Today we’re going to review one of the greatest TV series ever made. Breaking Bad (BB) may have concluded in 2013, but it left a lasting imprint. I’ve watched every episode of the programme over the past two months. This is usually not the case; Stranger Things is the only other show that comes to mind recently. Years ago, Dexter likewise enthralled me, and I ran the gamut. On the surface, BB masquerades as a heavy drama, but there’s so much more to it. Simply put, BB is as compulsive viewing as it gets. Here are some observations about BB:
- The opening sequences to the episodes are done differently. Sometimes they seem irrelevant, until the unfolding instalment says otherwise. There was one where the two Salamanca cousins were wreaking havoc, but we did not know them. Another had a child catching spiders. There were a few that were shot in the desert. Kudos to the team: the camera work was always brilliant.
- Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) loves wearing baggy clothes. The Jesse character, one of the show’s leads, always preferred two sizes bigger. Whether it’s jeans, sweaters or jackets, you can count on Pinkman. Funny enough, his fashion style reminded me of my younger self. I used to favour larger dimensions than slim or regular fits, but I’ve changed my getup thereafter. ‘But you know the business and I know the chemistry’.
- It’s not all drama. BB has its share of comic relief. One time, Jesse picked up Walter (Bryan Cranston) at the airport…in their meth RV. Another time Walter brought home a massive pizza and tried to make peace with his wife. She didn’t accept his olive branch, leaving him frustrated as hell. In his failure, he flung the oversized pie, which landed on their roof. Meanwhile, Walter loves cooking in his underwear, which gets the attention of Krazy-8 (the local distributor). This leads him to ask: ‘Are you a f…king nudist or something?’ Walter’s preference has been parodied a little, including Neil Harris’s famous strut at the Emmy’s. Jesse also keeps addressing Walter, as Mr White, which reminds me of Hugo Weaving. In Matrix, Agent Smith (Weaving) keeps calling Neo (Keanu) as Mr Anderson. BB is also not on the same level of gratuitous violence as GoT, which I reviewed last week.
- Trophy don’t lie. During its five-year run, BB amassed a total of 16 Emmys, including multiple wins by Cranston and Paul. The former notably transitioned into a producer role during BB’s time. Walter White is middle America, from a house with mortgage to a lowly job as long-time high school Chemistry teacher. At the start, he was having a mid-life crisis. The sudden on-set of lung cancer enables an epiphany, and he spends his last years as the local ‘cook’.
- Call me Heisenberg. The appellation was pure genius. Mr White hid behind that imposing persona, with its historical undertones. Runners feared him, and they dare not say his name. This allowed him to focus on cooking the purest and bluest meth on the market, even if methylamine was an issue. As a side note, White had also been addressed as W.W. (his initials). He uses American poet Walt Whitman as a scapegoat to hide his true persona. ‘Say my name.’
- The bell. There’s this old guy named Hector who’s confined to a wheelchair. He used to be a key figure in the Mexican cartel before Father Time got the better of him. The bell is his only means of communicating. So, people learned that getting an alphabet in front of him was the best bet. Don Salamanca would ring the bell for every correct letter. Now this is tedious work but not unrewarding. I just found the whole bell thing as very fresh. You don’t see that on every day telly. When he keeps ringing the bell to confirm ‘Walter White’ as his nephew’s killer, this seemed like a watershed. Meanwhile, his banishment to a wheelchair was no coincidence as he had authored many crimes during his time.
- Los Pollos Hermanos: the best chicken in town. Apart from Walter and Jesse’s home, one restaurant named Pollos Hermanos figures prominently in the series. As you will know, one Gus Fring owns the fast food chain. The stores are a front for Fring’s drug and money laundering business. Pollos becomes a default meeting place for his associates. Mr Fring apparently owns 12 stores; the pollo frito looks very succulent. In killing Fring, Walter bit the hand that fed him. He would become like a nomad, and his colleagues were not pleased. Why ruin a good thing, where everything went like clockwork?
- The Big C. When my mentor asked the class what’s the Big C, they replied, ‘Cancer’ in unison. Wrong! Conscience, that’s the Big C. BB has both – in spades. Walter H. White has cancer, while Jesse struggles with his conscience. After losing his partner Jane to an overdose, shooting Gale point-blank, and seeing Todd gun down the kid, Jesse was breaking. Just like cancer, no amount of chemo can negate the build-up of guilt inside. Like Pinkman, the horror you witness gnaws at your shell and you become disillusioned. Things had deteriorated to a point where Jesse works as an informant to the DEA. At series’s end, Jesse has lost all interest in cooking meth and the syndicate forces him to cook batches. He wants nothing to do with Mr White. The remorse has eaten him alive. ‘Yes. Lung cancer. Inoperable.’
- What’s with those titles? Seven Thirty-Seven; Negro y Azul; Box Cutter; Problem Dog; Madrigal. At some point, these titles would mean something. Every ep is a much-watch. I tried watching The Sopranos a few years back, which forms an interesting comparison. Both are crime dramas, with strong performances, and plotlines. While I had access to Sopranos, I never ventured beyond the third or fourth series. In case you’re wondering, Sopranos has more Emmy nods (21), and has likewise been hailed as a classic. Yet BB is practically the gold standard when it comes to crime dramas, where every ep counts or no ep counts. BB provides a revealing look into the dark side, dealing with themes and issues that are both familiar and foreign.
- Family man. Throughout the series, Walter reiterates that he did this for his family. One reason was behind all the cooking, all the lies, all the murders: to ensure that his family has a bright future. He cooked thousands of pounds of ice, swiped gallons of methylamine, hoodwinked his family, and his murders cut across the heirarchy. He convinces his wife that he sources weed, and for a while, blatantly denies that he owns a second cell phone. He is able to deflect attention from the DEA for most of the show’s run. Regardless, he loves his family dearly, buying them the best cars, and paying for their rehab, but is nowhere to be seen during his daughter’s birth. Instead, he is doing a drug run – prioritising greenback over his daughter. He has a strong bond with Flynn, his only son, but resorts to deceit to cover his tracks. All this time, he hides under the mistruth that he is winning big in gambling. He is so adept at fabrication that he has a tailor-made response for everything. Lying has become his second nature. Given, he has more money that he can count, but for what? Walter’s family can’t splurge since doing so would alert the Feds. As someone else has told me, you also can’t bring your riches to the next life. ‘I am not in danger. I AM the danger.’
As you can see, BB is must-watch entertainment. From Heisenberg to the DEA, Pollos Hermanos to the Big C, BB is a binge-worthy (some say cringe-worthy) concoction that will keep you hooked. No wonder critics could never tire of heaping praise (and accolades).