Why Breaking Bad is Good

If you are interested, read this Grantland article and this Daily Beast article on what makes AMC's Breaking Bad so good.

Breaking Bad's premise, if you don't know, concerns Walter White, a middle aged chemistry teacher who, after discovering he has cancer, becomes a meth cook to support his family.

Oddly, on Walter's quest to become master of his destiny, he finds himself with fewer choices than ever. And I think this is part of the show's beating heart: the revelation that there is not only always a choice, but the truly good choices are the most difficult, above all, to make. There is no glorification of the violence and destruction that follows the illegal drug trade on the show, but a PSA this is not. The noir-ish depiction of Alberquerque and the wild, insane characters that inhabit it are played for pulp entertainment, above all.

Cable shows about characters whose public lives mask a darker true nature are de rigueur. Hung and Dexter, among others, mine this topic with varying degrees of success. Those shows also concern characters struggling to re-invent themselves in the face of great misfortune and tragedy. In fact, you might call them 'inverse Superhero tales.'

Breaking Bad's advantage is its fearless, incisive writing and its willingness to unsettle the viewer. Each episode is taut and densely layered, but more than that, there is a deft, darkly comic slant running through it.  This idea of a mild mannered teacher becoming a drug lord is, on the surface, really silly, but the writers' approach to the material reveals a razor serious bravado and comedy so dark it inspires dread.

The dedicated viewer is, by now, an unwitting accomplice to a monstrous villain. Walter engages in behavior that is unconscionable and disgusting, but in spite of ourselves, we want him to survive, to win, to beat the odds. He manufactures a drug responsible for ruined lives, and yet, due to the way the writers pace events and orchestrate obstacles, we still root for him. Part of the reason for this is the economic distress many of us find ourselves in now. If given the opportunity, who might make the same choices, eschew the same moral high ground for sake of economic stability, no matter the cost?


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