Since it had been my son who had goaded us into watching it in the first place, we had saved the last three episodes of Breaking Bad until he came home for Thanksgiving so we could watch them with him. Thus ended the most mesmerizing television experience of my life, and now that it’s over I will attempt a summary.
Breaking Bad is at once violent and delicate. It is both a raw action thriller and a subtle exploration of the human condition. It’s a Greek tragedy with lots of explosions. It is loaded with long scenes of dialogue so quiet and powerful they will plunge you into an hour of melancholic self reflection. Yet, its most compelling character can hardly make it through a scene without using the words “bitch” or “yo.” Perhaps it’s an overused superlative, but everything about Breaking Bad, from the acting to the direction, to the writing is brilliant.
If you want an analysis of the plot, you’ll have to Google it yourself. I won’t here give much away since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. There are however, several scenes that have stayed with me for days. Like a good book that haunts you afterwards, I have found myself pondering these scenes at the slightest provocation:
· The scene where Jesse confronts his encounter group with the foolishness and naiveté of their philosophy of “loving yourself no matter what.” Wracked with guilt, Jesse cries out to them, “No matter how many dogs I kill, nothing ever happens…You know why I’m here? To sell you Meth. You guys are just customers to me. You alright with that?”
· The scene in the last episode where Walt is reduced to pushing his last 55 gallon barrel of money, Sisyphus-like, through the dessert, a scene so rich in irony, so full of symbolism it summarizes so poignantly what the entire show was about.
· The scene where Walt reacts to Skyler’s fears for their safety by screaming, “I am the danger! I’M the one who knocks!!”
· The scene in the basement of Jesse’s house between Walt and his very first victim, where Walt is struggling mightily with his own conscience, trying to gin up a murderous impulse. Their calming, almost endearing conversation, the eerie calm before the terrible storm created in me such tension, I literally jumped when Walt finally leapt into clumsy action.
There are so many other scenes like this that I could go on for days. Suffice it to say that Breaking Bad is populated with characters of Shakespearian complexity; the tragedy of their lives woven into a story with more twists and turns than a West Virginia mountain road. For me, the theme of the show was simple. Breaking Bad is the story of the ruinous descent of sin, of how normal, decent people can be transformed from good to evil by a series of bad decisions. When one bad deed so easily leads to another, and the lure of power and money arrive, life can make an ugly hash of one’s moral convictions. What started out as a desperate but understandable attempt to earn some money to pay for cancer treatments and provide for a dying man’s family, morphs into a criminal enterprise drenched in blood. Towards the end, Jesse asks Walt, “Are we in the meth business or the money business,” to which Walt replies, “Neither. We’re in the empire business.” Such is the dark, degenerative power of sin.
I awoke this morning at 6 am and the first thought that popped into my head was this. If it hadn’t been for Walt Whitman…he would have gotten away with it. It's always the poets that end up getting people killed.