After years of saying I’m going to do it, I’ve finally begun watching Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad has been on the back burner for a while despite many friends and readers recommending it to me, because it’s always easier to dive into a quirky sitcom that someone suggested than a heavy serialized drama. I knew I’d watch the show eventually, it was just a matter of finding the time to do it. Well, now I have time.
Pro: I’m on an extended vacation right now!
Con: My contract job ended after two years, so until I get something new I’m on a strict budget.
Pro: August is the best time to be off work! I can spend hours reading outside. (No, seriously. I once fainted from heat exhaustion because I was really into a book and forgot to move out of the sun. If reading were a summer Olympic sport, which it totally should be, I think I’d medal.)
Con: After being blessed with a rare hot, sunny, amazing July that I tried to enjoy when not cooped up in a windowless office (well, no window by my desk anyway), I’m off in August and it has suddenly decided to alternate between rainy and cloudy days. Major. Bummer.
Pro: More time to watch TV and movies!
So that’s a protracted way of announcing that Rob and I got Netflix recently, and that made watching Breaking Bad a lot easier. This weekend we mainlined (pun intended, deal with it) the first two seasons, and that was on top of hitting the beach and hanging out with friends and other required activities that keep me from turning into a pale, lonesome couch potato.
And guys? It’s as good as you’ve been telling me.
OK. First I’ll talk about the show in general terms for those of you who’ve yet to watch, and I’ll let you know when to skedaddle so the veterans and I can talk about the first two seasons in more details.
Breaking Bad is about a high school chemistry teacher who begins cooking meth after receiving a very dire cancer diagnosis. His wife is pregnant with an unexpected baby, his son has cerebral palsy, he’s already working a crappy second job to make ends meet, and his insurance is not going to cover his medical expenses. (Not to get all political on a pop culture blog, but God bless the U.S.A. , huh? This show makes me glad I’m Canadian.)
So Walter White, a man who it seems has been quietly, secretly miserable for a long time, teams up with a small-time dealer and druggie who’d once been his student, and becomes a drug lord. Because Walter White is brilliant, and Walter White can cook the best meth that junkies or cops have ever seen.
The intriguing thing about Breaking Bad is that it has a predetermined end, a clear story arc from the get-go. The creators of this show have always known what they were doing and what kind of story they were telling. Obviously, I’ve only seen the first two seasons of the five that will eventually air. (The fifth and final season began in July, but will be broken into two parts, concluding in 2013.) But the show is essentially about a protagonist becoming an antagonist. Not an anti-hero, but a villain. We’re not there yet, but in the first two seasons you can begin to see the shades of evil in Walter, a character who’s introduced to us as a pretty harmless guy – a dedicated teacher, a loving husband and father, an all around decent dude. And that’s what makes Breaking Bad a fascinating television program.
The show can be violent, yes. It’s dark. It’s not, I think, as complex or well-written as Mad Men. But it really draws you in, it leaves you hanging at all the right times. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are terrific in their roles as Walter White and his young train wreck accomplice Jesse Pinkman. It’s a show you should definitely watch.
OK, let’s get down to business
Season one is only seven episodes long, and after three or so I still wasn’t sure what to think. It’s not that I didn’t know whether I liked it – I was certainly intrigued enough to stick around. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it yet.
Episode five, “Gray Matter”, is when I really got into it. What happened to Walter White? He is obviously a brilliant man, he was a promising chemist with a large future ahead of him. How did his colleagues from university go on to found a large company and make tons of money while he ended up a low-paid high school teacher? Not even a college professor, but a high school teacher – with a brain meant for solving problems that no one else could. Where did his life path take a turn? I love how the show has slowly revealed information. Two seasons in and I have no idea, but I’m dying to know and am basically foaming at the mouth to begin season three. (This is the problem with watching a show with your significant other. To watch an episode or twelve without them is the pop culture equivalent of having an affair. There’s a whole episode of Up All Night about it, which is why I love that show.)
Then in episode six, we see how bad ass Walter can be, when he causes that explosion in Tuco’s den using fulminate of mercury. It’s insane, and I don’t care that the plausibility of this has been questioned because it was So. Damn. Cool.
By the end of season one, Walt and Jesse have pretty much secured themselves as legitimate dealers by working with Tuco, but we know he’s a drug addicted madman. It’s the perfect ending for the season.
The stuff with Tuco in the first few episodes is good, but the season gets even better once Tuco is dead. Two new characters were added and brought a lot to the show, I thought – shady lawyer Saul Goodman, and Krysten Ritter as Jesse’s addict girlfriend. Poor Jane. She was 18 months clean when Jesse moved in next door! And poor Jesse – he’d never done heroin before Jane. It was a great depiction of how completely toxic two people can be for one another.
In season two, I think you can really begin to see Walter develop into a scarier, more evil person. The lie to cover up his disappearance after Tuco kidnapped him and Jesse was rather sociopathic, but what, was he about to tell Skylar the truth? He missed the birth of his daughter because of a drug deal, but hey, it was for 1.2 million dollars. That’s a damn good college fund, right?
I think the moment that revealed Walt to be his most evil so far was episode twelve, “Phoenix”, when Walt saw Jesse’s girlfriend Jane choking on her own vomit as the two slept off their heroin high and just let her die. He let a woman die, basically to teach Jesse a lesson. It was a fascinating, terrible choice. He did it because, presumably, he wants Jesse clean. But he let an innocent girl die. She was kind of a bitch once she was back on heroin, sure. She was bad for Jesse. She knew who Walt was and could destroy his life if she wanted to. But he let her die.
The one thing I’m a little unsure about, going into season three, is this plane crash business. The connectivity of it all is interesting. Walt has a drink in a bar, unknowingly with Jane’s dad. That conversation inspires him to go back and talk to Jesse again, where he makes the decision to let Jane choke. Jane’s dad is so devastated that when he goes back to work as an air traffic controller he’s distracted, and two planes collide above Walter’s house. I’m just not sure how important this will be in season three.
But I am very intrigued by other developments. Skylar left Walt after realizing he did indeed have a second cell phone, and I can’t wait to see what happens with their relationship. And Walt is funneling his drug money through the donations website that his son set up, and the media attention that garnered can’t be good for a drug kingpin who needs to keep a low profile.
Color Me Intrigued
Before watching Breaking Bad I’d heard that the use of color in the series had meaning, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for it as I watch. It’s fascinating, and probably much more complex than what I was able to absorb. I’m sure there are people who’ve watched the series more than once and could write some kind of college thesis on the topic.
There are the names – Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, even Skylar reminds you of sky, and thus blue. The name of the company Walt helped name was Gray Matter. And of course, there’s the blue meth. There’s also what each character wears.
So far, we’ve seen Jesse in a lot of red and black, and yellow when he was with Jane. (Who wore black, always.) Walt is often in green, Skylar in blue, Marie in purple, Hank in orange. It will be interesting to see how these palettes shift as the series continues and characters transition from bad to good, or vice versa. We saw Walt in some bright pink shades around the time of his daughter’s birth, and they really stood out from the usual landscape of the show.
So what does it all mean? I think it’s pretty open for interpretation, which is why it would make a really awesome college thesis. Red seems to be used a lot for crime, and Jesse switched to wearing yellow when he was happiest – with Jane. Why use green for Walt? Because of money and greed? Naiveté? I’m also not sure why Skylar would be in blue, other than her name. I’ve read that Marie is in purple because her character likes royalty – it makes sense, since she has that sort of social climber personality. Orange is a color for caution, which is why it might be used for Hank as a DEA agent.
This is all pretty much speculation, but it adds an interesting layer to the show.
OK, who watches Breaking Bad? I’m hearing great things about season five so far, but please keep the comments spoiler free until I’m all caught up!