Analyzing ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Virality: The Snowball Effect & Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

As someone already learning more about the intricacies of storytelling, I have chosen to unravel the magic behind the creation of one of my favorite series, “Breaking Bad.”   Delving into this cinematic gem offers invaluable insights into what has kept audiences spellbound, even 15 years after its premiere. 

With a stunning track record—55 wins, 247 nominations, including a Primetime EMMY Award for Outstanding Writing, the 2014 Best International BAFTA Award, and the 2019 Drama Series of the Decade Award—the series is an enduring symbol of excellence. 

It also underscores essential narrative elements we often discuss in storytelling: complex characters, content, and thematic depth, all seamlessly integrated.

Vince Gilligan, the TV series director with his team, expertly constructed a narrative arc for Walter White, a former high school chemistry teacher who transitioned into manufacturing methamphetamine, partnered with former student Jesse Pinkman. As they ascend the drug trade, Walter adopts the alias “Heisenberg,” leading to moral decay and dangerous confrontations. Family and personal challenges intertwine with their criminal endeavors, resulting in tragedy and transformation.

His transformation from a compliant chemistry teacher to the ruthless Heisenberg serves as a blueprint for character development. The story elements are so tightly interwoven that they create an almost magnetic pull, compelling us to watch episode after episode.

It’s not just a show that’s aged well—it has gained momentum over time. It’s a compelling study on maintaining narrative tension and character arcs over multiple seasons. 

Here, I’m setting the stage for why this show is truly epic. Let’s head on a journey to discover the key factors that have made it a massive success.

Factors that Contributed to the Success 

I’ve identified five key elements that make this series a must-watch. These insights not only enhance storytelling but also play a vital role in the lasting success of this series.

  1. The Writing

The writing in “Breaking Bad” stands out for its authenticity and clarity. Instead of relying on overblown drama, the narrative emphasizes genuine emotion and human dilemmas, giving the story a palpable sense of realism. 

This approach is evident in the series’ adept handling of character growth and plot twists. Take, for example, Jesse’s frequently used catchphrase “bitch!” Even as it gained popularity, the writers didn’t overuse it. They reduced its frequency in line with Jesse’s character development, showcasing their commitment to authentic storytelling. 

This restraint and attention to character evolution highlight the brilliance of the writing.

  1. The Characters

The show keeps on playing with the psychological complexities of its characters, making them feel real and multi-dimensional. 

Whether it’s Walter White transforming from a timid chemistry teacher into a ruthless drug kingpin or Jesse Pinkman evolving from a lackadaisical junkie into a tragic figure seeking redemption, “Breaking Bad” offers a nuanced look into human behavior.

Character dynamics, such as Skyler White’s (Walter’s wife) moral quandaries and Hank Schrader’s (Walter’s brother-in-law and DEA Officer) unwavering quest for justice, enrich the series with multifaceted relationships, contributing to its captivating appeal.

  1. Cinematography and Music

From Season 2 onwards, Michael Slovis served as the primary cinematographer, earning accolades and nominations for his striking visuals. Drawing inspiration from classic Western films, Vince Gilligan opted for the timeless and cost-effective 35mm film, facilitating a seamless transition to 4K in the future. 

The show’s meticulously curated soundtrack not only enhanced the mood but also deepened the emotional resonance. Signature tracks became intrinsically linked to specific characters, amplifying the impact of the series’ most iconic moments.

  1. Gripping Storyline

The tension escalates with each episode, ensuring that you’re always on the edge of your seat. Masterfully plotted from start to finish, the story is both unpredictable and satisfying.

Let’s delve into the narrative, as every episode serves as a critical piece of the learning. Breaking it down will offer more insights into the ideas of writing employed here.

The Snowball Effect of Breaking Bad

“Breaking Bad” exemplifies a masterful execution of the snowball effect in storytelling. This technique is all about escalation, starting with a small kernel of conflict and letting it naturally evolve. Walter White’s initial descent into the criminal underworld serves as a solution to a pressing problem but rapidly spirals out of control, engulfing not only him but everyone in his orbit.

This storytelling approach keeps the audience on the edge, eagerly anticipating how much bigger the snowball can get and how it will all unfold. It’s an art form that elevates the stakes and creates an undeniable sense of inevitability. 

When we further break it down, three key elements emerge—Relatability. Conflict. Momentum


Walter White, initially a typical guy facing extraordinary circumstances, resonates due to his relatable struggle. A high school chemistry teacher battling terminal lung cancer, his choice to turn to meth production stems from a universal fear—what happens to his loved ones when he’s gone? This chilling decision strikes a chord with many.


Breaking bad sets off a cascade of conflicts for Walter White—internal and external. Family betrayals, turf wars, and moral compromises layer the narrative, each conflict serving as a crucial crossroads. These challenges force characters to make choices that propel the story forward. At the core lies the constant tension between Walter’s dual identities: family man and drug lord.


Momentum is the engine driving the series forward, transforming the relatable protagonist and his mounting conflicts into an engrossing tale that’s hard to step away from. 

As Walter’s character arcs from a mild-mannered teacher to a formidable force in the drug trade, the pace intensifies. The snowball effect becomes evident as each episode raises the stakes, complicating conflicts, and dragging the characters deeper into turmoil. The unstoppable progression of events keeps viewers hooked, eager to see where the narrative’s relentless drive will lead next.

Consider the Takeaways

  • Relatability brings your audience in.
  • Conflict keeps them invested.
  • Momentum ensures they can’t look away. 

It’s a strong narrative, which we can also derive by utilizing Dan Harmon’s story circle to showcase the formula they used for storytelling in modern television.

How Breaking Bad Used Dan Harmon’s Story Circle to Tell an Engaging Story

Dan Harmon is well-known for his Story Circle—a simple yet powerful narrative tool; Dan Harmon’s influence can be traced to Vince Gilligan’s ground-breaking series, “Breaking Bad.” While Gilligan may not have directly adopted Harmon’s method, the parallels are evident.

Understanding how “Breaking Bad” aligns with the story circle involves grasping its eight key elements.

Eight elements of Dan Harmon Story Circle

In the series, we meet Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin. Initially content in a humdrum life, a cancer diagnosis serves as a catalyst, propelling him into the drug trade with former student Jesse Pinkman.

Venturing into this unfamiliar world, Walter transforms into “Heisenberg,” an intimidating alter ego driven by financial security, power, and respect. However, this newfound empire comes at a cost.

Walter’s family life unravels as blue meth and money accumulate. His wife, Skyler, grows distant, friends become liabilities, and danger levels spike. Motives blur, shifting from family security to ego-driven empire-building. As his cancer returns, the once-clear reasons for entering the drug trade crumble, revealing the devastating impact on his family and himself.

Breaking Bad: Dan Harmon Story Circle

In the series finale, “Felina,” Walter strives to make amends. He frees Jesse, secures his family’s financial future, and pays with his life. His transformation is complete—neither the mild-mannered teacher nor the triumphant kingpin, but a man who has confronted his darker instincts.

As he collapses in a meth lab, Walter finds a semblance of peace, leaving viewers to ponder the complexities of morality, choice, and consequence.

The “Breaking Bad” finale, “Felina,” captivates fans by masterfully tying up loose ends, forcing Walter White to confront his choices, and delivering cinematic brilliance. 

It’s a pitch-perfect conclusion that offers closure, revelation, and just the right amount of poetic justice. In doing so, it secures itself as one of the most iconic series finales in TV history.

Breaking Bad: Felina tweets

Source: Silicon Republic

While the gripping storyline is undoubtedly a major factor, the ascent of “Breaking Bad” to all-time fame finds a significant catalyst in the online binge platform, Netflix.

Netflix’s Role in Elevating Breaking Bad’s Global Success

From a cult hit to a global sensation, Breaking Bad owes a lot of its skyrocketing success to Netflix. The streaming giant has been instrumental in transforming the show from a cult hit to a global sensation, marking it as an all-time favorite.

What sets Netflix apart is its ability to expand the show’s reach on a global scale, offering easy accessibility to a diverse audience. 

More than just a platform, Netflix crafts an immersive experience with top-notch binge-watching that keeps viewers captivated, enhancing the overall viewing experience.

Breaking Bad: Role of Netflix

Source: Twitter

Yet Netflix goes beyond mere streaming; it’s an architect of online buzz. By building tight-knit online communities, creating catchy hashtags, and sending out timely tweets, the platform knows how to sustain the conversation. 

This dynamic strategy creates a virtuous cycle, deepening viewers’ investment in the content they love and fueling discussions in the digital space.

In sharing my perspective on this cinematic masterpiece, I’ve spilt the tea on my storytelling adventures. 

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