“The DEA took all your money, your lab. You got nothing. Square one. But you know the business and I know the chemistry. I’m thinking… maybe you and I could partner up.”
It was at this moment when the first episode of Breaking Bad went from “Wow, that’s interesting” to a literal “OMG” moment. And really, that’s what the show really is, it’s not something that goes from good to better, it’s a show that goes from excellent to extraordinary.
Not that it’s wrong not to start strong, other shows are actually great. But Breaking Bad is above being “popular and great” or cult, it has reached immortality in terms of how it is in the eyes of people and critics.
Here’s why I (I, personally. Please do not jump to conclusions like a bandwagon of “haters” and “fanboys”. It’s a personal opinion, deal with it) think Breaking Bad is possibly the greatest thing that has ever graced Television.
Let’s start from the beginning, the first 3 episodes of Breaking Bad were excellent, and can be a movie all by itself, so much character growth. By now, you already sympathise with Walt, the cancer patient, and he goes through the most change in these episodes. Then there’s Jessie, who’s pretty much an idiot in the first part of the series, he’s there to do drugs, get beaten up, and mess up his home by letting bodies dissolve in a bathtub. By the end of the season, though, he grows as a character, and actually becomes a “nice guy” from a “bad influence”.
Skyler goes through change slowly, from an innocent wife expecting a child to a woman who launders a drug dealer’s money in a car wash they own. She goes from shy to brave. Tuco serves as an appropriate antagonist for season 1, he’s dangerous, but also can’t be taken seriously. He’s unprofessional, has a bad temper, is violent, and is actually relatively stupid (when compared to Gus). In fact, he and Jessie are actually evenly matched in this department.
The first season of Breaking Bad is really about Walt. What the show does is it constantly hides Walt’s actions by justifications (“I’m doing this for my family”). He kills someone, suffocates another person in the RV, he cooks meth, lies to his family, destroys property and so on, but we still like him.
One of the most iconic portions of the TV show, challenges the first created sympathetic image we have about Walter White, in the episode finale. All throughout the journey, even in his worst, Heisenberg managed to make a soft corner in the hearts of his fans, by playing the victim-card. The cancer struck patient-with a paralytic son-and broke. In his final confrontation with his wife, Skyler, when Walter confesses why he did all of it, it ultimately adds the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle.
Another great aspect about the show is how it’s funny, or entertaining. It’s a drama, but it also makes us laugh at moments which aren’t essentially “funny” like Jessie’s constant use of the word “Bitch”. Other characters have roles. Hank is a rough cop and Walt’s brother in law, Skyler’s sister Marie’s a kleptomaniac, and Walt Jr likes to eat breakfast.
Season 2 of Breaking Bad makes Jessie’s character stronger. He experiences love, death, and grief, and he gets off drugs, and becomes more mature. He’s humanized, and becomes less of an incompetent moron.
What we learn from Walt is that he starts caring less for the family, and more about his meth making. He gets a lawyer, and focuses on work. He pays for it by the end, when Skyler confronts her. A lot of people hate her for this, but it’s understandable for an innocent mother of two to suddenly be pushed into a situation like this in which she has no say. We learn also, about Hank. Though shown as the “best of the best” till now, we see once he’s promoted to somewhere else, he doesn’t have the stomach to do things outside his comfort zone, and his ego and pride are what we see become vulnerable at this moment.
He’s also become obsessed with Heisenberg. And this season is about obsession. Hank, with Heisenberg. Jessie, with drugs. Walt, with work. Their obsession leads to their downfall.
Season 3 is where it proportionately escalates. People being murdered, backstabbed, shot in the face, crushed by cars, shot repeatedly in the chest. It has meth, money, standoffs, and vehicular manslaughter. Season 3 in terms of character focuses on Skyler. She starts to get into organised crime, accepts Walt’s drug money, and has an affair.
She starts ‘ Breaking Bad ’.
Jessie, other hand, starts getting liked by audiences here. He goes to rehab, and even tries to start a family. It is here when Jessie mistakenly assumes Walt actually cares about him. And Walt doesn’t, we think he does, because we’ve been rooting for him and all his actions, that we actually are tricked to believe everything he does, he does for “his family” or “his loved ones”. This is where the writing stands out, it is able to mask true intentions via character development and interactions and complicated situations.
Season 4 is actually when people started paying attention to this show, which previously was plagued with horrible publicity and scheduling. And why wouldn’t it get attention? Where the first 3 seasons made things complicated, Season 4 tried to simplify these complex intertwined situations. But it’s still very intriguing and well written.
Gus, the legendary villain of the series, is the central focus here, and he has a rift with the Mexican Cartel. Him trying to recruit Jessie and turn him against Walt, who meanwhile asks his lawyer Saul to take him and his family out of Gus’s eyes so they can start a completely new life. There is not a single static moment in this season. You can’t stay a second without worrying about all the characters. This is where Breaking Bad turns into a masterpiece. This is when Walt really transforms into Heisenberg.
This is the point when Walter is dead, and Heisenberg has risen. And why wouldn’t it? The seasons before it saw a man slowly lose sanity, morality, and ethics and turn into an evil, money hungry, manipulative, egoistic maniac. At this point, we wouldn’t really want to mess with this man. Walt’s change is seen by his antagonists: from the innocent Krazy-8 to Tuco, someone who doesn’t really know what he is doing, to Gus, an extremely intelligent, and careful professional man.
Skyler goes through change as well, and it is here where we see she does bad things (nothing bad compared to Walter though) and feels sorry about it. Jessie goes through turmoil, and he starts to swap sides from Walter to Gus, via Mike. And Mike, unlike Walter, actually cares for Jessie with no anterior motive. He treats all his partners like family.
By Season 5, Walt is the boss. He is uncaring and unsympathetic. Todd shoots an innocent kid? Walt doesn’t care. Pay people to keep their mouths shut in prison? Nope, Walt kills (in cases burns) them. Mike hurts his ego? Kill him! Usually each season has 1 or 2 opponents, each better and smarter than the previous one. Now, there are too many opponents to handle: Jessie, Hank, Todd, Uncle Jack’s gang, The DEA, the media and that frantic woman who has stevia or whatever it’s called in her tea.
Todd is evil, but doesn’t look or sound evil. He seems innocent, but considering how he grew up, he can’t really find his actions as evil, because he grew up with psychopaths like Uncle Jack. Hank doesn’t even care if the family is torn apart, he wants to capture Heisenberg. His discovery of Walter being Heisenberg delivers a serious blow to his pride and ego, because throughout he used to consider himself, and others considered him too, to be a DEA agent par excellence. Jessie knows everything about Walt, and Walt won’t kill him.
In season 5 we actually realise Walt does care. Just like he manipulated his family to do what he wants, he did for Jessie, and we see he actually considers Jessie part of the family. In fact, in “Ozymandias”, he is actually hurt when Jessie backstabs him. So at this point, when everyone is against you, your partners don’t care, your family wants you to die, it’s really a good time to get a machine gun and slaughter everyone. No seriously, this happens.
Here, is where the show deserves to get all the praise. It ends with an actual ending.
While most shows go on for the sake of going on, Breaking Bad had a beginning and ending. It did what no other show could do. It transformed a man from Mickey Mouse to Scarface. It’s a simple strategy, put characters into complex situations, and see what happens.
While most people felt sorry it ended, you’ll have to consider it a happy ending. His family gets the money, he eliminates all the competition, he wins everything he was pitted against, he dies as Walter White. He dies after Breaking Bad, ensuring that none but he would deserve all the credit for his iconic blue meth. The final scene of ‘Felina’ where we see Walter taking a stroll down the memory lane in the meth-lab is an exhortation of Walter’s own conscience through the song – “My Baby Blue”.
There is no point in detailed analysis over Walter’s change, because really while most of the show is about him, it’s about change (also it’s overhyped all over the internet). It’s about how characters are pushed into situations which force them to adapt and change into other people. Walter, as said before, goes from A to Z. Jessie goes from a bad influence to Walt to a character that has been manipulated and has never really had a lot of control of things in his life.
Skyler turns from the quintessential 2 dimensional wife to Heisenberg’s queen. Marie goes from a kleptomaniac to a complex woman who has psychological issues, not to mention a fetish for purple. Hank goes from a shallow spotlight stealer to a driven man who won’t stop at anything to achieve his goal. Other characters, like Saul, Mike, Gus, Gale, the antagonists, Jessie’s friends, and even the fly, help these characters evolve. They are catalysts. It is symbolic that Walter is a Chemistry teacher, and not just because it fits the narrative. The classroom speech by Walter in the first episode really foreshadows the entire show:
“You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It’s fascinating really. It’s a shame so many of us never take time to consider its implications.”
Breaking Bad, we MISS you!
By Rishabh Bhaumik.