As grips go, Breaking Bad starts tight and never lets up. An instant attention-grabbing opening of a man stood in the desert, in his underpants, gun in hand. As the barrel permeates the silence, it is at once sad, sickening, funny and cool. It is Breaking Bad.
That beginning sequence, like the show itself, has become iconic as one of the greatest in television history. It asks more questions than it answers, and boy is the viewer locked in to find out more. Only 5 seasons and 62 episodes to go.....
The man in question, played exemplary by Bryan Cranston, turns out to be Walter White, an ordinary husband, father and chemistry teacher, whose life is far removed from what we have just witnessed. Or at least it was. Walter is already down on his luck and feeling sorry for himself when he receives news that shatters the glass bottom.
With no money, a pregnant wife and a disabled son to support, he is struggling; then a sudden and unexpected diagnosis of lung cancer causes a depth of anger and hopelessness that pushes him to extraordinary solutions. The realisation that his illness will financially ruin the family he’ll leave behind, Walter hurtles head first into an extreme money making plan; teaming up with Jesse Pinkman, a drug dealing ex pupil whom he dislikes, Walter uses his chemistry expertise to make the best methamphetamine, which Jesse will sell.
And so begins Walter’s double life; as a hardworking, low earning, intelligent, lacklustre family guy; and as a secret hardcore criminal, playing with millions and gaining a notoriously dangerous reputation. His journey twists and turns into unknown complexities, as every way out drags him further in. His relationships develop in contrast too. Jesse and Walt, an ill-fitting duo of opposites, must trust each other with their lives and their secrets, earning an odd mutual respect for and reliance on one another the more they share hidden atrocities. With his wife Skyler, they drift apart, as Walter’s behaviour is unavoidably bizarre, and she becomes increasingly suspicious.
As the show progresses, we are introduced to various other characters: Skyler and Walt’s son Walter Jr, Skyler’s sister Marie, Marie’s husband and cop Hank, drug leader Gus, hitman Mike, and lawyer Saul, who went on to be the star of popular spin off series Better Call Saul. Each become a huge part of Walt’s worlds, either luring him in with promises of riches or bailing him out of disastrous situations.
Throughout this, the plot both widens and narrows. There’s murder, corruption, and the worst of human behaviours, but it remains somehow led by love, however misguided. The obsession with money overrides, driving the direction of Walt’s choices, and in his attempts to make things better for his family he creates an ongoing irreparable mess.
It all sounds thoroughly depressing, and indeed the bleak dark narrative persists, yet Breaking Bad is a constantly engaging, exciting and explosive watch. Amongst the hurt and lies, it is heartfelt and honest; within the drama, there is humour; despite the outlandish events, it is believable and reels you in, whilst always remembering to be damn good entertainment.
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A few years since Breaking Bad ended, the character of Walter White has etched its way into lists of leading anti-heroes, as someone so utterly ridiculous and completely relatable. As for the show itself, well it’s in no doubt that Breaking Bad has become rightly accepted as one of the greatest TV series of all time, and will continue to inspire generations of viewers and makers long into the future.
Published on June 21st, 2019. Written by John Barran for Television Heaven.