Remembering… Breaking Bad

Each month, I rummage through the annals of television history, reviewing shows past. This time, we get cooking with Breaking Bad...

Wow, it seems like only yesterday it ended but, believe it or not, it’s been nearly two years. A show that no doubt captured audiences, even if it was a little late into its run.

I came to Breaking Bad late. Sure, I’d heard of it and even seen advertisements, but I never really felt it appealed to me. It wasn’t until midway through season five, when everybody was going nuts over the final eight episodes, that I was encouraged to watch it by a friend. He claimed he’d never seen anything quite like it, in terms of characters, plot, the way it was shot and the constant twists and turns. My friend told me it was probably the best show he’d ever seen. As we all know, when your given a line like that, you have no choice but to watch and see if they’re right.

For the two of you who still haven’t seen it, Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston – that’s right, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle – as Walter White, a chemistry teacher. Walter’s life is rather mundane, living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and son Walter Junior (RJ Mitte).

When Walter is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, he turns to a life of crime with ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Together they develop and produce a high-quality crystal meth that they can sell in order to secure his family’s financial future before he dies.

As with many other shows, I found the first episode a little slow and boring, but that’s to be expected. You need to get to know the characters and the world.

In the first piece of action, our two amateur cooks have to dispose of the body of a drug dealer they’ve killed. Jesse, unbeknownst to Walter, has placed him in the bath, instead of the plastic container he asked him to get, and filled it with hydrofluoric acid. As they stand in the hallway listening to the creaking upstairs, the ceiling caves in, pouring acid and dissolved body parts onto the floor. That was the moment I knew this show was something special, and it was only episode two. Never has a show hooked me so early – even Game of Thrones took until Ned Stark’s untimely death to really have me committed.

Breaking Bad’s real strength was its unique character development throughout its five seasons – or six, depending on how you look at it. People often say The Shield did it first, with its portrayal of a morally questionable protagonist. But whereas The Shield’s Vic Mackey was controversial from episode one, Walter White’s transformation from innocent civilian to twisted drug kingpin spanned the entire show. It was certainly something to behold, and it was the key to keeping its audience.

A man who goes from struggling to keep his students under control at school to meticulously orchestrating the murder of several prisoners in less than two minutes, says a little something about his evolution. This was something creator Vince Gilligan intended.

Nominated for more awards than I can list and winning two Emmys for his performance, Cranston carried the show playing a character so far removed from Malcolm in the Middle’s Hal that it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor. That’s not to put down the supporting cast however.

Aaron Paul’s portrayal of Jesse starts quite one-dimensionally, but the character becomes more rounded as the show progresses, and Paul shows real commitment to the role as he’s sucked deeper into a dark, dangerous world by an ever intimidating Walter.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the ending divided people, but, as I’ve said before, you can never please everyone. I felt the ending was satisfying. In some regards, it’s not as definitive as first expected, with Cranston even suggesting Walter could return in the future. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but for now we’ve been given a worthy spin-off in the form of Better Call Saul.

If you’re yet to see Breaking Bad, I highly recommend you do. You won’t be disappointed. So here’s to Breaking Bad, one of the most ambitious shows to grace our screens.

Next month, with The X-Files making a comeback, I’ll be looking back at the original series and how its mix of sci-fi and the supernatural thrilled audiences.

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