Like many Americans recently, my heart has been torn a bit over recent events. You find yourself eventually getting to a point of frustration, anger, resentment, sadness and despair, all wrapped up in one fleshy ball of humanity. Where do we turn? Who do we look to for help? Are there any options?
Of course, I’m talking about the conclusion of the brilliant AMC series, “Breaking Bad.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, or are planning on watching it soon, I am going to try very hard to avoid giving you any spoilers. It is a show filled with plot twists and general character transformations that can change your viewing experience completely if you even have the slightest whiff of what is coming next, and I do not want to alienate any of my three loyal readers (Hi, Mom!).
However, I will touch on a few general points about the show.
For starters, there are many out there arguing that Breaking Bad is the greatest show television has ever produced. To be honest with you, I can’t find fault with that claim, even if I disagree. Give me “The Wire” for pure television gratification.
I’m one of the people who believe that cable networks like HBO, AMC and FX have transformed television into the premium showcase of American entertainment today, far surpassing the contributions of movies or modern music — both in terms of purely entertaining us with riveting storytelling, and with pure impact on society as a whole.
Television critic Alan Sepinwall wrote a terrific book called “The Revolution Was Televised,” that broached this very topic.Sepinwall argued that shows like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “The Shield,” “Deadwood” and “Breaking Bad” are far superior to anything television has ever created before, and that this might be the apex of the American contribution to entertainment. He especially pointed out how flawed the central characters are in these shows, and how viewers often found themselves going back and forth on just how they felt about these people they were watching every week.
Certainly Breaking Bad’s main character, Walter White, carried some flaws with him.
For a brief recap, White was a high school science teacher who had a fairly normal life living with his wife and teenage son as the show began. He received news that he had an aggressive form of cancer, and like millions of people in this country, he wondered how he would pay for treatments and, in a worst-case scenario, how his family would be taken care of if he didn’t survive the battle.
Whereas many people in that situation begin searching for cheaper medical opportunities or leaning on friends or family members for support, White decided to use his skills as a scientist to produce and sell crystal meth, enlisting a former slacker student of his to help get his operation off the ground. He kept his hobby secret from his family, particularly his brother-in-law, Hank, who happened to be a prominent member of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
The stories in this show were tremendous, the acting believable and raw, and the twists and turns were insane, keeping you firmly planted on the edge of your seat throughout the series. However, what grabbed my attention the most through the series was the development of the character.
Walter White was an anti-hero. Yes, he was the person the viewer was most invested in, as the story in Breaking Bad was the story of Walter, but it was hard to actually root for the guy. The deeper he became embroiled in the underground world of drug-dealing, the more he transformed into his alter-ego, Heisenberg.
His own selfish interests overwhelmed his stated somewhat-selfless goal of providing for his family, and there were many times throughout the final seasons I was actively rooting for Walter White to lose.
Or die. Yes. Die.
It was an emotional and intellectual roller coaster, for sure, and I’m glad I enjoyed the ride as long as I did.