Some thoughts on Breaking Bad

There is so much this post doesn’t mention, because in “Breaking Bad” there is so much to talk about and so much worthy of respect.  But this is a quick overview, an attempt to sum up some key thoughts and impressions of mine on the show.

Five seasons about a man living the American Dream in a very dark way.  In its totality it is epic, like some unwritten great American novel brought to the screen.

Walter White, in season one, learns he has lung cancer and, raging against the dying of his light, puts his chemistry teaching skills to what he hopes is a profitable use in looking after his family when he is gone.  With ex student and twenty something slacker Jesse as his reluctant apprentice, he sets about ‘cooking’ crystal meth.  As he reasserts himself against a society stacked against him his virility and sense of self returns.  his poor wife, Skyler, finds herself subjected to sudden random, rough, sex acts as a symptom of this.

Hank, his DEA brother in law, wonders where this new strain of unusually pure blue crystal meth is coming from, and so begins a game of cat and mouse that last over five seasons.

Over these seasons Walter gets more enmeshed in the world of meth cooking and becomes more powerful, and his bosses bigger and more frightening, such as the maniacal Tuco and the fried chicken franchise owning Gustav Fring, urbane, cool headed, ruthless, efficient, and ‘hiding in plain site.’  Hank eventually finds himself at war with Gustav by season four, and by season five, has become the biggest monster of all, the ultimate drug King-Pin “Heisenberg”.

One of the most striking and effective themes in the series is causality.  The ripples from the actions of one man spreading in ever increasing destructive circles, bringing planes down from the sky, destroying lives, families, and darkening societies and communities.    Although I am sure there are inconsistencies, and I’ll come to one that has troubled me in a moment, it’s impressive how a seemingly casual character or action early on becomes of immense importance much later on.  Nothing seems to be forgotten.  We see links where we never dreamed there were, breathtaking causal chains.

The acting, production values, and dialogue are all of course cracking.  The haunting title theme, the eclectic soundtrack, like a meth fuelled browse through Spotify, all make for an unforgettable whole.  So what are the problems?

One is the credulity straining nature of Walter’s descent as he continues to cook and grow his empire, seemingly to ensure his family are financially secure for ever.  But we are meant to believe the man has latent decency and yet nothing makes him stop, when he really could stop.  He knows he has directly and indirectly caused such atrocity and tragedy including airline disaster, child murder, and the worst kinds of betrayals.  His reasons for carrying on don’t seem proportionate, don’t seem to balance the scales of our credulity enough.

And one plot hole or inconsistency you may be able to help me with, if you can please use the comments to this post.  End of season four, I think, the boy Brock has recovered from suspected ricin poisoning, the Doctors say it was in fact likely to have been caused by berries from a plant called ‘Lilly of the Valley.” Cut to a plant in Walter’s yard.  Then season five there’s pivotal moment where Jesse realises that huckster lawyer, Saul Goodman, on Walter’s bidding, lifted a ricin cigarette from his pocket and then poisoned Brock to influence Jesse to whack Gustav.  But what happened to the Doctor’s diagnosing Lilly of the Valley?

And the final episode bloodbath is noisy and effective but as ultimate pay-off, it should have been more complex than a machine gun gadget and an unholy hail of bullets.

But I will not forget this sprawling monster of a show.  And yes, I could start again at season episode one, but Better Call Saul is also out there…