Why Breaking Bad is the Most Brilliant Show I’ve Ever Seen…
So I just finished watching the television series Breaking Bad, and this is how I feel…
My mind = blown.
I confess… not only I am a little late to the Breaking Bad bandwagon, but it actually took my husband over a year of nagging me about this show for me to finally throw my hands up in defeat and agree to watch it.
I don’t know if it was his constant insistance that Breaking Bad was the best show he’d ever seen, or if it was all the other people telling me to watch it, but I just didn’t want to, and the more that people insisted, the more I refused.
And I had a love-hate relationship with the show for almost the entire five seasons. Almost. And then I had this moment:
And from that moment on, I knew that I had inadvertently fallen into unyielding allegiance for this show. From this moment on, every show I ever watch will be compared to this one. And every show I watch from here on out will fall short. Because nothing is like this show. Nothing.
So I’m writing this on the morning after, feeling like I’ve just woken up from some kind of cinematic hangover, opening my eyes to the sound of the intro music playing in my head and feeling sorry for all the other shows on television that will never live up to the standards that Breaking Bad has set.
Now, I may sound a little bit dramatic, but you have to understand… I’m still reeling from the mind-blowing perfection of this show. Those who know me know that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to stories. I read A LOT. I also write a lot. And to me, nothing is more important to a story than the ending. And I’ve read plenty of books, watched plenty of movies, invested in plenty of television shows that I consistently enjoyed until the very end. And then the ending would suck, and I would drop into some sort of miry pit of disappointment and wallow at my naive excitement over a story that ended up going absolutely no where. It doesn’t take a lot to begin an incredible story. The brilliance is not in the creation of an interesting story. The brilliance is in the ending. The ending is EVERYTHING. And I have high expectations for endings, and the more I like the idea, the higher expectations I have. Which is why I’ve almost never watched a television show all the way through and have been satisfied with the ending. ALMOST. Because, well… Breaking Bad.
I know that I’m now one of a million unwavering fans of this show, but I just have to talk about it. Because I’m that excited. So this is my **SPOILER ALERT** for anyone who has not seen this show. If you’ve ever been interested in watching this show, or if you haven’t even thought about it but have been looking for a good show, I’ll just leave you with this: YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS SHOW! And it’s best to go into it not really knowing much about it. Well, here’s what you can know:
This is the story of Walter White, former high school teacher and recently diagnosed cancer patient turned Meth-dealing criminal mastermind.
Now if that doesn’t already intrigue you, then… you’re probably just like I was. But trust me… this show…
Of course, if you aren’t really the kind of person who enjoys delving into the mind of a criminal, or if you have a low tolerance for violence on television, then maybe this show isn’t right for you. Maybe. Because I’m still hopeful that even in spite of that, you could appreciate a show as perfect as Breaking Bad.
Okay, so again… If you haven’t watched this show and intend to…
Because I’ve got to get this off my chest…
I hate Walter White. HATE him. From the very beginning, I couldn’t stand his arrogance, his better-than-thou attitude and the fact that he is so selfish, yet he’s blind to the fact that he’s being selfish. He makes terrible decisions on behalf of his unsuspecting family, he’s a compulsive liar, yet he is so good at playing the martyr and making others believe he’s the victim. He has no remorse. And worst of all, he is willing to destroy anyone that stands in his way of him getting what he wants, and that includes his wife, his children, and his insanely loyal business partner, Jesse.
For an entire 4.75 seasons, I watched this show in fuming frustration at Walt, calling him an unsympathetic protagonist, not understanding why on earth this show was so popular. I mostly understood; the writing is incredible, and this is the kind of show where every detail has been intricately planned and holds value to the story. You could probably watch an episode five times over and notice something new every single time. That’s the kind of show this is. And I could appreciate that. But what I couldn’t appreciate was Walt. How can I like a show who’s protagonist is so dang unlikeable? I felt like it was a flaw. I don’t need to agree with my protagonists decisions to stand behind them, I just need to understand them. But it seemed like Walt was lacking in anything that made him even slightly sympathetic.
The longer the show went on, the more selfish and heartless he became, until he was willing to completely betray even his wife and Jesse, and I didn’t understand it. In my opinion, it was a writing flaw. Because every protagonist needs something, anything, that keeps them human. Walt needed something. Even if it was only Jesse, his drug-addict business partner (who is oddly one of the most charming, multi-layered characters I’ve ever seen on a television show, but I won’t get into that now). But he even betrayed Jesse, the person who stood behind him from the very beginning, who fought alongside him, who defended his character countless times, who had even murdered for him. He even threatened to destroy Hank, his DEA brother-in-law, who stood by his side through everything, granted, while being oblivious to his double life as a drug kingpin, but still. Nearing the end of season five, Walt had seriously taken it too far in my book. And I was rolling my eyes and wishing I could punch a television character in the face and looking at my husband and asking him how on earth he could unwaveringly stand behind a show with such a blatantly horrible protagonist.
And then came Ozymandias: the 14th episode of season 5. The third to last episode of the entire series. The episode where everything came undone. Hank was killed right in front of Walt. Walt betrayed Jesse and handed him over to be tortured by Jack and his group of Nazi psycopaths. Walt attacked Skylar and forced his son to call the cops on him. Walt abducted his own daughter and then phoned Skylar on an obviously tapped phoneline to insult her and brag about the fact that he disposed of Hank. And as I was sitting there crying in shock over Hank (because I loved his character and never in a million years would have thought that they’d kill him off…*tear*), and as I was pissed and appalled that after everything they’d been through, Walt could have just handed Jesse over to be killed like that, and as I couldn’t take one more psychotic decision on Walt’s part, I saw it. And then my eyes were opened. And I could do nothing but sit in shock and awe of the hidden brilliance that I never saw coming.
Me after the episode:
Because after all my griping and complaining about Walt for the entire series, and after arguing time and time again with my husband about how I’ll never like the show like he does because I hate Walt so much, and how it was an error for them to not give him something to make him more human, and after me passing judgement on people and assuming that they like the show because they like Walt, it hit me…
This is not a show about a hero’s journey. This is a show about a villian’s journey.
Walt is not supposed to be sympathetic. He’s supposed to be horrible. We are supposed to watch this show and observe the slow unraveling of someone who was once good, someone who’s humanity is slowly pulled apart by a long string of bad decisions, until all that is left is a villian. A good person who begins doing bad for what he believes are the right reasons, but then falls in love with doing bad in general. Someone teetering the line between good and bad while participating in criminal activity, until he takes a long hard fall into the pit of the criminally insane. This is what it’s like to abandon the rules and routines for a life of living like you’re above the law. This is what it’s like to do the things you are most afraid to do and then realize you enjoy them. Madness. Pure. Brilliant. Madness.
This show explores so many layers of the insanity and madness that lie within all of us that we often hide. It shows what can happen to a person when those layers become slowly stripped away, when you decide to challenge all the rules and regulations and routines of life that everyone is too afraid to break. It’s about the things that we are capable of that we often suppress, and what can happen to a person when they are no longer in control of that piece of them that keeps them living within the boundaries of the rules and routines. And Walt explains it all in the series finale, during his last conversation with his wife:
Honestly, after all his lying, this confession really was a breath of fresh air to me. I’d never believed he’d be capable of admitting to any kind of regret, so I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t give her that. But his willingness to finally after all this time, admit that he enjoyed his crime-ridden life and drug empire instead of hiding behind the lie that he’d been doing it for his family, was oddly satisfying. At least in the end, he admitted it.
And that brings me to the ending. Like I said before, anyone can come up with a good story idea, but not everyone can pull off the ending to a good story. And one of the most important things about writing a good ending is knowing when to end a story. There are too many stories that go on for far too long, causing the story’s essence to be lost in the postponement of the inevitable. And one of the classiest things about the ending of Breaking Bad is the fact that it happened at just the right time. Not a second too early, not a second too late. With Walt’s final confession to his wife about his reason for choosing his life of crime, his character had finally come full circle. He’d reached the pinnacle of his villianry: he finally accepted that he was bad and he liked it.
But that still didn’t stop him from executing a perfect, very Walt-like flawless plan of revenge on the ones who were still benefiting from his precious baby blue. Not before, of course, he spontaneously saves Jesse’s life and frees him from his captivity, in turn getting mortally wounded in the process. But even so, he could rest easy knowing that the drug empire he created was going to die with him. Everyone who had ever been involved with Walt’s blue meth is dead. All but Jesse. And the final confrontation between Jesse and Walt left me like…
We watch Jesse ride off into the night after he’s finally been able to stick it to Walt in a way he never has before: he’s finally been able to refuse him what he wants. Walt asks Jesse for something, and for once, he doesn’t do as he’s told. Walt tells Jesse to kill him. He tells Jesse that it’s what he wants. And Jesse drops the gun and delivers his ridiculously satisfying last words to Walt:
“Do it yourself.”
And then he goes, leaving Walt alone amidst a wreckage of bodies, awaiting the cops as he bleeds out from a wound that looks awfully close to his lung. Coincidence? Not in this show.
It ends with Walt, lying dead in a meth lab. It ends where it all began. Not before Walt reminisces on his meth-dealing journey while taking a tour around all the equipment, looking pretty darn pleased with himself. Even in death, it’s clear what he believes is his greatest accomplishment. The police find him when he’s already dead. And so ends the journey of Heisenberg the Great: criminal mastermind and meth-dealing legend. Farewell. Can’t really say I’ll miss you, but it was quite the ride.
And in spite of my love-hate relationship with Walt… or really, mostly hate… I am left here marveling at the art of perfectly-crafted villianry. Brilliance. That is all.