December 12, 2013

"After bitching about and resisting nudging to watch the show, especially in the week leading up to the finale, I started watching one episode at a time."

I blogged on October 22. Last night, we finished it, the entire series, 61 episodes of "Breaking Bad." We were on a tear. We've been immersed in that world for the last 7 weeks.

ADDED: In the comments some people are asking if we liked it. Obviously, we liked it, or we wouldn't have marathon-watched it like that. Now, I'm interested to go back and see what I'd written when I first tried to watch it. Someone had prodded me in the comments about why the main character, Walter White, a school teacher who must have had good health insurance benefits, needed to become a criminal to pay for cancer treatments. I said:

Well, I know the answer to that from watching the first 22 minutes of the first episode.

He's not about trying to get money to pay for treatments. He's an entirely listless, enervated man with nothing to live for, utterly empty and bland and beaten down with no love for anything (except maybe chemistry) and he finds out he's got inoperable lung cancer and at most 2 years to live.

He's so numb about all that the doctor wonders if he even understands. He tells the doctor there's a mustard stain on his jacket. He doesn't inform his wife about the diagnosis.

Then he's at his car wash (moonlighting) job and he's asked again to leave the cash register, which was supposed to be his job, and go out and put that sploogy stuff on the car tires, and he flips out.

He's had it with his bland old life which wasn't worth living even before he was dying. He's energized to go bad. He's finally alive.

This is a classic melodrama plot point: man who is about to die finally learns how to live.

He's been emasculated and suddenly he embraces manhood, which is saying "no" to all the crap he's had to eat, like vegetarian fake-bacon strips that taste like Band-Aids.

It's not about how hard it is to pay for health care. What a boring thing to think about the show!

Am I to believe that the people who love the show have less appreciation for its themes than I derived in 22 minutes before turning it off?

I'm about to scream NOOOOO at all this bullshit and pull the merchandise down off the wall and yell at my boss that I hate his mustache [ACTUALLY: eyebrows].

On which side of the screen is the storied vast wasteland?
And later, I finished the first episode and said:
It confirmed my understanding that Walt's breaking bad was the seizing of life that happened as he faced death.

At one point, he says "I'm alive."

It may be that in later episodes the story was changed to a desire to leave money to his family (or to get his own medical treatments), but I'm here to tell you that is NOT the story presented in the "Pilot."
I maintained that idea of the character throughout the series, and the correctness of my understanding of the first 22 minutes was made clear in the final episode, when Walt put it plainly, explaining himself to his wife: "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive." I was alive same as in the first episode: I'm alive

I can't believe people who liked the show thought they were sort of rooting for a guy to get money for his family. What's the point of watching a made-up story on that subject? "Breaking Bad" was about crazy desperation to find — at the point of dying — what it means to be alive. All that destruction and that wild action — it was a man screaming from the not-yet-closed-grave: I am alive!

31 comments:

Factory Yoyo said...

Your verdict?

Best show in the history of shows, as far as I am concerned.

Saint Croix said...

What do you think? Should I watch? I bailed after the pilot because I didn't like the characters.

Sounds like you enjoyed it.

fivewheels said...

I must say, Professor, you seem to find more hours in the day than I am able to.

And just one at a time? You never hit that streaming streak where you couldn't stop and watched three, four in a row?

Lauderdale Vet said...

I haven't watched it yet. What's your opinion? Was it worth it?

Will Cate said...

So you were averaging slightly more than one episode per day... that's pretty good. Did you like it?

Oso Negro said...

Do you feel that your morals have been even marginally affected?

LarryK said...

It's a seductive world, watching Walter discover strength and purpose in evil, and losing everything he has in the process...my favorite TV show ever.

Jake said...

And...?

Broomhandle said...

Now watch it again. It has enough depth that the second time is as entertaining as the first. There will be a ton of stuff that you missed the first time around.

Jimmy said...

No shark jumping here!

Breaking Bad also sets a high bar for cable series. It's going to be fun to see who steps up to try to outdo it.

Smilin' Jack said...

So what's next? Mad Men? The Shield? The Wire? Or back to I Love Lucy reruns?

Harold said...

Still haven't seen a single episoed, and no intention of ever seeing one.

ALP said...

Breaking Bad is the first show to come along that could even begin to compete with my top TV show of all time: "The Shield". Both have perfect story arcs, both have been called Shakespearean...

"The Shield" has been credited, for better or worse, as one of the shows that made darker, grittier shows like "Breaking Bad" possible. "Breaking Bad" had a tighter story line. "The Shield" had too many small, unnecessary sub-plot lines that could have been left out with no effect on the story.

But - "The Shield" had a better finale; never have I had the rug pulled out from under me so thoroughly by a TV show. Pure unadulterated brilliance. I won't spoil it for you.

The story of my dreams has Vic Mackey chasing Walter White; the both of them then join forces: Bad Cop and even Badder Chemistry Teacher.

One can dream.

Ann Althouse said...

"I must say, Professor, you seem to find more hours in the day than I am able to."

It's a 45-minute show, and we mostly watched one per night. I like to watch up to an hour of TV at night, but not more. I find it tiresome if it keeps up, which is why the sports events Meade watches really don't fit my needs (even assuming I do have the interest to watch a game which I sometimes do).

Only once did we go straight from one episode to the next, and I didn't like doing that. There are many things that feel slow if you're not fresh, many scenes that are just 2 men in a dark room, talking a bit.

About 3 times we watched an episode in the middle of the day and then another at night. And we watched the last 3 episodes on the same day, but, importantly, not one right after the other.

I found it very enjoyable to be into the show and have one episode to watch each night.

Meade said...

I enjoyed it too, but I'm glad it's over.

Lord Ben said...

Now for Game of Thrones! Also a great show.

Ron said...

I've watched the whole series twice, but I still don't like it as much as Mad Men. After The Sopranos I had my fill of shows soaked in blood, and that's all over Breaking Bad to the point I feel everyone is just different shades of black! Who is there to root for or even care all that much about? Walter? Please! Jesse? Even emo-boy is a murderer...more than once.

Drama has to be more than killing on top of killing on top of more killing. Having a whole series based on a serial killer is bad enough, but what's next a serial killer sitcom?

Meade said...

I'm just happy that Skylar will now be free to marry vegetable Ted and Marie can get back to her therapy with Dr. Cardigan.

Brock - who seemed to be the wisest character in the entire story - will skip high school and share a college dorm room with Flynn.

Keep candy away from Holly is my advise. Sugar is the original gateway drug. Duh.

Bob Boyd said...

The down side of 'Breaking Bad' is its an incredibly hard act to follow.
What do you watch now? The show is so well written, acted and put together that nothing else satisfies.

I'm liking 'Boardwalk Empire' so far and I've enjoyed the first three episodes of 'Vikings'.

JPS said...

One thing I found fascinating about the finale - the scene Prof. Althouse mentions with Skyler, and also the scene with Jesse - was how Walt is all done justifying himself. He doesn't even begin to apologize; he finally levels with Skyler, no more bullshit. I think he'd finally recognized how utterly useless apologies would be to those he'd wronged most.

jacksonjay said...


Loved the music! Best opening was the song performed by Los Cuates de Sinaloa. "Negro y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenbuerg was great!

The show had so many wonderful and interesting secondary characters! I think Gale Boetticher was my favorite!

Broomhandle said...

JPS,
Is he leveling with her or is he distancing himself from her to reduce her criminal liability? The show is full of these kind of ambiguities (remember Skinny Pete playing the piano in the music store?) which is one of the things that made it so great.

Charles Austin said...

Something of a restatement of Dylan Thomas? With murder and mayhem on the side?

I recently did the same thing, watching the whole series for the first time from start to end. Walter White clearly was raging against the dying of the light. He occasionally had pangs of guilt that he tried to assuage with money, whether it was for his family or in an absurdly futile attempt to save Hank, but that was not his primary motivation. Hell's bells, it took until year four of the series before he actually had much money, and even that didn't last as he lost 85% in about 15 minutes.

Good show, but not as good as The Wire, which is still easily the best series ever on American television. Three or four times as complex as Breaking Bad.

John Lynch said...

Yeah, that's exactly right. It was never about Walt's family- that was an excuse he used to justify his own selfishness.

It's a fantasy for the "middle aged" that they can still change their lives.

Revenant said...

I bailed after the pilot because I didn't like the characters.

If you don't like the characters I would recommend staying away from the show. It is a character-driven show.

William said...

I'm up to episode 40. It's not Shakespearean, but it's well written and the writer doesn't pull stuff out of his ass to make plot points. That's the trouble with binge watching. After a while you can see all the ropes and pulleys. I saw the first few episodes of Lost and thought, for a while, that it was some kind of Dantean drama about the afterlife. It was an intriguing set up, but they were just making stuff up as they went along......Bryan Cranston is convincing but he doesn't have a star's magnetism. Like Tony Soprano, Walter White. Is the role of a lifetime for him. That's not a knock. Some fine actors never get the role of a lifetime.

Revenant said...

Health insurance wasn't an issue because he wasn't expected to live with or without treatment. His original statement of concern was about leaving his family with nothing when he inevitably died a year or two later -- a special needs child, a new baby, no income, and a mortgage.

That remained a motivation all the way through, although obviously not the only one. :)

Mitch H. said...

About recommendations for the Shield and the Wire, I've been a longtime fan of the Shield, but never watched the Wire until this last month.

the Shield is about chaos - raw, primal, decadent, urban chaos. The villain-protagonist is a corrupt cop making the literal Pandemonium of Los Angeles even worse, piling hells on hells, with no real improvement in sight. It's a show about lawlessness. So far the Wire is more about the evils of organization, about how institutions perpetuate themselves, and retain their evil characteristics regardless of intentions or human impulses within a given institution. It's *interesting*, but it doesn't feel quite... right. For all the thundering hordes of charactes and busywork of the first season, there's an emptiness in the middle of the show, a lack of any feeling of an actual community of individuals surrounding the events of the story. Doesn't help that they had to CGI the project towers into the background on a lot of shots, because they had actually been torn down a decade and a half before the show was shot.

Heather said...

It is tempting to watch the first episode a think it an American Beauty type plot. However, through the series the fault shown to be Walt’s. It wasn’t an indictment of a soul killing suburbia. I was an indictment of a weak man who wanted to be more. Walter did everything for his own ego while trying to claim it was for his family, weak and pathetic.

Early Pinkman reminds me of my younger brother a few years back. My opinion of him is colored with those glassed.

Russ said...

I'm pretty sure he was after the money for treatment very early in the game. He even had a specific amount he needed which drove them from selling to crazy 8 and then Tuco and finally to Gus. Along the way, his greed took over, but it started out 'do this a few times to pay for treatment'

Ann Althouse said...

@Russ, Remember he doesn't even want the special treatment at first. He'd have gone with what his health insurance paid for. His wife pushes him to try to live longer. And there's that money from Gray Matter to pay for it, which the wife continues to believe is the source of the money. He decides he'll try to live but on his own terms, and he won't take the Gray Matter money. So it's a game of pride in himself and his manhood that he defines the rules of and he defines the meaning of winning. It is an innovative game, not the dull old conventional stuff that is what he broke away from (which would be money to family). He broke bad. You've got to put that in the center.