Television these days is considered the entertainment medium for grown-ups. There have been some really, really good TV shows in the last decade and a half with thematically strong content. They make the best film has to offer look like over-priced eye-candy. HBO should be considered as the frontrunner as their ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ completely changed the television landscape in the early 2000s and paved the way for future. Then came ABC’s Lost, AMC’s Mad Men, and others. And, of course, Breaking Bad. On this day, the last episode of this remarkable AMC show was aired four years ago. Let’s have a look at why the crime drama revolving around just one character turned out to be a masterpiece.
Breaking Bad is mainly an examination of one single character who ‘breaks bad’. The show follows a man called Walter White as he goes to the dark side, if you excuse my Star Wars reference. A meek chemistry teacher, a diagnosis reveals he has terminal lung cancer. Teaming up with Jesse Pinkman, a former student, he starts a tentative ‘cooking’ business and that is the moment when he crosses the Rubicon. Jesse Pinkman may have been a meth addict, but Walter White was the real junkie.
At the beginning you sympathise with him. He is, after all, a man trying to make sure his family’s future is secure. But then he does certain things that make the worst villains in the series look misunderstood. Bryan Cranston, in an absolutely outstanding performance, encapsulates the character of Walter White so perfectly that it is hard to imagine he was the same person who played Dad in Malcolm in the Middle. During the course of the show, his persona alters. And Cranston manages to nail them all. He is believable as a picked-on chemistry teacher, he is believable as a caring family man, he is also believable as the ruthless Heisenberg.
The cinematographers do a marvellous job in bringing out the lines on his face in clear contrast. Which reminds me of the visual element of the show. Breaking Bad has solid writing and acting, but visuals are a strong part of it. Best visual touches are those that you don’t notice. They seamlessly blend into the narrative. The clothes Walter White wears get darker as he turns evil. Sometimes the camera stays on one scene for a painfully long time, and recurring motifs (like the ominous one-eyed teddy bear) contain the theme of a particular episode or things to come.
You cannot truly appreciate Breaking Bad until you have finished it completely. In the end, Walter White himself admits what the discerning viewers have suspected for some time – that he did everything for himself. There are a lot many themes the show explores, but one supersedes them all: you reap what you sow. Actions have consequences, in other words. Walter White gets away for a long time but ultimately what he has done catches up to him. But for all the evil he did, he remains human right till the end. So believable in spite of the things he did.
The term gets thrown around a lot, but Breaking Bad really is a masterpiece.