*WARNING: This post is full of Breaking Bad spoilers. If you are yet to reach the epic conclusion or haven’t even started yet but fully intend to (and so you should), DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. I will have no one crying ‘spoil sport’ by the end, thank you.*
Since finishing what has been widely dubbed as ‘one of the greatest TV series of all time’, I’ve had an overwhelming desire to write some kind of ‘ode’ to Breaking Bad. I’ve attempted to start writing this (for want of a better word) tribute, several times, but have continually given up due to not being able to vocalise what I’d like to say as eloquently as it deserves. But equally I can’t seem to just ‘delete draft’ and write about something else. So I’m going to hash this out, ok? And then I’m going to go back to the beginning and critique/spell check/decide if I want to post it or not.
You see, when something has such a profound effect on me, or when I feel grief (which I think I genuinely felt as the final credits rolled), I like to write about it. When my family cat died after 15 years of being my ‘best friend’ (bear with me here), I wrote him a love letter which, to this day, sits in the notes section of my limited-edition leather Filofax. And several years later when our kitten, Mia, got knocked over and killed by a car, I found Thomas’ love note and wrote another one for her. I’m scared to forget, you see. It’s pathetic, I know, but taking the feelings and words and memories out of my head and putting them on to paper (or in this case, in to a blog post), somehow immortalises the very thing I’ve lost. Not to mention the fact it’s ruddy cathartic.
And now I’ve told the world I have love letters to my two dead cats in the back of my Filofax. Brilliant.
Now before you start judging me as some freaky fan person who’s going to get a tattoo of Walter White’s face on my arm, I don’t feel like I’ve lost a best friend or a loved one, for the record. But with the demise of Breaking Bad I do feel like I’ve lost something. Or like something has been lost. I’m also unable to talk to any of my nearest and dearest about it, because most of my close friends/colleagues/loved ones haven’t even started this televisual treat yet, let alone finished it. I’ve tried Paul, he just grunts. (He’s not a dissector like me.)
We finished the final, brutal, epic episode last Friday night, having devoured all five seasons in 10 weeks like ravenous dogs. Even though the final scenes had me shouting at the telly through my tears (“Hug him, Skyler! Just reach out and touch his hand! Tell him you forgive him- this is your last chance!!!”), I do feel it was a perfect conclusion to a perfect creation. Well, an almost perfect creation. I won’t mention Season 3’s bizarre, budget-saving bottle episode, ‘Fly’. Oh, whoops, I have. (It was the longest hour of my life.)
So what was it about Breaking Bad that made it so damn good? (Apart from the ‘Fly’ episode.) Why did the ratings grow with every episode and why has it become such a cultural phenomenon?? Well, I’m not going to try answer those questions. That’s dissertation fodder for a media student, that is. But what I am going to do is give you 7 reasons why I loved it so. Because this is my blog and I can.
1. It got better with age.
Not that I’ve ever had one, but like a fine wine it just got better and better with each season, which, for all of us currently suffering the third season of Homeland, we know is no mean feat. From Krazy-8 and Tuco, to Gustavo Fring, the Mexican cousins, cartel boss Don Eladio, Jack and his gang, and, tragically, Hank, Walt and Jesse had their fair share of enemies hell-bent on bringing their business and working relationship to an end. With each season’s climax, I found myself wondering what the hell was going to happen next… and I was always delighted with the darker, even more gruesomely intense outcome. Except, I wasn’t, because I also desperately wanted Walt to get away with it, for Jesse to be adopted by the White family, and for everyone to forgive and forget. But, erm, I think Walt poisoning an 11-year old child may have put an end to that ever being a possible resolution.
2. It was totally and utterly original.
People started talking about Breaking Bad years ago, but I was put off watching it by the rather bleak-sounding synopsis. Chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with terminal cancer and starts making drugs to pay for his treatment. Sounded grim to me, and at the time I was far more interested in watching Claire Danes try to catch a terrorist. But of course, Walter White and his creator, Vince Gilligan, had me gripped from episode one. It was such a random and unusual premise, set against the vast, cinematic backdrop of the New Mexican desert, but one that felt entirely plausible thanks to a motley crew of interesting and believable characters, a darkly comic script laced with sincerity and pathos, and an ever-evolving plot that kept it’s core values (family, greed and moral compromise) at heart.
3. It had a stellar cast.
When you can’t imagine anyone else playing the characters you end up so heavily investing in, you know that a show has been perfectly cast. You can have a fantastic script and an ever-evolving, edge-of-your-seat plot, but without a stellar cast you don’t have a phenomenon. What I loved MOST about the casting though, was that, certainly for a UK audience, these were largely unrecognised faces. (I knew Bryan Cranston from Malcom In The Middle, but certainly not by name.) These weren’t ‘stars’ getting paid astronomically high fees (not to begin with anyway) to bring the audiences in; these were working actors cast because they brought something human and just a little bit magical to their roles. (I mean, have you seen Aaron Paul’s audition tape? He’s so frickin’ cute I could lick him.)
4. It had strong, complex, interesting female roles!!
Ok, so maybe not as many as I’d have liked, but in Skyler, Marie and even Jayne (I can’t include Andrea- she was seriously dull) we saw female characters that were so much more than the typical trophy wife/bed companion. Perhaps the most misunderstood of these females was Skyler White. My Twitter feed hated her. My husband hated her! At times she irritated the hell out of me too, but for me, her stubbornness, maternal instincts, moral battles and sheer pig-headedness were what made her such an interesting and invaluable part of the show. Anna Gunn finally won an Emmy for her portrayal this year- it would have been an outrage if the show had come to an end and her contribution hadn’t been recognised.
5. It gave us Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
The protagonist and his sidekick. The weary, provincial chemistry teacher and his cocky, drug-addict ex-student. An unlikely friendship and one of the most complex relationships to have ever graced our screens. I fancied Jesse because he was cute and vulnerable, but then I also kind of fancied Walt because he had a kind face and was insanely intelligent. Confusing times. Towards the end I craved the funny, getting-to-know-each-other, cooking-meth-in-their-pants relationship they had at the beginning, but of course that was all irrevocable by then. Perhaps if Jesse had spent slightly less time feeling sorry for himself, I wouldn’t have been ‘Team Walt’ all the way, but even in those final scenes I was willing Jesse to forgive, to say ‘thanks’. Thank goodness for that tiniest of nods Jesse gave Walt before he got in the car and drove away. I might have thrown something at the telly otherwise.
6. It gave us Saul Goodman.
Oh god, I loved Saul. Full of sarcasm, quips, hilarious one-liners and seriously dodgy shirt/tie combinations, he provided the light relief that we all needed in those last few seasons and I’m so glad he made it to the end. I’m not sure about this Better Call Saul spin-off though… It needs to be completely Breaking Bad-free to work, methinks. And Huell needs to have some kind of Shakesperian-esque monologue.
7. It had everything.
I love TV dramas. I love gritty, intense, domestic screenplays about the breakdown of a relationship and I love explosions and car chases. I love tension and I love surprise. I love guffawing out loud and I love being moved to tears. I love sweeping, epic cinematography and I love a cracking musical score. Paul and I have watched a lot of the high-profile TV shows in our eight years together, from Prison Break, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, to The Killing, Luther, and of course, Homeland. We’ve watched much of (but not completed yet) The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter and 24. Breaking Bad is far and away my favourite of them all, because to me it had everything. Consistently. I know The Sopranos is widely lauded as the greatest show of all time, and what I’ve watched so far is brilliant, but what I think Breaking Bad has more of is excitement. What can I say? I like thrills. And Walter White’s journey to destruction was the most exhilarating ride of them all.
What the hell am I going to watch next?
To my Twitter followers and Facebook friends, I apologise for banging on about Breaking Bad for the last week. Normal service will resume now that I’ve got this internal monologue out of my system. I feel better now, if you were wondering…
To fellow Breaking Bad fans, I hope my meagre analysis has done this show some justice… Feel free to add in the comments why you loved it so.
To Sopranos fans, don’t you be hating on me, now. I’m going to give it another shot, I promise.
To Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul et al, thank you for the ride.