I was talking with a few friends on Twitter about Breaking Bad. I ended up disagreeing with a couple of them, and promised to write a blog post about my opinions. It’s not that I think I’m right and everybody else is wrong. It’s that I’m right, and everybody else just hasn’t realized it yet.
Okay, only joking. But I do have some strong opinions on the subject. Stephen King says it’s the best writing on TV, and I agree.
The first episode starts out with a middle age man–Walt–recording himself on a video camera. He’s emotional, almost sobbing. He tells his family how much he loves them. He is standing in the middle of the desert, and he’s not wearing any pants.
This isn’t just a clever place to start to show. It’s the only place to start the show. Walt comes across as a man who is suffering. A man who had done something bad, but he’s done it for his family. For somebody else. You feel pity for Walt. Empathy. And that’s good, because we’re about to see what led Walt to this scene, and it’s not pretty. Walt has done some reprehensible things.
One friend on Twitter said that Breaking Bad was a show about bad people doing bad things with no consequences. I argue it’s about good people doing bad things, and the consequences come just as the do in real life–slowly. Better yet, we get to understand why these good people are doing bad things. To me, that’s just one of the things that makes the show so fascinating.
Another brilliant aspect of the show is the dynamics between Walter White, the middle age chemistry teacher, and Jessie Pinkman, the drug-dealing meth addict. We see episodes where Walt rubs off on Jessie in a positive way. He serves as a mentor of sorts, pushing Jessie to be a better person. We hold out hope that these two suffering souls can pull each other up.
But it’s not to be. There are other episodes where what Walt chooses to do is so horrible that even Jessie can’t go along with it. Roles are reversed, and Jessie becomes the conscience of the group.
The conflict and decisions throughout the show are painful and beautiful.
There is probably an entire semester’s worth of writing lessons in Breaking Bad. The characters are both complex and real. The writing and pacing is tight. And the acting is nothing short of brilliant.
I will admit, Breaking Bad may not be for everybody. It peels back the layers of human nature, and takes a stark look at all that is bad about us. But it also takes just as bold a look at what is the best in all of us. An example of this is a scene that I can’t describe without giving it away. It’s at the end of season three, and it’s the part where Walt looks at Jessie and says, “Run.”
That scene is brilliant, and exemplifies all that is good about Breaking Bad.
I don’t expect a happy ending with the show. I’ll be disappointed if we get one. Breaking Bad is about choices and consequences. It’s reminder of the very short distance between good and evil. A few wrong choices, a few bad actions, and we too can break bad. We’ll steer off course and cross that very fine line between human and monster.