Breaking Bad: The Value of One Life

breaking bad train episode

“Wrong Place, Wrong Time”

by Leigh M. Lane

Warning: this article contains spoilers.

In the most recent episode, aptly titled “Dead Freight,” the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the episode in more ways than one.  It seems innocuous enough at first: a child exploring the desert stops, but only long enough to take captive a wild—but very tame—tarantula.  At closer look, however, it becomes clear that the tarantula represents strong themes explored within the episode.

Early into the episode, we find Lydia—the methylamine supplier—being handcuffed to a table, closed in somewhere underground.  She has become the tarantula, held against her will, her future suddenly uncertain.  She tries to bargain for her life by bringing up her daughter, pleading the importance of a child being raised by her own mother, a proposition that proves futile given her present company.  Her life is only worth what she is able to offer in supplies.

The tarantula represents Skyler next, as well as Holly and Walter Jr.  Skyler asserts to Walt while making the case to keep the kids out of the home, “I’m not your wife.  I’m your hostage.”  She goes on to explain that their children’s lives are on the line as long as they’re home, and only when she is able to convince Walt that he brings danger to all of them due to his business—that he stands to lose by keeping them there—does he relent.  This results in Walter Jr. being kept against his will at Hank and Marie’s.

We come to realize that nearly every life around Walter is worth nothing more than that of a tarantula scurrying, suffocating, in a jar.  He’s willing to kill the train’s engineer and conductor in cold blood simply to gain access to his coveted supply of methylamine.  Jessie concocts a plan designed to spare all lives involved, but had no one come up with a way around the murders, Walt would have had no problem taking two innocent lives.

The train heist is one of the most intense scenes of all the episodes so far in this season.  The threat of Walt’s gang getting caught is high, but what makes the tension so heavy is the number of lives at stake.  Not only are there the engineer and conductor, but a good Samaritan comes on scene: three lives on the line for the sake of Walt’s business staying on track.  Moreover, Walt refuses to shortchange himself, putting both Jessie’s and Todd’s lives in jeopardy.  By sheer luck, they finish the job just as the train resumes; Jessie survives only because he is quick enough to duck beneath the moving train.

As the episode comes to a close, the little boy from the opening scene becomes the tarantula, his life deemed no more valuable than the creature he carries in his pocket simply because he is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The juxtaposition between him and the captive spider cements this idea as the scene fades out.


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Leigh M. Lane lives in the beautiful mountains of Montana, where she writes speculative fiction that spans from sci-fi to horror. All of her writing contains a gritty realism that hallmarks her unique voice, which also often has social or political undertones. Her recent full-length releases are Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods.  Leigh’s influences include H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King.  For more about Leigh M. Lane and her works, visit her website at


  1. William Speelman says:

    Great job!

  2. Phil Simon says:

    Excellent analysis. I didn’t think much of the tarantula but this all makes sense. What a metaphor!

  3. Bryan Hall says:

    Couldn’t agree more. As soon as I saw the tarantula go into the bottle I knew the episode would focus on that symbolism. Great, great post. (and one of the best damn shows ever)

  4. Bryan Hall says:

    I’d add, if I may, that the tarantula could symbolize Walt at the end of the episode – a potential dangerous creature trapped within a wall of ‘glass’. The kid’s death has now made it much more difficult to hide what’s happened with the train, and Walt’s own ego has trapped him as cleanly as that spider. Interesting to see if he’ll get out or not…

  5. Cratered says:

    What about all of the users imprisoned by meth? Not mentioned at all, but pretty pertinent to the meta-series.

  6. Valerie says:

    I hate Skylar and I really wish her character would be removed , so judgemental of a tramp that had an affair on her husband and gave all his money to her lover , get REAL , Walt needs to cook to make up the loss she caused , and her winey winey sister and Hank need to go along with Sklar ( boring crybabies) keep Steven Quezada to replacetaht creepy boring bad acting Hanks place and hey that ending scene just blew me away , Love Arrons role as Jessie and Brian C is fabulous even if he angers me at times and damn that character of Mike is wonderful, Keep on with the great suprises !!! Love this show!!!!!

  7. luvly57 says:

    This is by far the best show ever in the history of television imho even surpassing The Sopranos I dare say! AMCs writers are working overtime! Love Hell On Wheels too!

  8. Loss of life seem like the cource to take right now,I think Skyler need an attitude check to remember what she side last season.this is waht she signed up for really it is. I love where it’s all going. I think Walt STANDS LAST!

  9. shulgidude says:

    i appologize to the author of this well written article. Although very well written i dont completely agree with the opinions. I think many people are seeing walt as this evil man who doesnt care about life or anything but himself. Walk was the victim for most of his life. he was walked on by friends, scholars, bosses, and his wife to say just a few. He was beaten down in every way you could imagine, and to add insult to injury he contracted lung cancer when he didnt even smoke. I think walt’s character is much more complex than most analysts are willing to admit or see. In reality i believe walt has more noblism than evil in him, he is just adjusting to being the “big dog” that he never got to be due to selfish people who stole his ideas and other people who wanted to mold him into their vision of what they wanted him to be. Walter knew that the lilly of the valley wouldnt kill that child, he knew that jesse would go to the hospital to be with him, he knew how long the child would remain sick and then get better. he timed all that to save and protect them. It was the best thing he could do and the only idea he could come up with in that short time. I dont believe that walter wants to kill anyone, but i do believe that he is done being a victim. I said this in a different response in a different article as well, the term “let sleeping giants lay”, is very true advice. We all have an inner giant, and the bottom line is: you never know what people will do until they do it.

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