I am a huge fan of Breaking Bad and I am currently watching season 3.

One thing that I have noticed is that there are several scenes where characters speak in Spanish - some of these scenes are quite important for following the story - but they never show language translations or subtitles.

Why is it that?

What is the reason for not translating the Spanish dialogue for the viewers?

  • 25
    I'm not sure this is the right answer, so I'll comment it only. This is Walt's story, as told by Walt, to the audience which may include some Spanish-speakers. Walt doesn't understand Spanish. Like Walt, the audience participants have to experience the dialogue with lack of understanding if necessary.
    – wbogacz
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 10:44
  • 1
    @wbogacz I'd say half right. Cause if it was purely Walt's story, then we wouldn't get any background on Gus or any semblance of why Jesse is all crazed out. But on the right track.
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 11:56
  • 4
    Probably because it won't add anything to the plot. Yes, it'll be fun to know what the characters are saying in Spanish but more or less not great value to the plot. Plus it adds another layer of obscurity to the plot, IMO.
    – Sayan
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 6:35
  • 5
    I'm a native Spanish speaker, and I can tell you that you are not missing any major plot details whenever a Spanish dialogue occurs. In fact, the Spanish accent is so bad sometimes that even I have a hard time trying to catch what they are saying. Commented May 3, 2013 at 0:08
  • 5
    I speak Spanish, too, and after learning that Gus was supposed to be a Chilean, I started shaking my head every time I heard him speak his horrendous Spanish.
    – Flimzy
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 7:08

5 Answers 5


It's a deliberate directorial device. We're experiencing the world through Walt and Jessie's eyes, so it allows us to appreciate their confusion, suspicion and fear through the powerlessness they feel when events are unfolding around them - with little understanding and consequent lack of control. We're left to interpret the body language (of which 70% of communication arises) and the odd words that are similar in both languages. Just as we would in the same situation. shudder

  • 9
    So if this is entirely Walt's story, why are we seeing these scenes where they only speak Spanish and where Walt is hundreds of miles away? I'm quite confused about these scenes too, because they add nothing to the plot, there's no way Walt or Jesse would know about any of this, so there doesn't seem to be any purpose to them...why spend ten minutes showing a meeting between a bunch of characters when you can't understand what they're saying, there's no real tone to the conversation, it's not being perceived by any of the primary characters, so the only information you get is that two guys mee Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 4:59
  • @BrianFlowers As PeterClose says in his answer, they are there when it suits the intentions of the director. The vast majority of the target audience doesn't speak Spanish and seeing a meeting hundreds of miles away with a few recognisable words (e.g. Hank, Pinkman, Heisenberg) gives you a sense of impending trouble. Alternatively, it could be that they screwed up the subtitles, but I seriously doubt that. If it's deliberate, it's a really nice touch. Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 13:23

I've only seen the show as the DVD box set, so the original showing may have been different, but some of the scenes are subtitled, and some aren't. This doesn't seem accidental, or sloppy - like everything in the series, it has meaning and it adds to the development of the story.

The most powerful examples of this are two scenes with the Cousins.

At the end of S3 06, Gus meets the Cousins in the desert, in a very tense confrontation. It's not subtitled, but it doesn't need to be. We know the Cousins want to kill Walt, and we know Gus needs him alive, at least for the time being. They argue about it, Gus says something that makes them think... then he says Hank's name, very clearly. And we know that he's given them Hank, to kill, instead of Walt, and the credits roll.

The very next scene (the first scene of S3 07) is subtitled throughout. The Cousins, as small boys, squabble over a toy, and one (Marco) runs to their uncle (Hector) to complain, and says he wants his brother (Leonel) dead. Hector calls Leonel to him, and plunges his head into a barrel of water, holding him there, asking Marco if that's what he wants. Marco pummels Hector desperately until he releases Leonel, and asks him tearfully if he's all right. Hector tells them: 'Family is all'. Not only does this tell us why the Cousins, and the cartel, are such implacable enemies... it also horrifies us to see the innocence of two little boys who we know will become utterly evil and remorseless. But the entire scene would be incomprehensible without the dialogue, so the subtitles are essential.

  • 3
    If you want to know, in the Sunset scene, Gus says that north of the border is his territory, and the cousins or anyone of the cartel has no right to decide what happens there. So he strikes a deal: Though Walt and Jesse did dealings with Tuco, Hank was the one who shot him. Then he gives them permission to kill Hank and hopes that that'll satisfy them.
    – cst1992
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 18:35

You have not really said who "they" is, but on the Breaking Bad Wiki as well as the Blu-ray they are shown.


I have the DVDs and watch them with the subs on, and some of it is important. The setup for Danny Trejo's character's murder was somewhat important, or at least allowed you to understand it better.

The "experiencing the world through Walt and Jesse's eyes" bit is BS. If Jesse and Walt aren't even in the scene, what would it matter? And, like I said, some of the conversations are important to the plot lines. It's not like they're reading the weather report or something, the dialogue does matter.

As for why the original episodes weren't subbed at the time...? Well, there are plenty of Spanish speakers in the U.S. now. I guess they figured half their audience would get it and half wouldn't. It always kinda bugged me that there's a SAP setting for your TV, but no way to translate Spanish to English.


Note that the Season 4 (so it's not the cause of your specific issue) Blu-ray has a glitch where several Spanish-language scenes are supposed to contain English subtitles, but the subtitles don't appear unless you manually enable them through the menu.

Rather than being burned into the image, these subtitles are just another subtitle track, and it's supposed to be enabled by default, so that even when you turn the subtitles "off" altogether, these subtitles appear for the Spanish-language scenes.

Due to the bug, the subtitles do NOT appear if you simply put the disc in your player and hit "play." Instead, you have to enable the full English subtitles via the menu, then turn them off again. The English subtitles will then appear for the Spanish-language scenes as they should.

  • 1
    Uh, thanks? But this isn't a question about a technical problem with a Blu-ray disc. It's about a stylistic choice to not provide subtitles for the Spanish dialog in the English audio track.
    – MattD
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 22:55
  • According to other comments, some S3 scenes do have subtitles for the Spanish dialogue. Yet OP says that they "never" do, which suggests that there is indeed a technical problem. The DVD/BD releases of the other seasons don't have the same glitch, but like S4, the subtitles are on a separate track and not burned into the video. So it's easy to imagine that, say, a DVD rip of the show would accidentally omit the subtitles altogether. OP doesn't say what medium he's watching on, but if he doesn't see any subtitles at all when they're supposed to be there, I think this is a likely explanation.
    – Carl Fink
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 19:57

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