Why Breaking Bad is awesome

April 15, 2014, Article by Ben Willis in Film & TV, Reviews

***WARNING: Contains spoilers (and slight pretentiousness)***

‘I am the one who knocks.’

And with that line, Walter White completes his extraordinary transition from mild-mannered, nerdy chemistry teacher to ruthless criminal and drug baron, as his alter-ego ‘Heisenberg’.

As Breaking Bad starts its concluding series today, legions of fans are wondering how the show’s creator Vince Gilligan will bring the curtain down on one of the most ingenious TV series ever created.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the central conceit is that Walter (played by the extraordinary Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and with a son and pregnant wife to support, he turns to New Mexico’s burgeoning Crystal Meth business using his chemistry smarts to cook the purest product on the market. So far, so dark.

Enter his accomplice, and former high school student, Jesse, played equally brilliantly by Aaron Paul. (Magnets!) As odd couples go, they take the meth-covered biscuit.

What sets Breaking Bad apart from most TV dramas is Walt’s transformation, and the effect this has on you as a viewer. Homelandhas been rightly praised (at least for Season 1 before it did a Dexterand went all rubbish), for the fact it eschews the black-and-white, good guys vs bad guys premise that most of these big budget dramas go for; Don Draper and Tony Soprano fall into the classic anti-hero set; but nowhere has there been the journey of Walt.

He was never the most likeable of characters, but as long as his motivation was helping his family before he died, he could be forgiven some of his darker actions. But as soon as we know he’s doing this for himself, for the love of money and outwitting his opponents, that sympathy starts to evaporate. Innocent people start to die, Jesse (who as Walt’s foil is almost consumed by guilt for every immoral action) starts to suffer. In short, Walt needs to be stopped.

So why do we find ourselves watching through our fingers at any moment it looks like it’s over for him? We’d like to think it’s because we know underneath Heisenberg and his hat there’s the good man we saw at the start. But maybe, just maybe, do we actually want the bad guy to get away with it for once?

David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, was always keen for the audience to make up their own minds about his characters, even going as far as to saying he didn’t want to show that ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Vince Gilligan has got a similar dilemma on his hands in how to end Breaking Bad.

So how is it going to finish? If I had to guess I would say that Jesse will end up getting away, and that Walt will finally come to his senses but die in the act of putting things right. But maybe that’s too neat, too simple. What’s for sure is that in around eight weeks the curtain will have come down on one of the greatest dramas of all time.

You can watch BREAKING BAD on Netflix