I resisted Breaking Bad for so long. I didn’t want another television show to drag me under and not allow me to leave the house for several weeks. It happened with The Wire, it happened with The Sopranos and I knew this was going to be another one. I was right.
Breaking Bad is an American television drama set in New Mexico. The lead character, Walter White, is portrayed by Bryan Cranston. I was a big fan of his anyway as I loved him as the hapless Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. The series was created by Vince Gilligan, who is perhaps most famous for his writing on TV’s The X Files.
We meet Walter White, father of soon to be two and High School chemistry teacher. Walt is a very nondescript, affable sort of man whose life is figuratively and literally brown and beige. His son Walter Jr was born was cerebral palsy and his wife Skyler is pregnant with a later in life child they didn’t plan for. Walt is diagnosed with Stage 3a lung cancer, which he is told is inoperable and that he may not have long to live. Terrified of leaving his family with nothing, he hits on the money making idea of cooking meth amphetamine. The Brady Bunch becomes The Sopranos in the blink of an eye.
Walt is a fabulous character. The man has more layers than an onion. It is quite astonishing how Walt’s transformation from gentle, mild mannered teacher to possibly insane drug baron is so gradual and slow you barely even comprehend that it’s happening. In the beginning, Walt’s moral compass is strong and true and he knows what is right and what is wrong. Walt’s lines blur so quickly you wonder if they were ever really there at all, or if it was just a front. When Walt has set his mind to something, it is going to happen. I personally feel that his prognosis makes him reckless and fearless. You cannot be afraid of dying if you already are, I suppose. I honestly cannot say where this is all leading with Walt, but I feel his grip on who he is and what he will do is fading slowly. I recently watched an episode in which he says that he had lived too long. I don’t know if Walt has some kind of death wish, some kind of pact with himself, but his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as time goes on.
Walt’s relationship with Jesse is a very odd one, but a necessary one. Deep down, Walt and Jesse (an ex-student of his turned drug dealer and manufacturing partner) need each other, for many reasons. Walt relishes that Jesse needs guidance and teaching- his superiority over Jesse isn’t a malicious one, it’s just that Walt likes it. Walt loves the chemistry behind everything- he has a true passion for it. Jesse gives him the opportunity to explain and nurture. In turn, I think Jesse knows that Walt never really gave up on him; he didn’t when he was his teacher and he isn’t going to now. Jesse still calls Walt “Mr White” and after a particularly harrowing episode in Jesse’s life, he falls on to Walt crying. The scene was played perfectly by the two actors, as Walt conveyed just the right amount of surprise and fear before he carefully placed his arms around Jesse and stroked his hair. They have a very touching, very real Father/Son, Uncle/Nephew relationship going on. The producers of the show put down the success mainly to the on-screen chemistry between Jesse and Walt and I entirely agree. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were perfect choices and both extremely talented men.
I have a particular loathing for Walt’s wife, Skyler. The actress who plays her, Anna Gunn is enormously talented. I find Skyler selfish, self-absorbed and petty and I really struggle to comprehend why anyone would want to be with her. She didn’t ever really listen to Walt and seemed intend on only telling people how Walt’s illness made her feel. Really, credit is also due here to Bryan Cranston again- Walt is an unpredictable, unbalanced, selfish, drug manufacturing, homicidal possibly psychopathic man and yet I adore him, like so many others. Even though in Skyler’s shoes, with the sudden disappearances and the lies and never coming home, I would probably feel just the same, my adoration lies squarely with Walt and I hope it always will.
The similarities between The Wire, The Sopranos (other hugely successful televsion shows) and this show are really asking you if the world is as black and white as “this is okay” “this is not okay”. It really questions you on where you stand on certain things. Something, you can’t just put everything into little boxes. The question is, what would you do for your family? What would you put yourself through when you knew you wouldn’t be there to protect them anymore? It’s a harsh question and one few of us couldn’t answer, I’m sure. You know deep down that you shouldn’t empathise with Walt, but you do if you watch this show and you will if you don’t yet.
The cast are amazing, the supporting characters are just right (loveable idiot and DEA Agent Hank, his kleptomaniac wife Marie, spooky Gus and adorable moron Badger) and the set designs are recurring themes are clever. The foreshadowing, the flashbacks, the odd light filters used in certain shots all come together to form something truly remarkable. The show has been nominated for 150 television awards and won 46. Critical feedback has been phenomenal and fans grow in number daily.
This show really is addictive. I don’t know much about where the story goes as I am only on season 3 and I tried to keep spoilers to myself in case you haven’t started watching. This show is clever, funny, sad, sharp, touching and despite the fact that it is complete and wholly unrelatable, you probably will relate to a lot of it.