Breaking Bad Review

Alright: 13 days, 55 episodes, and 5000 words later, here’s my ultimate review of Breaking Bad. Hope you like it!

-Anthony

Walter

I’ll get right to it – I think he’s actually kind of a major asshole when you get down to it.

He’s the protagonist of Breaking Bad, but he’s a far better fit as an anti-hero, but not in a classical sense. He’s more of what I’ve heard described as a “pragmatic anti-hero” (which I’ll get to in a minute). The audience cheers for him because the story revolves around him, but really, he can be a selfish, prideful, arrogant jerk who only thinks of himself and puts everyone else down.

First, he’s not really a “decent guy.” On the contrary, he’s mean, judgmental, and critical of everyone around him, including his family, Jesse, his colleagues, society. He’s almost never critical of himself, it’s always someone else who messed up: Jesse screwed up in the lab, Skyler overreacted, Saul was too stupid to fix things, Mike was too rash – however, in reality he really screwed himself over in many of these cases (wrecking Walter Jr.’s new car, drunkenly telling Hank that Heisenburg is still out there, trying to kill Gus and complicating things, letting Jane die leaving Jesse torn apart, etc).

He’s the kind of guy who could “tell Jesus where to park his donkey.” Someone who can find fault in everyone and everything. If you mess up or miss his expectations, he’ll usually let you know in a blunt, cold, rude, and often humiliating way.

I also wouldn’t say Walt is fundamentally “good” either, a trait of a classic anti-hero. He’s more pragmatic. What I mean by that is that everything he does, he does for his family and his well-being, he does for a greater reason, and that could (and often does) transcend morality. If something or someone needs to be sacrificed for the “greater good,” so be it – even the murder of innocent people like Gale, letting Jane die to cut her as a loose end, or those drug dealers he ran over. Innocence and guilt are surpassed – only utility remains. Can I use you to meet my ends? Good, I’ll try and protect you. Are you a potential risk to my family and me? Better watch out, might have to kill about 10 guys in 2 minutes who might put me at risk.

(Side note: I even read somewhere that Gilligan and the writers were originally going to make Walt actually roll Jane over on her back to ensure her death by suffocation…yikes).

Walt is also very reckless.

Example: Walt buys a $300 bottle of champagne to celebrate buying the car wash, and Skyler proceeds to reprimand him, saying it’ll blow their cover (which it would, they’re trying to convince the world they’re broke, buying expensive luxuries will raise questions). But Walt just brusquely brushes it off and gets mad at her for being so conservative and accuses her of being “overreactive.”

Another example: Walt buys Walter Jr. an extremely gaudy sports car. Skyler becomes indignant – she tells him that car is exactly contradictory to their story of being broke (which it obviously is, Walt), and tells Walt to return it. Walt defends himself, pointing the finger away from himself like he always does, saying he was just trying to get his kid something nice.

Both are portrayals of Walt’s selfish, self-absorbed perspective of how life should be, but that life can’t happen. Not without putting everything at risk – not without counteracting precisely what he says he’s trying to do, “protect his family.” Skyler might seem like a bitch for saying “someone has to protect this family from the man trying to protect this family,” but I think she’s absolutely right.

Essentially, Walt can be excessively sloppy and arrogant, which could be his most significant downfall – underplaying scenarios and underrating his enemies. Yes Walt, there are better options than blowing up Jr.’s car to “get back at” Skyler, or bringing a bomb into a hospital (“I didn’t know where else to put it” isn’t good enough!), or KILLING MIKE, C’MON man.

He hardly ever finds fault in himself, only those around him. Even when confronted with his own mistakes (of which he has many), he can always find a way to point the accusing fingers back at you if he wants.

He’s also very prideful, and self-reliant to a fault.

“You’d rather sell drugs than accept help,” Skyler declared. And she’s right. He’d rather break bad and risk life in prison and forever remembered by everyone as a drug dealer/meth manufacturer than god forbid accept financial help from people, even his immediate family, even his son (referring to Walter Jr.’s website to raise money for Walt – he compared Walter Jr.’s website to “shaking a tin can to the world, hoping for charity” to which Saul hilariously poked fun at, “Yeah – no issues there, Walt“). Major pride issues there.

It comes up all over the place, specifically with Jesse and Skyler, ordering and bossing each of them around even though Walt has admitted that each is his partner, not his assistant. Walt still falls back into this master-servant relationship with them where he needs to be in charge.

This also ties in with how Walt just “shrugs off” things (normal problems like money matters and living situations as well as serious issues like death, killing, and violence) casually, ignoring the obvious implications. In season 5, when Skyler is upset and afraid for the family’s safety, Walt scolds her “overreactions” and declares the family is completely safe. They’re not safe, Walt! Geez man, c’mon. You’re never safe in the meth business (more on that later). He’s delusional if he thinks being the “owner” means a damn thing – it doesn’t. He’s in just as much risk. Who cares if Gus is dead – there’s always the law/Hank hot on the trail, something could go wrong with Mike or his guys, some sketchy competitors might try and kill him, I mean, geez – something as simple as a crazy meth head that flipped out and started killing people like Walt or Jesse. There’s danger everywhere!

Doesn’t take help from the Blacks (who could have paid for his whole cancer treatment – sure, there’s some bad blood there, but if the alternative is selling felony-related drugs and he still refuses, I mean, c’mon) or the Schrader’s, his own family. Pride, I’d say, is perhaps his biggest character defect, which removes the notion that he’s essentially “good” or worthy to be rooted for as a just, righteous character. He’s not.

He thinks he doesn’t need Jesse at times (which may be true), but there are those rare times when he actually admits he needs help, and that’s when things start working, when he actually becomes a team player.

However, I can’t deny he does have (some) good in him, as well as other virtues (though it can be very muddled). He experiences tangible remorse and regret, specifically the ability to recognize his own faults (though this is a rare case). This is highlighted after his fight with Jesse, where he gave the audience a nugget and admitted he had it coming, that he made a mistake and that things were his fault when he was crying to Walter Jr.

However, in season 5, he FINALLY started to actually not be a dick, especially to Jesse. He tells jesse he trusts him, he humbly asks Jesse to spot him for some money, he gives Jesse the respect that Jesse’s always wanted, and starts to actually work with Jesse, exactly what the audience has been rooting for! He even includes Jesse by calling the two of them “the two greatest meth cooks in America,” telling Jesse “You’re every bit as good as me.” Yay! Walt and Jesse are finally clicking! The times when they worked as a team were the best moments in the show (because God knows how many times we see an actual smile, laugh, or sentimental moment between anyone).

But of course Walt had to ruin it for me when he shot Mike and go right back to who he was. When confronted with Mike’s accusations of Walt ruining everything because of his pride, his ego, and his rashness, he shoots Mike, unnecessarily. Sigh. Dammit, Walt.

I liked Mike.

Jesse

I like Jesse. There’s so much to say about his moral ambiguity and simultaneous development/stagnation as a human being.

I really like how the show really highlighted Jesse’s ongoing inability to cope with his own problems, avoiding his issues for as long as he could (though he usually does eventually confront them). In attempts to escape, he turns to drugs (largely meth, even heroine), drinking, partying, playing Mario Kart with meth heads, driving on a go kart track all by himself, getting high with a prostitute, etc, all in an effort to escape reality and relieve the pain he’s so obviously struggling with (I think a lot of that stems of how he was forced to murder Gale, as well as the impact of Jane’s death, and the prolonged effects of the guilt his trade inevitably causes on society) – the scene in season 4 where he crumples down in front of the blasting speakers after everyone left his house party is a perfect portrayal of this sense of escapism and distraction.

I also love how Breaking Bad portrays that none of the methods Jesse attempts to escape reality with ultimately work. He’s still depressed, paranoid, lonely, isolated, and afraid, though he insists on getting high, sponsoring junkies to stay at his house, eat his food, drink his beer, smoke his meth, and hell, even steal his money. He doesn’t care about any of it (at least for a while) – since nothing is really working, maybe he’ll try something else to take his mind off the pain. He wants to be as numb as he possibly can.

What I love most about Jesse is that, deep down, I think Jesse Pinkman is a sweet kid, maybe even a “good” kid. He’s limited himself from day one – slinging drugs, taking the easy way out, never applying himself, even when people like his parents and Mr. White did everything they could to help him. However, I don’t think Jesse is a hopeless case. We saw through Jane that he has his own version of being sweet, of being capable of love and affection and generosity and self-sacrifice; he tries to connect with his younger brother and refuses to be part of his younger brother’s marijuana issue.

His extreme reaction to Gale’s murder also points to this theory – the only reason he’s calloused, indifferent, unfeeling, and bent on escaping reality through drugs and partying is precisely how we know he has good in him. No characteristically evil, wicked, villainous person would feel that level of regret, that sorrow, that massively deep level of pain and try to cover it up like he does. We see it again through Jesse’s reaction after the new guy Todd killed the kid on the motorcycle.

I will admit there are certain characters (Mike Ehrmantraut, for instance) that do display largely unfeeling and wicked character traits that don’t seem to require any levels of escapism to deal with their actions (Tuco, and especially his cousins are the extreme of this – they’d do anything and everything and not feel a damn thing, from murdering children to killing cops with, say, an axe).

Still, Jesse can’t be described as entirely “good” – I mean, he’s murdered multiple people, he’s been slinging drugs and taking advantage of just about everyone he can for most of his life, he participates in Walt’s ongoing plans to support meth manufacturing, etc. Like everyone else, he has stakes on both sides of right and wrong.

I also think he has issues with not wanting to be a “loser” (which Walt always plays on, through his perpetual judgment and criticism about Jesse never being able to do anything right). I also think Jesse’s too good for Walt – yes, he’s an addict, he’s irresponsible, he’s rash, and can be very stupid, but he doesn’t sell out Walt to Gus when Gus pressured him too, and after all Walt’s abrasiveness, he still made efforts to connect (buying Walt a birthday present, for example). Walt was mean, rude, cold, and abrasive to Jesse the whole time, and I think it really shows Jesse’s character that he never gave Gus his go-ahead to kill Walt. Like I said – too good for Walt, in light of Walt’s abrasive behavior towards Jesse.

I also really like how adaptable and smart Jesse is with what he’s good at – meth. “You may know your P.I. waiting-in-the-car work, but I know meth heads,” Jesse told Mike on a stakeout. And he does. Queue that delightfully brilliant scene where Jesse fools those meth heads by simply digging a hole in the front of their house. That’s his realm, being part of it himself and being part of others in it. I like that the show really made his expertise, and even developed his chemistry talents as well.

One of my favorite scenes was when he was in a 12-step meeting and he finally came clean (kind of) about why he was there, and how he disagreed with the program’s mission to just “accept” himself, when he can’t.

“You know what? You know why I’m here in the first place? …It’s to sell you meth. You’re nothing to me but customers!” Very powerful scene, another nugget into Jesse’s real identity.

…bitch.

Skyler

Ok. I really don’t like her.

I find her character very annoying, irritating, selfish, self-absorbed, and stupid most of the time.

However, I have to admit, even though she can be so annoying to the point I wish she was off the show (which I often did), she’s a very interesting character foil to Walt, and she’s not without her talents. This was highlighted very well in season 2, during Walt’s continued attempts to keep her in the dark about what he was up to. I actually thought her “bitchy” behavior (going “out” and not telling Walt where, leaving him wondering, her passive aggression, her aloofness, and secrecy that must have irritated Walt so much) was hilarious, because that’s exactly what Walt did and was doing to her. 

I wouldn’t say her reciprocated behavior toward Walt was necessary or even justified (there were some things that just weren’t OK period, like sleeping with her boss Ted), but I could see the reasons behind it, and how she actually wasn’t entirely in the wrong. Walt did the same things – kept her in the dark, disappeared for hours and even days at a time, never telling her the truth or the whole truth, etc. Admittedly, her “bitchy” behavior that mirrored Walt’s might not have been so self-centered or shocking in light of Walt’s own actions.

She has many faults, however.

Personally, I really don’t like that he can’t keep it together – she does these weird things like walking into a pool and…trying to drown herself? Shuts down and starts panicking several times, etc. I admit it, I don’t like her character, period. Even though Walt has expressed similar self-destructive behavior (like telling Jesse to shoot him, closing his eyes and almost intentionally driving into a truck, that scene where he flips out and starts laughing maniacally in his crawl space – which was AN AWESOME SCENE, by the way), it still really annoys me more when she does it.

She either rambles or she’s as quiet as a mouse, overwhelming others with her plans and thoughts and criticisms, or is passive aggressive, secretive, and  and is very immaturely self-absored (though her sister Marie can be far worse). Once she gets wrapped up in her own thoughts and plans, it becomes very difficult to make her see another way. “Why the car wash?” Saul and Walt pressed, suggested many other viable options. “Because…I said so.” She says flatly. AUGH so freaking annoying.

Her methods of fixing things are very self-centered and self-reliant (much like Walt…they probably deserve each other to an extent). Once she believes she can fix something (which happens a lot), or she believes others have it all wrong (which also happens a lot), she becomes all the more stubborn and unflinching (again, similar to Walt).

However, she isn’t helpless – on the contrary, she’s proved very resourceful, more cunning than I think people give her credit for. On several occasions she pulled legitimate fast ones on wary opponents, like faking her childbirth at the jewelry store to escape, coming up with the gambling lie for Walt, posing at a dumb bimbo to cover up Ted Beneke’s income fraud, all mostly on the fly. She’s intelligent, cunning, and can think on her feet (especially when herself or her family is at risk).

Still – one of the most annoying characters, in my opinion.

Hank

Hank is funny, though unfortunately I’d say for a while his character was a little more flat than I would’ve liked him to be.

He has lots of stereotypical traits for a man like him – as a male Caucasian American DEA agent, he’s painfully self-reliant (very similar to Walt in his pride, almost never seeking or accepting any help from anyone – being physically crippled, especially), he’s semi-racist and thinks very highly of himself and his abilities compared to most others, and of course he has issues with opening up to people, no stereotypical man’s man is complete without that one.Doesn’t want to open up to a counselor, his family, best friend, even himself, he sees that as weakness.

Like Walt, he’s very skeptical of asking for help with most things (although Walt’s pride is far more substantial in comparison). However, I have to mention that he is open to hearing other people open up – he doesn’t shun Walt away when Walt constantly broke down about Skyler (even though he was clearly uncomfortable) and he stuck around for those awkward family-intervention things.

I also think it’s funny how on the up-and-up he is with the law in so many aspects (a DEA agent, would never try drugs, protesting when Walt kept pouring Walter Jr. the tequila, sacrificing his wife and family to uphold his job integrity) while at the same time, he also breaks the law in several areas (beating up Jesse, becoming obsessive in his search for “Heisenburg” by breaking/entering, bugging cars, giving his wife prolonged grace with her criminal kleptomania).

I also noticed his character is very self-absorbed as well, largely thinking of himself and his motives as just (at least according to him) while he pressures others to help him do his extralegal business (breaking into the RV’s with his partner Gomez, pressuring Hank to bug Gus’ car despite Walt’s protests, etc).

Marie

I always found her a very predictable character. She had her funny moments, in an annoying sort of way. Hank are Marie are one of those couples that you see and wonder how they ever got together, but at the same time you’re not shocked that they’re making it work.

Not much to say about her – if she’s not self-absorbed, bossy, proud, or stealing something, it’d be unusual. However, in the areas of loyalty and persistence, she has flying colors – throughout Hank’s whole ordeal of physical therapy and being unemployed, she really pulled through for him and stuck with him without hinting at leaving, abandoning him, or finding something else to help her (which we can’t quite say about someone like Skyler).

Got a big mouth, though.

Walter Jr.

I find Jr. as a curious combination of unique character traits paired with semi-flat character development.

For instance, Jr. reprimands his own dad on several occasions; “Why are you being such a pussy?” he accuses Walt when he informs his family he doesn’t want surgery. He also scolds Walt for being afraid and foolish, which I think is a unique trait of many teenage boys when talking to their father’s (but maybe I’m wrong). However, he can also be flat and predictable like Marie.

In any case, I’d actually say that Jr.’s potential reaction to finding out about Walt’s true life would be a mixed bag – indignation and rejection probably, similar traits to Skyler, but I also think there’s a mix of acceptance and love for Walt despite anything he’s done (like he displayed upon hearing about Walt’s alleged gambling problem).

Mike 

Noooooooo!!!!!!!!

Themes

The Meth

I’d have to say, my favorite part of the show, my absolute favorite theme:

Breaking Bad expertly showed what life and drugs do – ruin things.

Not the whole cheesy “drugs are bad they’ll ruin your life” but the deteriorating, acidic, corrosive effect drugs can have on individuals, families, and relationships. This is shown everywhere – first and foremost Walt’s strained relationship with his family and subsequent divorce. Walt lost his job, he got mixed with thugs, thieves, murderers and junkies like Tuco, his cousins, Gus, even Jesse to an extent.

Everyone in the show who willingly was involved in the meth scheme suffered in some crucial ways. Gus’ best friend was murdered right in front of hime, and was eventually killed himself. The whole cartel was murdered in revenge. Gale, possibly the most “innocent” and bright character in the show, got a bullet through his head for being a liability. Jane overdosed, Jesse went through months of inner turmoil getting over his grief and guilt that he may never get over, especially after Jane’s and Combo’s death, both drug-related. Andrea lost her son, killed by the very gangsters who brought him in. All Mike’s guys got brutally murdered in prison for being a liability to Walt. Very few characters escaped the damage – Badger and Skinny may have been two rare examples.

Meth even attacks people indirectly. Skyler’s whole life was overturned because of Walt and his meth. Hank was representing the law, a force of good and justice, and he was shot and couldn’t walk for months. Walter Jr. was so distraught by his parent’s constant battles that he wanted to separate from the family and hence named himself “Flynn” for a while. Meth erodes everything over time.

When talking about an old job he had, Hank said that his old summer job “was a lot better than chasing monsters,” referring to Walt’s hit on Mike’s 9 guys. Walt’s relationship with meth has made him just that – into a kind of monster. It does the same thing for all those who maintain their relationship with the drug long enough.

Money

I liked 2 things about money that was portrayed in the show – first, I think they did a great job showing how people react to these massive sums of money. The middle class White family and their disbelief, the upper class snobs like Ted, the insanely wealthy bosses like Don Eladio and Gus – I could see why each person reacted the way they did.

The other thing I really liked was how the object of money never seemed enough – in the beginning, Walt came up with the amount of money he needed (the episode was titled seven thirty-seven, referring to Walt’s calculated $737,000 that would satisfy his family’s needs). However, we know that Walt gained much more than that, almost double after working for Gus. But it always ran out before they could secure it – when Skyler paid off Ted’s taxes, when they bought the car wash, cleaning up the mistakes they made (replacing cars, repairing damages, paying off people to stay quiet, etc). “How big does this pile need to be?” Skyler asks Walt at the end of season 5 part 1 referring to all the money he’s accumulated.

Sure, Walt could afford to blow up a few Dodge Challengers and buy some expensive champagne, but in the end (at least so far), there was never enough. Which I can really appreciate as an accurate potential scenario for a large number of families like that White’s who might become very wealthy all of a sudden – always wanting more.

Unhealthy Relationships

Breaking Bad’s interpersonal relationships were almost all unhealthy to some extent, and it was very interesting to see the characters try and make it work.

First – dammit, I wanted Walt and Gale to have a good relationship!

Gale was the happiest character of the show, and I don’t know why I was surprised when he had to die off. I think Walt didn’t handle their “breakup” in the lab very well – Gale didn’t make any lab mistakes, he was more than happy to fix any problems, and do whatever Walt wanted, however he wanted. Leave it to Walt to refuse any good thing that could come to him, whether it be a helping hand from a family, a rewarding night out with the family, a potentially beautiful and rich relationship for a man who has almost no friends – but no. Walt doesn’t need him, just like he doesn’t need anything else. I think Walt deserves his loneliness – he had that coming.

Speaking of that, for most of the show I really wanted to see Walt and Jesse connect. To Jesse’s credit, he tried, if not barely (asking to go out for beers, go karts, etc). Walt hardly ever tried at all, with all his criticisms and judgment. It was hard for me to feel sorry for Walt when Jesse wouldn’t talk to him, because I could see how Jesse might’ve felt: this old, mean, critical jackass keeps calling me, and whatever he wants it’s going to be mixed with judgement, criticism, and bossiness…I’m not gonna pick up.

I think that’s an important trait to notice about Walt as well; he does all this damage to everyone around him – Skyler, Jesse, Gus – and when things start to get complicated and he’s stuck in a position where he needs help, he believes that he deserves their total and complete assistance, no questions asked. Nevermind everything he’s done.

I also wanted to identify exactly what I think the audience wants, including me – I think everyone was rooting for both Walt and Jesse to make tons of money making meth; I think everyone wants to see their problems worked out and in a position of security and prosperity.

It’s the complications that make that dream impossible – Hank always on the trail, Gus and the cartel also vying for power, the never-enough attitude that characters often adopt. I love how the show painted their lives as a product of what they’ve done: if you go down the meth road, it’s going to take you to places you didn’t want to be, and force you to do things you never would have wanted to. That dream is impossible – there will always be something in the way.

Also, if people would just pick up their phones, a lot of confusion and miscommunication would be avoided, geez.

MacGyver Chemistry 

Haha. I admit it, I liked the times when Walt turned into MacGyver and solved puzzles with chemistry and science – starting the RV battery, making the bomb, escaping from MIke’s handcuffs. I would have liked to see more of that, but I’m sure the writers didn’t want Walt becoming some science-escapist, which could easily become very cheesy and unrealistic, and I think they did a good job with it.

Final Thoughts

Again, the scenes I liked MOST I also really liked the scenes when Walt and Jesse worked together – that was when they really clicked, despite their differences. The scene at the end of season 4 when they’re destroying the lab? So badass.

I also think the show did an excellent job keeping the audience on the edge of their seats – Breaking Bad was such a thrill ride. I love how close Hank comes to catching Walt so many times (the RV cene was especially close), always captivating audiences. I also really appreciated the music choices – I loved the Mexican-themed music, like that hilarious music video of that Mariachi band singing about Heisneburg, that song about some attractive woman named Wendy to that montage of the prostitute Wendy, etc. Very cool.

Bottom line – excellent show. Massive depth, compelling plot, addicting characters, and flawless acting. However, while masterfully done, Breaking Bad isn’t a feel-good show – on the contrary, I don’t think the audience ever really felt “good” at all. No smiles, brutal violence, depressing endings, unmet expectations…

Admittedly, I’m glad I’m almost done with the show so I can start feeling happy again.

Heh.

Favorite quote:

Walt: “I am not in danger, Skyler, I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think of me? No. I am the one who knocks!”