It’s been widely acclaimed as the greatest television show ever and I am inclined to agree. I don’t think I could possibly start to scratch the surface of all the reasons why – when television is studied as part of literature, I’m sure it will feature along with Shakespeare – but I’ve provided my top three below:
– The relationships
The characterisations and relationships in this programme are one of the major reasons why it was so compelling, particularly within Walt’s family. Hank and Marie, for example, started off looking like caricatures; the brash vulgar policeman and his spoiled bitchy wife. Very soon though we got beneath the surface. Hank’s visit to El Paso, where he was so out of his depth, and the subsequent post traumatic stress, was a real turning point for his character. Marie remained annoying until Hank needed her, and then suddenly we saw the real core of their relationship. They became, without me realising, almost like family insofar as all the flaws were there, and obvious, but I loved them anyway.
Skylar and Walt’s marriage was another beautifully depicted relationship. For so long I found Skylar whiny and annoying – all that carry on about the second cell! – until I suddenly thought how awful it must be to look across the table at your husband and not recognise him. She gained a certain quiet dignity over the course of the show, particularly when Walt Jr persisted in taking his father’s side, right up until her breakdown. The moment when Walt Jr finally stuck up for her first was my most tearful moment.
– The strategy
One of my favourite things about Breaking Bad was the manoeuvring in the criminal world and of course the master was Gus Fring.
The episode where he finally defeated the cartel was one of my favourites. The potent mix of business and vengeance was chilling. The problem with drug dealing is that you can’t just fire someone. They will almost certainly know too much, and then you’ve always got that danger there, looking over your shoulder. Gus moved people around like chess pieces and was never afraid to get his hands dirty. It was all about moves and counter moves. Risks and profits were weighed up. I think Gus demonstrated quite perfectly where Walt fell down as a strategist; he wasn’t considered enough. He was certainly a incredible thinker, but ego repeatedly got in the way. Yes, he got himself out of many difficult situations, but the difference is that Gus didn’t get himself into situations like that. Skylar proved herself to be a brilliant strategist in the brief period where she willingly consorted with Walt, far more intelligent with far more of an eye for the long game that he ever had. Walt was brilliant at solving the problem in front of his face, but he couldn’t weigh up long term risk against profit. Ultimately he was too avaricious.
To me, Jesse was the finest character on the show. His character was a complete idiot on the surface, a vacuous stoner with no thought beyond where the next hit was coming from. Quite quickly though it became obvious that there was more to him than that. We caught brief glimpses into his family life, and it seemed clear that his parents had wanted a higher achieving child. Jesse visibly blossomed every time Walt was pleased with him, and fell ever further backwards when he was criticised or blamed.
Every time there was an opportunity for Jesse to get out, something happened to push him further back in. Ultimately, if you are going to be a big time drug dealer you have to kill people, and that was something Jesse really struggled to come to terms with. I felt for him. It was heart-breaking when he had to kill Gale, and his descent into harder and harder drugs afterwards was very difficult to watch.
To me, Jesse was very childlike. Always searching for approval, for someone to guide him, and delighted as a child when something went right. At first Walt needed his introduction to a life of crime, but before long the tables had turned and Jesse was the follower. I hoped more than anything that he gets away safely at the end.
So those are my three favourite things about Breaking Bad. How about you??