I’m not a regular viewer of episodic television. I can’t make the time commitment to an entire season of a show or the whole life of a series. Therefore, I’m often behind the curve when a truly unique television program comes along and rises above the rest of the formulaic, uninspiring offerings. Breaking Bad is one of those shows for which I was late to the party. In the age of on demand viewing, instant view, and DVD rentals, late isn’t the end of the world.
All I knew about Breaking Bad going in was the publicity shot of Bryan Cranston (who I had only known as the likable, ditzy, whipped dad from Malcolm and the Middle) standing nervously defiant in a desert, wearing only a grimy green dress shirt and white briefs, clutching a hand gun while smoke billowed out of an RV behind him. This is not the type of advertising that normally grabs me at first glance. Did I really want to watch Malcolm’s dad running around in his undies every week? However, I was also hearing some good word of mouth about this show from friends and family who had already broken for Bad. I gave Breaking Bad a look, just as I might slow down driving past an accident on the freeway to get a quick glance of the carnage to satisfy that morbid curiosity that we all have.
I was transfixed immediately by the beauty of the chaos and carnage that inhabited the world of Breaking Bad. It had strong writing, the subtext of universal themes, vivid character development and growth, and the creation of an unfamiliar world that was familiar at the same time – A world that exists in the periphery for most of us, but one that is there just the same. It’s a world of characters with acceptable public personas which mask the darkness that they keep hidden from the light of public scrutiny – murderers, drug users and dealers, thieves, bad parents and spouses, adulterers, embezzlers, tax cheats, dishonest lawyers, prominent business men who are corrupt and dangerous in the shadows, bigots and abusers of positions of power. Still, we are drawn to them as we become immersed in their world because they are not too far removed from us.
Breaking Bad centers around Walter White (Cranston) – a meek, fifty something high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico who has been defeated by life and is just trying to exist in his current situation – a dead end, low paying, underappreciated career, struggling to provide for his pregnant wife, disabled teenage son, and baby on the way by working a second menial job where he’s even more of a drone than in his full-time career. As if this were not enough of a bad hand, Walter is dealt a diagnosis of incurable, terminal lung cancer and given only a short time to live. Walter’s inadequate health care insurance and financial situation won’t cover the cancer treatments or provide a safety net for his surviving family so he decides to keep his condition secret to relieve the burden on his family.
Walt secretly concocts a desperate plan to combat his situation. He joins forces and combines skill sets with a former student turned drug user and peddler, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Walt brings his vast knowledge of chemistry, and Jesse brings his street wise low-level knowledge of the drug trade and they begin manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in order to earn the money to provide for Walt’s family once he is gone. It is the tense, rocky relationship between Walt and Jesse that is the main driving force behind Breaking Bad. It provides the father/son relationship that Walt and Jesse never had.
As Walt and Jesse venture deeper into the drug trade world, we see the level to which someone pushed against the wall and cornered by life’s situations will go to protect and provide for self and family. That initial image of Walt brandishing a weapon in his underwear takes on a bigger meaning. Walt, like any of us stripped of our dignity by the situations in life, will take drastic measures to make a stand and fight to regain it. However, we soon see that there is a point when a line is crossed and the original noble purpose of the endeavor can be lost and consumed by selfishness, greed, and the need to assert power and show the world you won’t be pushed around anymore by the metaphorical man.
Breaking Bad seems to have struck a chord and garnered critical and commercial acclaim because it speaks to many of the same concerns of the so called 99% segment of the population that has just recently started to raise its collective voice on some of the universal real world concerns mirrored in the fictional world of Breaking Bad – inadequate, unaffordable health care, mounting debt, income inequality, the ineffective, corrupt sham of a drug war. This 99% demographic existed prior to Breaking Bad, but it was unfortunately mostly silent and submissive and waiting for its moment to make its voice heard to the world. Breaking Bad may have been one of the many jabs with a stick needed to stir the Walter Whites of the world into action.
Of course Breaking Bad portrays fictional characters fighting back against an unjust system taken to the extreme for dramatic effect and is no way indicative of the peaceful 99% movement that is capturing headlines today. However, it does shed light on the existence of a large segment of the population that has been oppressed and ignored by a flawed system and an unfair economic hierarchal power structure which has been simmering below the surface for too long and waiting for the moment to make its voce heard.
If you are late like I was to the Breaking Bad party, but your morbid curiosity is nagging at you to drive by and take a glance at the organized chaos and figurative carnage that is the world of Breaking Bad, you are in luck. The AMC network will be replaying the entire series from the beginning on December 4. This is your chance to break for Bad and experience a part of your world that you thought you already knew.
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