Why some of us are going cold turkey and others are yet to have a taste
Contains mild spoilers
As the 75th minute of the extended final episode of Breaking Bad set in and the credits began to roll, the unrivalled mixture of excitement and trepidation felt over the course of the last string of episodes became overwhelmingly overshadowed by a sense of despair. For the eight weeks leading up to the finale, my adrenaline glands had been working overtime as the cruelly deceptive scripts from Vince Gilligan and his writers kept me suspended on a rope week-to-week like a bucket of Todd’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream being lowered into a meth-lab torture pit. But Breaking Bad fans across the world found themselves in exactly the same boat as 10.3 million viewers tuned into the AMC network for the last episode in the United States alone – and add to that the UK Netflix audience, as well as those keeping the pirate streaming website business booming (stop judging, you know you’re one of them).
The dreaded question loomed: where do we go from here? Now two weeks on, the To’hajiilee dust has settled, and the stut-stut-stuttering of Walter White’s M60 machine gun has finally come to a halt in our heads, but the question still lingers. When explaining the appeal of the show to a non-viewer (I like to call them heathens), I said something along the lines of: “Breaking Bad is not just some casual entertainment. It’s a lifestyle”. I was half joking, but it really was the truth.
Large portions of my working day were taken up reading weekly episode recaps courtesy of TIME Entertainment and New York Magazine: these were not mere synopses like you’d expect from a Two and a Half Men critic (“Charlie gets laid this week” – well, no kidding), but profound analyses, such as comparisons of Skyler White to Lady Macbeth. We even had a Skype group chat at work that was dedicated to the show: colleagues would post links ranging from scholarly articles, to Heisenberg merchandise, to mash-ups of deeply grave scenes with Miley Cyrus’s twerkacious VMA performance. And don’t get me started on our finale sweepstakes as to who would survive, who would die and who would be killed by whom. Now that the show’s over, all the fun and games that came along with it are long gone, too, meaning I now actually have to do work at work.
Another positive that has now reared its negative side is that Breaking Bad’s writing and direction was so inimitably first-rate that everything else pales in comparison. House of Cards is too slow. Homeland’s dialogue is a tad contrived. Mad Men is too verbose. The Big Bang Theory is still atrocious. The point is all but one of these shows are exceptional, yet none seem to have found the unwavering balance of plot, action, dialogue, depth and characterisation that Gilligan’s show demonstrated with such ease.
Meanwhile, I’ve been so lost in terms of TV viewing options that I resorted to watching The Notebook last night. Yes – the chick-flick tear-jerker. Alone. On a Saturday at midnight. And all I kept thinking, while watching Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams try to reunite as they pine for each other for years on end, was: why are they not using some sort of ricin capsule / bomb connected to a bell / machine gun robot to solve their problem?
I envy those that are only just beginning their Breaking Bad journey: they’ll have an easier time without the constant spoilers lurking and ready to pounce on Twitter. When they reach major plot points, they’ll turn to us seen-it-done-it-got-the-t-shirt fans with disbelief about recent goings-on, to which we’ll probably respond, “that’s old news”.
But the truth is, as the saying goes, it’s better late than never, and at least these latecomers are somewhat making up for their earlier insolence by trusting recommenders and finally pressing play. The real culprits are the naysayers: the ones who have a litany of excuses that attempt to explain why they can’t or won’t watch the show, the top three of which I will address and “myth-bust” one by one:
- “It’s too dark.”
This is, perhaps, the strongest argument, because it’s the truth. Yes, it’s dark. It’s about drugs and contains vivid violence (though very few F-words per season due to AMC’s regulations). But right from the very start, there’s (sometimes laugh-out-loud) comedy, from Jesse’s early incompetence, to pretty much every scene involving corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman (and his trusty and hefty steed, Huell), to Hank’s obsessive collection of rocks (“Jesus Christ, Marie! They’re minerals!”). In other words, there’s plenty of comic relief to offset the choking on vomit, candid throat slitting, and the enslavement of a man in a meth-lab torture chamber.
- “I don’t have the time to watch an entire new series.”
This is a weak cop-out. We all have things to do (like watch The Notebook on a Saturday night). But there are very few obligations that should keep you from taking out an hour from your obviously way-too-busy day to accommodate a little Walt and co in your life. The only constraints I can think of are: an ongoing family emergency; or that you are, in fact, Vince Gilligan or a cast or crew member; or, indeed, that you’ve controlled a meth empire before and watching this will just bring back too many memories.
- “I can’t stop picturing Walter White as Hal from Malcolm in the Middle.”
Malcolm in the Middle was a great show, and yes, Bryan Cranston played Hal so well that it’s initially difficult to imagine him in such a contrasting role. But Cranston is such a gifted actor, and by episode two, you’ve forgotten that this is the same man that fathered Frankie Muniz (not in real life, of course). This, therefore, is the worst excuse by far, and you are a bad person for having ever given it.
So, as I leave the newbies with these wise words, I will perhaps crush my hypocrisy by taking my own advice and catching up on old shows that have been recommended to me on many occasions – namely The Sopranos and The Wire, which are about the only two that critics have placed on the same standing as Breaking Bad as the best TV shows of all time. Soon, of course, we’ll have the Better Call Saul prequel, as well as Gilligan’s upcoming cop drama entitled Battle Creek, which is in production for CBS as we speak. There’s also a new HBO thriller set in the swamps of the Bayou, True Detective, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, due to air in early 2014. This surely is a “golden age of television”, as it’s being hailed, and Breaking Bad has played a large role in creating the very new notion that TV shows today are just as worthwhile as movies. The show will, no doubt, leave a powerful legacy. Until we can truly step back and reflect upon that, we can all sate our Breaking Bad appetites by representing the colourful characters this Halloween with Hazmat suits, pork-pie hats and decapitated heads on the backs of tortoises.
Image from: http://bensbargains.net/thecheckout/awesomeness/lego-breaking-bad-video-game-trailer/
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