints, and many Breaking Bad fans felt that even a good bottle episode had no place in Vince Gilligan’s gritty drama.

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What Bryan Cranston Thinks Of The Breaking Bad Fly Episode

The Walter White Actor Is A Fan Of The Bottle Episode

Breaking Bad fly episode detractors might be surprised to find out that Bryan Cranston — Heisenberg himself — thinks that the fly episode is a unique example of Vince Gilligan’s genius. In a conversation about the Breaking Bad fly episode in the Pardon My Take podcast (via YouTube), Cranston noted how the Breaking Bad villain’s anxiety was the entire focus of the episode in question.

From the claustrophobic cinematography to the fact that Walt became anxious enough to think that a single fly could damage their entire operation, Cranston explained that “it created anxiety with the viewers because we kept it so small. You’re constantly waiting for the story to open up, and it never does.” Ultimately, Cranston is right, and even the fly episode’s detachment from the ongoing plot served to drive its point about Walt’s anxiety home.

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The Breaking Bad Theory About The Fly

Walt falling asleep in Breaking Bad

While the Breaking Bad fly episode wasn’t universally well received, it certainly inspired a passionate debate. All these years since the show ended, “Fly” remains one of the most talked-about Breaking Bad episodes. One Redditor offered an interesting take on “Fly” feeling that it is meant to represent the arc of Walter White at that point in the series and his switch in priorities. Walt had no issues with cooking meth in a dirty RV in the Breaking Bad pilot episode, but now is concerned with a fly destroying his clean lab.

The theory suggests this change mirrors the change in why Walt cooks meth. It was once out of desperation to provide for his family so anywhere would suffice so long as he could cook. By the time he is working in the lab, he is no longer cooking for his family, he is cooking for his own pride and thus cannot abide anything less than perfection. Whether or not this was the intended meaning behind the episode, the fact that Breaking Bad can open up to such ideas shows the brilliance of the series.

Breaking Bad TV Poster

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, follows a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin named Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as he attempts to provide for his family following a fatal diagnosis. With nothing left to fear, White ascends to power in the world of drugs and crime, transforming the simple family man into someone known only as Heisenberg.

Release Date
January 20, 2008

Cast
Dean Norris , Bob Odenkirk , Aaron Paul , RJ Mitte , Anna Gunn , Giancarlo Esposito , Betsy Brandt , Bryan Cranston , Jonathan Banks

Seasons
5

Story By
Vince Gilligan

Writers
Peter Gould , Gennifer Hutchison , Vince Gilligan , George Mastras , Moira Walley-Beckett , Sam Catlin , Thomas Schnauz

Franchise(s)
Breaking Bad