Arjun Gupta | The bad has broken
Frosh Quaker Oats | A reflection on how Breaking Bad addicted us with a balance of action and aggressive realism
September 30, 2013, 6:40 pm · Updated October 1, 2013, 11:36 pm·
Frosh Quaker Oats
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the final episode of “Breaking Bad,” stop reading right now. Close this tab and go get caught up. And you should probably avoid the internet for a while.
In the apt words of Saul Goodman: It’s over.
It’s still tough to process. Walt is dead. Todd, his uncle and the rest of the sociopath crew is dead. Lydia is dead. Jesse Pinkman is finally free. Huell is still sitting in that living room. As the dust settles, it’s probably a good time to ask ourselves: Why?
What made “Breaking Bad” a good show? Why were we as addicted to the show nearly as much as methamphetamine addicts were to Walter White’s blue crystals?
In short, it was the show’s attention to detail, so much so that it felt real. Season one was certainly the least exciting as quiet, hesitant Walt’s made his first haphazard attempt in the drug business. He simply stumbled from one episode to the next trying to figure things out. Now-fan-favorite Jesse Pinkman was simply a junkie high school drop-out, who served little purpose except comedic relief and as Walt’s access point to the drug market.
Many people I’ve talked to say they couldn’t get into the show, precisely because of the disjointedness of the events. But for the many more who weren’t turned away by that or the darkness and the gore, there was something very relatable. Or at least, understandable.
Walt was just a nerdy, bumbling chemistry teacher who fells as if he has no choice — cook meth or allow his pregnant wife and handicapped son to fall into financial ruin after his death from cancer. Rather than kill a low-level street dealer, Walt chained him in his basement, and when finally forced to kill him in self-defense, cried and begged forgiveness after the incident.
Fast forward four seasons to the man we saw die on Sunday night, and Walt was anything but remorseful. That was the show’s biggest asset — its realism. Sure, it occasionally had its boring moments, balanced out with well-developed characters. However, it also drew the golden line between inconceivable action scenes and soft human emotions. Getting into the meth market is inherently a disjointed process. Walt didn’t instantaneously go from being a meek teacher to an aggressive drug lord in one season.
Instead, with stunning clarity, we witnessed Walt’s slow but steady rise to power at the cost of his humanity, and then his spiraling demise. Meanwhile, Jesse evolved from simply being a lackey to the most moral and conscience-oriented character left standing.
“Breaking Bad” showed us every hint of conscience (or in Walt’s case, every hint of conscience dying) and every deeper motivation with artistic camera angles and fantastic writing, all combined with a healthy dose of brilliant events, such as stealing chemicals from a moving train, wrecking a police evidence room with magnets and many, many more.
What I also find incredibly satisfying is that the writers magnificently utilized Anton Chekhov’s dramatic principle: “If you hang a gun on the wall in the first chapter, it must go off by the second or the third.” Old Tio Salamanca was originally just Tuco’s invalid uncle, we occasionally visited him on and off to develop Gustavo Fring’s past, and finally his haunting bell that we’ve been hearing since season one is what caused Gustavo’s destruction.
Or the ricin. We’ve been talking about untraceable poisons since season one (again with Tuco) to the end of season four with Gus, and finally to the end of the show with Lydia. Or with Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz, whom we hadn’t heard from since season two. The list goes on.
Creator Vince Gilligan chose the title based off of the colloquialism “to break bad,” widely meaning “to raise hell.”
I guess North Carolina — where I’m from — isn’t included in the geographic distinction of “widely,” because I’ve never heard someone actually use the phrase in conversation. But Walt, Jesse and the whole cast certainly raised hell in my life. And in this age of constant reality shows, poorly construed dramas (read: any AMC show that’s not “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” or “Mad Men”) how often does TV do that?
Arjun Gupta is a Wharton freshman from Matthews, N.C. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Frosh Quaker Oats” appears every other Wednesday.