No other TV show has ever been so compelling, emotional and perfect as Breaking Bad. From the acting, story writing, screen play, character development and music, Breaking Bad is a TV show that will never be topped. The show has also revolutionized how we experience television and binge watching.
If you ask any long-time Netflix watcher what the first TV show they binged-watched, many will say Breaking Bad. The iconic show was one of the first complete TV shows to be added to Netflix’s streaming service in 2012. However, the show did not conclude until later that year. Many have said they have a hard time getting into the show because they believe the first season is slow. This notion is quite curious, though.
Breaking Bad opens to an all-American family enjoying a birthday breakfast for the protagonist (and later antagonist) Walter White. The breakfast features commentary between White and his son and wife, Skyler. It also shows Walt’s age, 50, in bacon. This takes place on Walt’s three birthdays in the series. The conversation could not have been written any better or acted more effectively.
White is a high school chemistry teacher who is not only overqualified, but more brilliant than anyone realizes. His life is dead-end, his wife nags him, his son has cerebral palsy, and his wife is pregnant with an unexpected child. Walt finds out on his 50th birthday that he has been diagnosed with stage three terminal lung cancer. This throws him into a midlife crisis of sorts. At his birthday party, his brother-in-law Hank, a DEA agent, is shown on the news after a meth lab has been seized. Walt is surprised by the amount of money seized, just over 700 thousand dollars. Hank remarks that this is just a medium sized operation.
Walt decides to take up Hank’s offer for a ride along. He sees the bust go down, and a man manages to evade arrest. Walt recognizes him as a former student, Jessie Pinkman. Walt later approaches Pinkman about cooking meth together. They get their hands on an RV and go out in the desert to cook.
Pinkman starts out as a comic-relief type character, but part of the greatness of the show is the growth in his character and acting by Aaron Paul. Pinkman is a somewhat dimwitted young man who dresses like a gang member. He cooks meth, but does not understand the chemistry behind it; this is where White comes in.
The visuals of these scenes and those throughout are so vivid. Sometimes the visuals are gut-wrenching, such as the half-dissolved body. The strength in the show is also the color and filters depending on the scene.
Breaking Bad frequently shows flashbacks and flash-forwards. These usually take place at the top of the episodes and throughout the season, where they are fulfilled in the season finales. The show does a great job of beginning episodes with a climax and building back to it throughout the episode. The greatest example of this is in season two where there are black and white images with a stuffed animal in a pool. At the conclusion, a plane crash takes place and the animal lands in the pool. After the opening, the theme song and sequence take place. It shows the periodic table with the word meth in the background and the elements BR and BA being taken for the show’s title. Names of actors start with elements as well.
There are many reoccurring themes throughout the show. Walt spends a lot of the time thinking of lies to tell his wife. Hank gets angry to cover up his fear. Symbolism is important too. Whenever an important deal or decision is to take place, Walt puts on his hat, and turns into Heisenberg. Symbolism is frequently brought up in season three and four when Walt and Jessie go into business with Gustavo Fring, a business owner who is also America’s largest meth distributor, with cartel ties. The symbolism with Fring is that he is the man of two faces, much like Walt. He shows his kind side to the world and the DEA who he is a booster for. His other side is his other business, where he is ruthless, killing and doing whatever is necessary to benefit his business.
Another important theme is Walt’s regret and anger. He created a business, which he quit because he did not know if it would equate to anything and to provide for his family. He takes a buyout for five thousand dollars. The company grows into a $2.2 billion empire from Walt’s work. In the final season, Jessie wants Walt to take another buyout, for $5 million. Walt responds, “You ask if I’m in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.”
The show’s use of music is masterful. There are episodes named for the scenes and song names such as “Caballo Sin Nombre” (horse with no name). Another use of music is the song “Windy” by the Association which is about a prostitute and is used when Jessie enlists Wendy, the local prostitute to kill two rival dealers.
Another strength of the show is the episode naming. In the final season, Walt goes to New Hampshire. Two episodes are named “Granite State” and “Live Free or Die” which are the name and motto for the state of New Hampshire. Finally, the finale is titled “Filina.” It stands for blood, meth, and ties with the element names Fi (iron), Li (lithium), and Na (sodium).
Personally, the greatest strength of the show is the transformation of Walt’s character and evolution of Bryan Cranston as an actor. Cranston was the father on “Malcom in the Middle,” a mild-mannered push-over. His character initially seems the same at the beginning of Breaking Bad, but by the end it became so much more. Walt was disrespected and did not reach his potential, much like Cranston as an actor. Walt became a monster to reach that potential. Cranston became that character and it is unfathomable to think of any other actor playing Walt. The show made Cranston’s career. He has become a Tony award-nominated actor on Broadway, and a movie star. He is among the most popular actors today.
To someone who has not experienced Breaking Bad, it is hard to do it justice. It is perfect. Vince Gilligan, the executive producer effectively made the greatest TV show of all time, and it will never be topped.