Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Breaking Bad

1 October 2012 by Nicholas in TV

Breaking Bad Series 4 is now available on DVD. I would highly recommend it with one caveat: you have to have seen the first three series to actually know what is going on and get the best from it.

Breaking Bad starts as a middle aged man, on discovering he has cancer, rebels against his largely unfulfilling life and decides to become a manufacturer of meth amphetamine. Now, he is a college graduate who has become a high school chemistry teacher, so his ability isn’t too much of a stretch. On a bust with his DEA agent brother in law he realises how much money is to be made making the drug and, seeing a former student escape the raid, he has a route in.

Over the next few series his decision has ramifications that he could never have imagined and alliances are made, betrayed, problems manifest and are overcome, and he learns much about how he is prepared to behave and truths about himself, those around him and the world at large. It’s frequently compelling television, even if it does seem to start relatively sedately and almost predictably.

But series 4 is where it gets really, really good. It’s the pay off for plot threads that have been placed throughout the first three series and the point where Walter White (the former high school chemistry teacher who has become a sought after drug maker) reaches both his nadir and his zenith. He has been transformed from the humble family man beaten by the world into a truly desperate creature who is only just working out what he is truly capable of. There were shocks in previous series, and the show is rarely less than watchable, but the last 3 episodes of series 4 are compelling in a way that the climax of the first Godfather film is.

Over the first 3 series White (and his partner, and their support network) go from amateurs trying to find a way to make some money to real criminals, with the change in expectation and ethics that this brings. They go from incompetence to greater heights and the climax of 4 is White fighting for his very life while trying to control his destiny. It’s compelling and beautiful.

Breaking Bad is mature in the best way: it doesn’t layer profanity, violence or sex onto a simplistic morality tale, it has protagonists who are despicable and every character is flawed and has traits to be abhorred. No one is perfect and there are no heroes, and those that we find ourselves identifying with are often the most corrupt and least admirable. And the true shocks are not from violence or events, but the decisions and emotions that cause them. It’s high opera and drama that exists from extreme situations and interesting characters. And this is where it comes together perfectly.