Thursday 24 May 2012

Devouring TV: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad isn't the first TV programme I've been addicted to (before it, there's been Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing, True Blood... basically any tv series where I can devour the box sets quickly and efficiently) but it is the most recent and feels the most consuming right now. Hence, this post. And you know what? I didn't really think I was going to like it, just based on the few synopses I'd read (drugs? Eurgh! was more or less my reaction) but then at the end of last year I read Stephen King's top twenty things of 2011.

Oh yeah. All of this was Stephen King's fault, OBVIOUSLY, because all good things emanate from Stephen King (that's an actual FACT, just so you know). So yeah, he said that Breaking Bad was even better than The Sopranos (I am a person who, while I liked The Sopranos, is able to believe that there are better things than it out there) and I was like, hmm. Stephen King, I shall believe you! And off I went on an internet video finding mission (if you're in the UK, the first two seasons are on Netflix, and honestly, it's worth signing up to it just for them- and, in fact, the third season is now on there, which would have been good to know before I went trawling for episodes. *grumble*) and I fell into a Breaking Bad hole. In fact, I fell into two- I watched everything up to around the middle of season 3 in one big gulp, then couldn't find the next episode anywhere, got pissed off and stopped watching any more internet tv apart from Netflix (where I had the great fortune of watching Twin Peaks) and then these past few weeks, I found it again and watched the rest in a giant gulp of awesome.

But why? Why do I love it so? It's difficult to say, because there are a lot of things in it that normally, I just wouldn't be down with. I mean, there are basically two female characters, only one of them a main one really, and she's mainly just the main main character's (Walt's) wife. She genuinely doesn't really get to do anything interesting, and I kind of don't even like her, and normally, I wouldn't be down with that. And also? I don't even like Walt. I hate Hank. Marie is so annoying and Skylar (Walt's wife) is a total hypocrite. But also? I love them all as much as I hate them, which I really think is the mark of really great characters- you have all these conflicting emotions about them, but in the end you just kind of love them all because they're like family (all the characters I've mentioned so far actually are family in the show, which helps, of course).

And then there's Jesse. And sometimes I hate Jesse too, but mostly I love him. And there's really no reason to- he's a junkie, he's a drug dealer, he sometimes has absolutely no morals (he tries to sell drugs to people at NA meetings, which is fairly low) but the dude has so many layers. Like, all he wants is approval from Walt or basically any adult, whilst also wanting to escape from all authority figures; and it always surprises me how much he really really loves kids- it's a fairly standard thing in the series that, just when you think Jesse is a complete dick, he'll go and be really sweet to a kid, and just like that you're kind of in love with him all over again. It also doesn't hurt that he's kind of short and skinny and just looks like the kind of person that you want to protect. That is, when he's not smoking meth or brandishing a gun. Obviously.

So Breaking Bad is all about the decisions of Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher (but mildly secret chemistry GENIUS) who discovers he has terminal lung cancer and decides to cook meth in order to leave behind lots and lots of money to make up for all the cash he won't be earning when he's all dead and stuff. So, a large part of Breaking Bad is about his family, and hiding the things he's doing from them and how they all interact with each other. And that's all fine, and I like it enough and all, but the show really comes alive for me when Jesse and Walter are together. They are so unalike that the absolute only way they'd hang out is to cook meth together, and because of that their exchanges are brilliant, and hilarious, and absolutely the best thing about Breaking Bad. My favourite episodes are always the ones where it's basically just the two of them in one location for the whole 45 minutes, and whenever they're not speaking or working together (which happens at the start of season 3, and quite a lot in season 4) it makes me really sad. For Breaking Bad to work, they need to be together, even though their disputes are often as entertaining as their tentative friendship. It never fails to amuse me that, after everything they've been through together, Jesse still calls Walter 'Mr White', and Walter usually calls him 'Pinkman'. And they've never had a real hug. *SOB*

Obviously a lot of Breaking Bad (although maybe not as much as you'd think) is about drugs because, you know, they cook the meth and all. But I find the most interesting thing with the drugs is, again, the way that Jesse interacts with them. And by interacts, I obviously mean takes them, and by takes them, I mean that he's a drug addict. But he's a very high functioning drug addict. Like, he can have an all night and day meth party, and still turn up to work (where he does, of course, cook meth). And it's interesting because it always seems like he's in control of his drug use, until he's not, when it becomes clear that he's able to be swayed into full blown addiction (because of a hot girl) and that he shelters in drugs when things are going badly, i.e. he is an addict. I really don't know very much about addiction, but it seems to me that this is a realistic thing- that Jesse can stay away from the drugs, but that when things get rough, they're always what he turns to, as an emotional crutch.

I think Breaking Bad has a bit of a rep for being overly violent, and about drugs and drug use, and also it bothers me that no one has ever said 'yeah, you're just manufacturing meth, but think about the lives you're destroying- that makes you way worse than the people who use' but that kind of moralising doesn't really come into it. But the thing is, whenever I think about Breaking Bad, I hardly ever think about the drugs, and I basically never think about the violence- I just think about the relationships and the intricate lies and whether or not Jesse's going to be ok; and this could just be me ignoring what's there, but I think it's more that... Man, I really love the characters. Like, even when Jesse and Walt do murders (and they do do a few self-preservation murders, I have to warn you) it's like... they're really not very good at them, and you feel a lot more worried about them getting caught than you do about the murderee, which actually, now that I think about it, is pretty messed up. But the point is that you really don't think about the violence, but you more just worry about the potential consequences for the characters that you/I love.

So, to sum up: I love/hate Walt, Skylar, Marie and Hank, I LOVE Jesse, even when he's bad, and Breaking Bad is the greatest thing in the world. It's maybe not my favourite TV programme EVER, but it's definitely my favourite right now, and hey, it's also maybe my favourite ever. If you haven't seen it yet, I advise it maybe more strongly than I've ever advised anything in my life, and just, you know, enjoy the crap out of it. I know that I have, and I can't WAIT for July 15th (or I guess the 16th, for me) when the new (and last! *SOB*) season begins.


  1. I got into Breaking Bad in a similar way - I watched the whole series (so far) over a six month stretch and totally fell in love with the show.

    And what about the reveal at the end of that last season?! I was all, WALTER YOU ARE A**HOLE #1!

    Another show that I really loved was The Shield, which was about a group of corrupt LA police officers that caused a similar LOVE/HATE relationship with the main characters.

  2. OH MY GOD, the end of season 4!! I totally had my doubts about Walter in that ep, and then at the end when they confirmed it I was like 'OMG, I thought it but I didn't actually BELIEVE IT!' Just... UGH. And what about the end of Season 2?! Terrible!

    Walter's not a very good guy really, is he?

    I have never seen The Shield but I may have to check it out *unrolls massively long list of TV programmes I have to watch* Yep, got it, thanks!

    1. Holy crap, the end of season 4! I have literally just finished watching it and came to read this post because I didn't want to read it before I got into it...anywho! The end of season 4 was like argh! When they were talking on the roof I was like "Walt...noooo" but I mean, clearly he wouldn't but holy shirt he did!

      I love all the same things about the show as you, especially the Walt/Jesse relationship but another thing I love are the teensy tiny sign posts. Like in the last ep when Walt is by the pool spinning the gun and it points at him and when he spins it again and it's pointed at the flower...mind blown! Clearly no corners are cut writing/making this show.

      I am a little worried about the next season. Personally I think that would have been the perfect conclusion to the whole series. It really cemented the idea of who those characters are and what they're capable of. But yeah, still crazy excited!

    2. Gaaaaaah! YES the end of Season 4! And it's like... we shouldn't really be surprised because a lot of Season 4 has been leading up to that kind of thing, but at the same time, it's WALT! Why?! How?! DON'T DO THAT WALT! I was totally suspicious, though, and then I became unsuspicious, and THEN it was like, oh yeah, he did, and I was like ARGH! NOOOOO!

      Yes teeny things! Like... Ok, I know there are loads but I kind of only see them when I'm watching them, and then forget about them because there's something even more AMAZING happening! But yes the gun thing! (Let's pretend I definitely noticed that- I *think* I did, but not sure now hehe).

      I know what you mean about the next season, because honestly that did seem like a really good ending (although, can I just say, Jesse really hadn't communicated with the kid and his mum for a long time, and it felt a bit like bringing them back screamed PLOT DEVICE PLOT DEVICE, but, you know, tiny criticisms) BUT I'm also not worried because I just *know* it's going to be amaaazing. Like, if I'd been worried about it not being good because it had just been SO good, I'd never have watched more than, like, episode 1!

      ps SEASON 5 NEXT WEEK! I couldn't be more excited!!

  3. I don't watch a lot of tv...but I do get involved with series on DVD once several seasons have already gone by. I like it best when I can watch via episode marathons :) I haven't seen this one though...I'll have to give it a try :)

    1. Dude, episode marathons are like the best way to watch TV EVER! Seriously. Breaking Bad is the awesomest, so I hope you get round to watching it eventually! :)

  4. Well duh, definitely Stephen King's fault (LOL)

  5. BREAKING BAD IS AMAZING. It literally became my life. And now, I have to wait a year until the 5th season is released in the UK. It's the best television show I've ever seen by far!!