Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad: five reasons why it is a modern masterpiece


Throughout its five series run we (the viewers) were indulged in perfect cocktail of drama, black comedy and downright badassary of a quality that, simply, is unparalleled in modern television. Much like The Sopranos before it, Breaking Bad, has been a lesson in both storytelling and breaking (haha) contemporary conventions of serial TV. The Sopranos was the master of manipulating its audience based on what their per-conceived notions of the natural progression of a narrative (notably Dr Melfis non-revenge against her rapist and the shows ambiguous ending) and subverting them which was revolutionary in a time when television predictable and formulaic. Breaking Bad has had to compete in the post-Lost era whereby a continuous narrative and the Hollywood B-teams are littering our households. This has meant that Breaking Bad has had to raise the bar to an unprecedented level and offer something a little a bit different. So instead of doing a bog-standard review or just dissecting everything I love about this series I am going to provide five reasons why I believe it Has been the best show in a decade.


Breaking Bad was never one to drag out a plot-point for suspense and shock value. When Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) discovers his brother-in-law is infamous meth kingpin Heisenberg a lesser show would have dragged out the impending confrontation for two or three episodes (I'm looking at you Dexter). But no, two or three scenes later and Walt is the recipient of a well-deserved haymaker. Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) was introduced towards the end of season 1 and set up as the main Lillian for the following arc, however, he was dead by the second episode of season 2. Much like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad refuted the modern formula of serial television in favor of a more satisfying viewing experience.


The evolution (or maybe devolution) of Walter White from affable-yet-vanilla science teacher to merciless drug lord is probably what Breaking Bad will be most remembered for. We go on a journey with Walt, his motivations in the beginning seem understand and ever empathetic, however, by the time we reach the final third of the tale there is no doubt that Walter White is the shows singular "big bad". We witness Jesse and his fight against both addiction and breaking the oppression that Walt has him under. Skyler goes from strong mother to adulterous independent to emotional prisoner. What makes these changes in character work is that they feel like natural developments to the circumstances of the plot. With Walter we learn that there was always a monster there but we just didn't see it straight away.

A clear narrative:

This is down to the fabulous showrunners and the support shown to the clearly talented Vince Gilligan. No doubt aided by the fact that Breaking Bad did not breach into the mainstream until it reached its half-way point it did not fall victim to its own popularity. So many decent shows that start off strongly such as Lost, Smallville, Prison Break and (especially) Dexter, to name a few, are unnecessarily expanded beyond their expiry date by greedy network chiefs who believe they are onto a winner. The subsequent effect of a series that goes too long is the inevitable decline in quality and character. Dexter resorted to both "monster of the week" and "deus ex machina" to stretch itself to additional three seasons, we had new supposedly "important" characters each season that would be gone by the end while the regulars would nonsensically hook up with one another. Breaking Bad stuck to a tight narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end. it was simple. Breaking Bad had one route to the end and not once relied on a twist or previously unmentioned character from the past, in fact, it largely held onto its original, core unit with additions such as Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut being both mainstays and enhancing the story instead of just adding to it (I'm looking at you Joey Quinn). There was a single, bloody road to the end that was foreshadowed from its inception.


I'll keep this short. Walter White did a lot of bad things but he (or Jesse) always paid for them, the plane crash, Jane, the destruction of ones family and, of course, Hank. But despite Walts crimes things were never black and white, even Gus served the purpose of keeping cretins like Uncle Jack from scumming up the neighborhood and there was a human element to everything he did.


I would burst into fits of laughter every single time Walt and Jesse had one of their bear-hug/epic battles. The two men were so equally pathetic that watching them fight was a constant source of hilarity. As magnificent an actor that Bryan Cranston is he was never able to fully erase a certain child-minded father of six from my mind. At his most malevolent Walt still had the capacity to elicit a smile. Aaron Paul more than rose to the challenge and despite the doubtlessly pedantically scripted dialogue the two men have such effortless quality that it feels ad-lib. The legacy of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and their matching Hazmat suits will be a presence at fancy-dress parties and kinky sex-parties for many a year to come.
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