As much as Breaking Bad has come to redefine the cinematic scope of television shows, it also goes above and beyond in its use of music. By now, the stature of the average Breaking Bad musical montage is beyond repute, and even the most unassuming of instrumental compositions can pack as much of a wallop as the show’s action. Vince Gilligan and crew have obviously striven to make every aspect of the show as top notch as possible over the past 5 years, and now with the end in sight, let us take this opportunity over the weeks to come to pay tribute to some of the show’s most indelible musical moments.
For me, the definitive Breaking Bad musical scene came in the season 2 episode “Over,” which climaxed to the tune of TV on the Radio’s “DLZ.” That particular episode provided viewers with the last semblance of calm before season 2’s climactic rush towards utter oblivion: Bryan Cranston’s Walter White is out running a home repair errand when he happens to see an obvious meth cook loading up on supplies. After a brief interaction, Walt mulls over the meeting for a bit before resolutely storming off into the parking lot to assert himself further.
Cue the ominous refrain of “DLZ,” which as best as I can figure is short for “Dawn of the Luz of forever” (never you mind the above video’s mistranslation). That’s a rather oblique snippet of lyrics, possibly meant to evoke the Yeats poem “The Second Coming,” which also ends with apocalyptic predictions regarding Egyptian cities. Again, such platitudes seem appropriate considering how Breaking Bad’s second season ended.
The rest of “DLZ” is far more direct in its lyrical references. Walter White is very much a “Death Professor,” and even his modus operandi seems here laid out: “You force your fire and then you falsify your deeds / Your methods dot the disconnect from all your creeds / And fortune strives to fill the vacuum that it feeds.” It’s genuinely the kind of thing that would make you think the song was written directly for the show.
As this spoilerific fan-made video illustrates, it’s also a song whose sound is very much in line with Breaking Bad’s general tone. There’s a deep and dirty edge to the constant pounding back beat, and singer Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals convey by turns loneliness and aggression in a manner similar to Walt’s own temperament. Breaking Bad is a show about one man’s gripping, slow self-destruction, and this song makes for fitting accompaniment. “DLZ” may have played over a moment where Walter White felt more self-assured than ever, but make no mistake, it rung loud and clear the inevitability of his downfall.