So I’ve just finished this series after six months of watching on Netflix. Like “The Walking Dead”, it’s a show that originated on AMC. Now, AMC technically means “American Movie Classics”, but given the quality of their original content, I won’t argue over the name 🙂 .
“Breaking Bad” tells the story of Walter White, a New Mexico man who’s just turned 50. Although supported by a loving, pregnant wife and son, Walt-who has pretty much a genius-level intellect-feels that he doesn’t get proper respect, even as a high school chemistry teacher (although he also moonlights at a car wash).
This is partially because Walt was once part of a promising pharmaceutical company, Gray Matter technologies, but ultimately left due to a falling out with his then-girlfriend, Gretchen, taking only a small share of the company. Gretchen ended up marrying the other partner in the business-Elliot Schwartz-and the company ends up making billions. oops.
…and if that’s not bad enough, Walt gets diagnosed with lung cancer after a collapse at the car wash, which will cost a ton of money to treat. Money Walt doesn’t have.
However, opportunity eventually knocks. Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schraeder, a DEA agent-takes Walt on a ride-along to bust a crystal meth lab-and learns that making meth can be easy-and a lot of-money.
….and Walt recognizes one of his former students-Jessie Pinkman-as an escaping “cook”-“Captain Cook”.
With not enough money, and a genius level intellect-Walt tracks down and offers Jessie a deal to make Crystal meth-a chemically pure, 99.1% and very blue type called “Blue sky”.
All of course, is very illegal….and as Jessie says to him-and the series gets it title from:
“Nah, come on, man. Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass all a sudden at age, what, 60, he’s just gonna break bad?”
…and that’s how it starts. Despite wanting the money mainly for his cancer and his family,Walt, like many notable fictional characters….
finds that the road to hell is paved with the best intentions.
Walt becomes an addict of sorts-not to his product-but to the criminal lifestyle breaking from the tedium of his regular life , and his own bruised ego…and eventually, his formerly family man personality gives way to “Heisenberg”….a name he chooses for himself based on the German nuclear scientist who also died of cancer. Despite this kind of “badass” persona he begins to cultivate, Walt’s still only a man, and often gets out of potential arrests/death by pure luck; while at the same time often digging a bigger hole for himself.
What’s worse, the very family he tried to help becomes his victims….first, because of his pathological need to lie-or cover up some of his harsher, more inhumane crimes. Hank in particular-who seems to be almost one step behind Walt (He initially has no idea that this criminal is his own brother-in-law, due in part to Walt’s quick thinking and elaborate falsehoods)-seems to often become the victim-sometimes mentally, sometimes physically. Hank’s pretty much one of the more heroic characters in the show, although in many ways, his “ride-along” is sort of what created Heisenberg (Who in many ways, is his personal White Whale) in the first place. This also takes a toll on his wife, the kind of quirky Marie (Skylar White’s sister) who is a bit of a nag and kleptomaniac, but also obsessed with purple….but who really loves her husband.
Another victim of course is his wife Skyler. Although initially unaware of her husband’s crimes, she’s pretty intelligent herself and can tell Walt isn’t telling the whole truth-and he never really does, even to the end-although at times, she’s not quite innocent herself.
Walter Jr, Walt’s disabled son, largely remains blissfully unaware of his father’s crimes, but it’s clear he’s emotionally distraught over his parent’s often strange behavior, even taking the alias of “Flynn” partially to avoid embarassment at school-a Nom de Plum which later becomes permenant for obvious reasons.
Even Jessie-who starts as the criminal-also starts to become more of a victim as Walt goes on. Walt’s actions-intentionally or unintentionally-begin to leave a trail of bodies (although maybe not quite a “trail” as Walt’s chemistry skills is often used to dissolve said evidence) pretty much from day one. While some of these are in the drug trade, many innocents begin to get caught up in Walt’s web, intentionally or not. The harm or death of innocents-in particular, children-causes great moral conflict for Jessie, as well as killing in cold blood. In many ways, he’s actually far more sympathetic than Walt.
Eventually, beginning in season 2, the universe of Breaking Bad expands even further beyond these initial characters. We meet Mike, a sort of enforcer/cleaner/hitman who often tries to serve as a reality check to Walt….
Saul Goodman, a highly unethical lawyer (and often comic relief) who often schemes with Walt (and ended up getting his own spin-off prequel).
and most notably, Gustavo Fring, who, on the outside, seems to be the friendly owner of a chain of chicken resturants (Los Pollos Hermanos) but is actually a sociopathic drug kingpin. He later partners with Walt, a partnership which has consequences for them both.
…and the Salamanca clan, who are part of a Mexican cartal that has a long-standing rivalry with Gus…and also complicate things for Walt and Jessie fairly early in the series.
(On a side note, pretty much all these season 2/3 characters are given more backstory in the “Better Call Saul” series, which I haven’t started yet hence part of the brevity of the descriptions).
While of course a drama, the series often has moments of comedy, although kind of “dark comedy”, especially in the first season. (some parts-such as Walt and Jessie’s early attempt to dispose of a body-something which unfortunately begins to become second nature for him-are definitely not for the squeamish)
After all, this is a series whose early publicity image is fairly comic himself…
…and Cranston’s most well-known earlier roles were pretty comic in nature. Of course there’s Hal, the goofy dad from Malcolm In the Middle….
Tim Whatley, the dentist on Seinfeld for example. On a side note, Walt’s almost a bit like the characters on Seinfeld-who are pretty much narcissists who often don’t give much of a damn about the collateral damage they often do (For instance, Susan’s death), although, like Walt, they do eventually get their comeuppance.
But despite the comedy, this is often a very, very dark show, although a different beast altogether from AMC’s other hit, “The Walking Dead”.
Anyway, I’ll probably be writing more on Breaking Bad as time goes on, but here’s sort of the fundamentals, along with some of my own thoughts.