Breaking Good

Breaking Bad ends its magnificent run.

“Breaking Bad” may be the best drama ever created for television. It is entirely original, brilliantly written and directed, unpredictable, shocking, heart-wrenching, and humorous–sometimes all in a single episode. It also includes some of the finest acting ever seen–on television or off.

It is, in a word, astonishing.

I confess I came late to the “Breaking Bad” series. But you can only read so many reviews of a terrific show–or see its cast repeatedly nominated for awards–before your curiosity gets the better of you. So I binge-watched the series on Netflix, beginning with the first season earlier this year. For anyone else thinking of doing the same, a warning: “Breaking Bad,” like the meth the main characters cook, is extremely addictive.

When non-viewers of this series ask me what it’s about, I tell them. Many times the response I get includes a screwed-up face and the question, “Why would you watch a show about violence and drugs?” Yes, there is violence and it can get gruesome. It’s a show about a man’s journey from mild-mannered respectability to total ruthlessness–so there’s that. But there is so much more to this story.

Actually, the whole “meth thing” in the story was almost beside the point. It could have been marijuana, prostitution, prescription drugs, or any of a number of unsavory or illegal behaviors that led our desperate antihero to embark on a life of crime. The alternative–to die of cancer and leave his family destitute–seemed much worse than making and selling drugs for profit.  When life hands you lemons…

It all began with that simple premise, and the actual journey from meek high-school teacher to feared drug kingpin was fascinating to watch. (I can’t believe he just did that. What will he do next? How will he pull this off?) It was almost impossible not to root for Walt, even while being repelled by his actions. We were suckered into seeing the logic behind his every move.

Strangely enough, I somehow feel better for having seen it. In a series this good, you imagine yourself in the action. I found myself reflecting on what is important in life–how I could have taken an altogether different path from the one I’m on. The various episodes rang so true, I sometimes forgot I was watching a TV show. (And those gigantic piles of money–tens of millions of dollars–were so seductive.)

There have been articles comparing “Breaking Bad” to “The Sopranos.” I admit “The Sopranos” was an excellent series, and for many of the reasons that “Breaking Bad” was. But “Breaking Bad” goes one better. If you decide to watch it (no doubt you will be grateful you did), there is no ambiguity in the series finale. Walt and his wife won’t look up with surprised expressions from their table in an Albuquerque diner, leaving you to wonder what happens next.

Given all that’s gone before,”Breaking Bad’ concludes in one of the most logical and satisfactory ways possible.

And still, you don’t quite see it coming.

© Wade Kingston