Breaking Bad has been heralded by many as the best TV show ever. While my view is somewhat more restrained, I certainly believe that it is one of the best live-action dramas currently on television.
Set in the desert city of Albuquerque, new Mexico, Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad follows the increasingly dark story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with lung cancer, goes into business as a crystal meth cook with his former student, Jesse Pinkman. Things only go south from there, as Walt struggles to hide his new job from his pregnant wife, Skyler and his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank. Soon Walt has become a new person entirely, travelling a slow path from victim to victimiser, beginning the long and painful journey from good to evil.
It has its shocking moments (I can guarantee you will never be able to look at a child on a bicycle again without getting at least a little bit sad). it has a surprising number of funny moments, although as the characters sink deeper and deeper into despair, things that were once played for laughs, like dissolving bodies in acid, gradually become more somber occurrences. As your affection (or loathing) for certain characters increases, episodes become more intense and stressful by the minute.
For a programme that revolves around the idea of metamorphosis and change, there has been remarkably little shift in the show’s quality during its five series run. Breaking Bad, from the beginning, has been a wonderful fusion of tight writing, interesting cinematography and phenomenal acting. The episodes have been of a consistently high quality from the start, and things begin at fever pitch and never let up. Even as it streaks through its five seasons at a phenomenally high speed, the characters evolve believably within the ever-thickening plot, lies are piled atop lies, and the show becomes ever more complex and the writing more layered.
It’s a delightfully rich show, rife with symbolism, foreshadowing and parallels. As Walt and his sister-in-law, Marie, put his infant daughter to bed, they make sure to turn her on her side, tucking a towel behind her with great care, just in case she spits up. later in that very same episode, Walt looks on as Jesse’s girlfriend Jane rolls over on her back, and chokes to death on her own vomit. Creator Gilligan masterfully weaves little moments and parallels like these, both subtle and pronounced, in individual episodes as well as through the entire story. like most great shows, it also repays the viewers’ efforts, with the exception of a few contrived plot points. However, these moments are few and far between, and generally the story flows believably and smoothly. there are very few dropped plotlines and things left unexplained in Breaking Bad. There is no lazy writing, no sudden and unexplained disappearance of characters or problems. Story arcs are set up and have satisfying payoffs.
In addition, the show’s visuals are as fascinating as they are gorgeous; the beautiful new Mexico desert is a perfect backdrop, and cinematographer Michael Slovis uses it to great effect, giving the show a sort of modern-day John Ford western feel. Even the most mundane scenes are shot in interesting ways, using angles that give them a feeling of significance. On the other hand, however, as the show goes on, the cinematographer seems to enjoy using quirky point of view shots just a touch too much. There are probably ways that you could argue their artistic or metaphorical significance, but in general they feel gimmicky and distracting.
As fine as the writing and the cinematography are, they pale in comparison to the acting. The cast have managed to breathe such life and force into their characters that you can’t help but think of them as real people, struggling to survive and protect their families. Bryan
Cranston is pitch-perfect as Walt, exceptional in his portrayal of a man who deludes himself into believing what he is doing right, that evil isn’t wrong when in service of something good.
I’ve never loathed a character in quite the way I loathe Walter White. My contempt for him can be predominantly credited to Cranston’s portrayal of Walt’s grotesque manipulation of everyone around him, his arrogant sneer and the ever blurring line between him and his malicious alter ego, Heisenberg. His ability to snap back into his role as a bland, bumbling suburban father, as if he himself believes his lie, is, in a word, terrifying.
Aaron Paul is no less convincing in his role as meth-head drug dealer Jesse, bringing an unexpected air of innocence to a character to whom that word should not apply. Playing the unexpected moral compass of the show, Paul provides a constant foil to Walt’s depravity. Anna Gunn, who recently won an Emmy for her portrayal of Walt’s wife, Skyler, inhabits her character with a believable motherly strength, while still capable of being terrified, lost, and unable to escape Walt’s machinations. The entire cast has such chemistry (pardon the pun) that they feel like real families, friends and enemies.
From avoiding twitter at all costs in the hours immediately following an episode’s release, to holding viewing parties with your friends, watching TV is a social experience. Sure, you don’t have to compare theories with other fans, or scream your head off for hours after the episode finishes, raging blindly about Walt’s latest abusive antics, but it’s more fun that way.
As Breaking Bad comes to an end, it leaves in its wake tearful viewers and empty (although slightly less intense) Sunday nights. One can only hope that its artful storytelling and loyal viewership will inspire others to create characters and worlds that people can engage with to the extent they have done with Walt and his chaotic existence.