Where This Meets That
AMC’s original television series Breaking Bad is the sordid tale of struggling high school chemistry teacher Walter “Walt” White, who, upon being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, recruits a flunky former student and begins manufacturing crystal meth in order to raise as much money for his family as he can before he dies.
I had zero interest in the show for most of its five seasons and never even watched an episode until the series was over. Just something about the recipe of crystal meth and middle-aged bald guys that failed to excite me.
But last November, after a complex web of international, capitalistic intrigue shifted exclusive streaming rights for season 3 of Downton Abbey (that we were trying to catch up on) out of our reach, to Amazon, Christy and I were left without a show. By that time, we’d heard enough people raving about the recently wrapped Breaking Bad that we gave it a shot.
The series premiere wasted no time grabbing our attention, but I was quickly challenged. The second and third episodes cast two of the main characters into a highly gruesome scenario that forced me to ask myself whether I wanted to continue. I hesitantly did and was rewarded with perhaps the greatest series I’ve ever watched.
Drama is all about conflict. Really good drama comes when you care about conflicted characters. Breaking Bad immerses viewers in the lives of several wonderfully deep characters and then challenges us to hold on for dear life while these characters plunge into the abyss of the meth underworld. Conflict ensues from all sides, and no character is immune.
For much of the first two seasons, we watch “Mr. White” and his former failure of a student, Jesse Pinkman, clumsily learn to navigate their way through the meth marketplace. One costly victory after another, however, inspires the formerly passive White to transform into a hubristic alter-ego he calls “Heisenberg.”
In parallel, we get to know Walt’s family, whose love for which initially drives him into the snares of the drug trade. His supportive wife, Skyler, is expecting their second child, while doing everything she can to help Walt through his battle with cancer. Their high-school aged son, Walt, Jr., faces his own struggles with cerebral palsy. The Whites are very close with Skyler’s sister, Marie, and her husband, Hank. Hank’s promising career as a drug enforcement agent will play a vital role throughout the series.
By the end of season three, Breaking Bad hits its stride, providing some of the finest, most dramatic film I’ve ever seen. By season four, just forget about it; the series has left all its predecessors in the dust.
Breaking Bad‘s audience doubled between season four and its concluding fifth season, just in time to watch the show go out on top. Since the show’s conclusion, Guinness World Records has identified it as the highest rated television series of all time.
Why the appeal? Stylistically, Breaking Bad is without peers. It features some of the finest cinematography out there, contrasting vast, bright desertscapes with dark, cramped spaces. It continually provides intriguing camera angles and a clinic of match cuts that Stanley Kubrick would be proud of.
Then there’s the story. It writhes like a panicked snake, twisting and turning in ever-unforeseen ways. Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator says one theme in the series is that, “actions have consequences and when bad things happen, big or little, they tend to resonate . . ..” Indeed, the actions taken by characters in Breaking Bad resonate, frequently in unpredictable ways.
Finally, style and story need worthy actors to bring them to life, and Breaking Bad‘s performances are superb. Bryan Cranston’s Walter White/Heisenberg combination will undoubtedly be remembered as an icon of televillainy, but his surrounding cast excels, as well. Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn both pulled Emmy awards for outstanding supporting roles, and the fact that Dean Norris was never recognized for his portrayal of Hank is a crime in itself.
Breaking Bad covers roughly two years in the lives of its characters, following Walter White’s cancer diagnosis. Cancer is a tragedy that derails countless lives each day, but Walter White refuses to be derailed. Instead, he insists on driving the train, and over five epic seasons that follow, he gives the audience one hell of a ride.
Are you a fan of the show? Check my Friday Five tomorrow for my five favorite episodes!