WARNING: Contains mild spoilers!
If there’s one thing I hate it’s people banging on incessantly about TV series that they think I should definitely watch. I’ve had at least one person try to shove every ‘boxset’ series spun out over the last ten-fifteen years down my throat. Lost, Prison Break, 24, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead… I could go on.
The Walking Dead (and, indeed, Fear The Walking Dead) was worth a punt given as I’ve always quite been into zombies. It took me a long time to get around to it. Season six was just about to start by the time I caught up after a binge-watching session. Is it me or is binge watching the way most people watch these series’?
With the exception of The Walking Dead, I’ve simply never been interested in watching these kinds of things. I watched one episode of Boardwalk Empire when that first aired and intended to carry on. I didn’t and can’t imagine I’ll ever go back to it.
Even though I’d never heard anybody say anything other than positive things about it, Breaking Bad never interested me. The only thing I really knew about it was that it involved drugs and a bald-headed dude with glasses. Despite the love everyone had for the show, I never heard much about the plot. Either that or I zoned out while they were talking. Let’s face it; people talking about something you have zero interest in are hardly going to hold your attention.
Then, one day, my girlfriend just suddenly started watching it. No doubt I was working on my writing at the time, but I found myself wanting to see what was happening. The bald-headed, badass looking guy I’d associated with the series was in fact a rather square, nerdy schoolteacher with a full head of hair and a moustache at first. For some reason, that pulled me in. As weird as it sounds, I wanted to find out why he went from that look to the now iconic one I’d seen.
For the first three or so episodes I combined watching with my writing. I can do both if the thing on TV only has half or even sixty percent of my attention. After that, I was unable to write and watch. Breaking Bad had me locked in. Writing had to take a backseat.
The very basic premise behind this multi-award winning five-season-long series is that an Albuquerque chemistry teacher named Walter White (played to utter perfection by Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with lung cancer and is told that it will eventually kill him. Such a genius chemist is he that he decides to team up with meth head and former student, Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul equally as perfectly as Cranston plays Walter), and start to cook and sell methamphetamine to ensure that his family are financially secure after his imminent death.
Of course, things don’t go entirely smoothly for the mismatched pair as drug lords and the cartel become involved—mainly because the crystal meth Walter and Jesse are producing in the back of a clapped-out old RV is the best out there and by a long way owing to Walter’s genius as a chemist. Everybody wants a piece of Walter, but most aren’t interested in Jesse given as he’s more interested in using the product rather than selling.
The chemistry—pun intended—between Cranston and Paul is absolutely sublime! I don’t think I can recall two actors working as well together on the small screen. I thought Philip Glenister and John Simm as Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler in Life on Mars were as good as it would ever get between two actors in a TV series. They were fantastic together. Cranston and Paul were better. Oh boy, were they ever better!
The relationship between Walter and Jesse probably had me more gripped than anything in the series. I yearned for them to get their act together and become the unbeatable team they had the potential to be. The father-son connection is definitely in the ascendency throughout the whole five seasons, only never to fully arrive. It’s both scintillating and kind of heart-breaking. I think Walter does genuinely grow to love Jesse in a fatherly way. Jesse, however, never learns to trust Walter enough to reciprocate—and yet, I get the feeling he really wishes he could have. It’s the best on-screen relationship I’ve ever seen. The fact it’s a non-romantic one makes it all the better.
Though the series is centred mainly on Walter and Jesse, there is a fully-stacked cast and there wasn’t one character I didn’t like. Walter’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), feels the repercussions of her husband’s actions harder than anyone. If anything, she was the worst sufferer. Not only was she dealing with Walter’s meth manufacturing (something she wouldn’t find out about properly until the third series), but she was pregnant at the beginning (giving birth in season two to arguably the cutest on-screen baby ever), wound up in a spite affair with her boss, and was having to deal with the antagonism of her cerebral palsy suffering teenage son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte).
Mitte is absolutely brilliant as Walter Jr. The range of emotions the character has to go through, as any teenager does, is encapsulated with perfection by this gifted actor. I loved him throughout. Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is Walter’s DEA agent brother-in-law and the man out to get Heisenberg (Walter White’s moniker), though is clueless that the mysterious drug lord is right under his nose the whole time. Hank’s wife, Marie (Betsy Brandt), who is Skyler’s sister, is an over-emotional kleptomaniac who has a way of getting unwittingly entangled in Walter’s web of lies and deceit.
Other notable characters are: the hilarious Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who becomes Walter’s lawyer and saviour on several occasions and has gone on to have his own spin-off prequel series in Better Call Saul; Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) who’s a drug lord with a fried chicken business as a front; Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathon Banks) acting as bodyguard and hitman for Fring (probably my favourite character aside from Walter and Jesse); Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) who’s Hank’s DEA sidekick; Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) who starts dealing the meth and is a good friend of Jesse’s; Badger (Matt Jones) serving the same purpose as Skinny Pete; Todd (Jesse Plemons) who becomes Walter’s sidekick briefly after Jesse backs out of the meth business; Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) is Skyler’s dashing boss in the first few series’ and the two have an affair; and, finally, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser) who becomes the middleman for Walter’s meth empire expanding out to Europe (after wondering where I’d seen Laura Fraser before, I finally remembered that she was Candice in Kevin & Perry Go Large—one of my favourite comedy movies).
There are plenty of other characters too who have their great moments. I have to mention Huell (Lavell Crawford) who plays Saul’s bodyguard and had me in stitches several times. Also unforgettable was Tio Salamanca (Mark Margolis); a wheelchair-bound mute and former cartel head-honcho whose only method of communication is a bell that he rings. The cast was absolutely superb and the acting throughout by most all involved tremendous.
The only negative for me was Marie. Her character was the one I could least find any kind of connection to or feeling towards. It wasn’t anything to do with how Betsy Brandt played her; she did a brilliant job. It was the character herself. I found her annoying most of the time, which I suppose was supposed to happen. It wasn’t annoying in an endearing way though. It was annoying in a ‘I hope they kill her off eventually’ sort of way. Hank was annoying, but loveable with it. His sickly, over the top, ‘I’m everyone’s friend’ attitude in the beginning had me shaking my head a lot. I like how his character changed as the series went on and he dealt with myriad obstacles and events. Marie never really achieved that for me. She was a weak link; perhaps the only weak link in the whole thing.
That point is just so inconsequential on the whole. It was akin to one slightly overcooked kidney bean in a whole pot of the best chilli con carne ever made. Breaking Bad was phenomenal! It was about the most complete story that has ever been told via the medium of television. It’s not as good as The Walking Dead and Life on Mars—it’s better! It’s the best TV drama that has ever been produced. I don’t do star ratings on my reviews. If I did, though, Breaking Bad would get seven out of five! That’s how much I loved this show.
I will never forget Breaking Bad for as long as I live. I will definitely watch it again somewhere down the line. I daresay I’ll watch it several times. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have become my man crushes over the past week or two just because of how amazing they were throughout the five seasons. I hope they team up again one day. If not then it would be a waste of such a brilliant partnership.
One other great thing about the series is that it ran for the perfect length of time. One of the main drawbacks about The Walking Dead is that it feels as though it’s getting dragged out sometimes. On the flipside, Life on Mars was just too damned short! Two seasons wasn’t enough at all and Ashes to Ashes, although still centred a lot around Gene Hunt, just wasn’t the same. Breaking Bad went on for as long as it should have. Five seasons where every episode had you hooked. Not one episode ended without me desperate to see what was coming next.
Breaking Bad proved me wrong. So, so, so wrong! I feel a fool to have ever doubted all of those people who told me how superb it was. Does that mean I’ll stop being so sceptical about similar series? Does that mean I’ll stop insisting that Game of Thrones holds no interest for me because it’s too middle earthy? Does that mean I’ll take a chance on Lost even though I’m convinced I won’t like it?
Nope! Breaking Bad was exquisite in every way. I played a hand and got extremely lucky. I’m the kind that, if I gamble on something and win big, I’ll take my winnings and leave the casino. I won’t bang the winnings on another table and hope I’ll double them. Now the roller coaster ride of Walter White has come to its conclusion, I’ll return, once again, to that TV boxset introvert I was before with the beautiful memory of a chance I took that massively paid off.
Paul.E.Bailey’s Verdict: If you don’t watch this series then you really should consider sitting in a dark room for a long time and weighing up exactly what the point of your existence is. Watch it, fool!
One of the songs featured in an episode is one of my favourites: ‘A Horse With No Name’ by America. Here’s a YouTube video of the song with some Breaking Bad moments included. Enjoy!