5 seasons and a lot of intense and memorable hours later, Breaking Bad’s finale is finally upon us. I got on to the bandwagon very late – in fact only after the first 6 episodes of the last season had been aired. Fresh off completing all 5 seasons of The Wire for the second time, I had decided to not watch any more TV shows. It was just not worth it – all the time spent (wasted??), the lack of any productivity, a desire to do something more useful and constructive with my time, etc. got me very hesitant to embark on another massive investment of my time and ….., well, nothing else really. But ultimately it was the lack of sufficient returns with regard to the quality of the shows available that I decided to take a break.
I do not know who finally tipped the scales in favor of this show, but I got started on Breaking Bad. And that was all it took – getting started – and I had committed ALL my non-working time to complete watching all available episodes. Thanks Netflix. Within a few weeks I was done. 41 episodes of drama of the highest quality – a quality matched only by very few TV shows. Only 2 come to my mind – The Wire and the first 3 seasons of Damages.
The story line and the plot was what kept most people hooked on to the show. Admittedly original, the premise of the show opened up a range of possibilities for the story to develop and take shape. But the writers stood grounded – all the time. No outrageous plot developments, no fabricated coincidences, no cliche situations, no Deus ex Machinas to save the day, and for once we did not see the inevitable game of institution politics being shoved down our throats in the name of reality. None of the painful cliches holding up plot and/or character development – something any seasoned TV show viewer will attest to.
However, the real strength of the show lay not in the successful absence of the cliche, but in the development of plot and characters. Fact is these two were never separate entities. Most story lines (TV shows or movies) have scripts where the development in character follows the development in plot. That is something happens to the character and then the character begins to think and act differently. Breaking Bad, for the most part, did this in reverse. They defined an initial sketch and history for all the characters and created initial situations (Walter White diagnosed with cancer and his meeting with Jesse). After this, the characters’ own natural responses and weaknesses were allowed to dictate the direction in which the story and the plot developed.
Walter White’s persistence with ‘providing for his family’ on his own terms, Jesse’s inability to cope with the impacts his actions have had on those he loved, Skylar’s disapproval of Walter’s choices and her initial fear of her family coming under harm, Hank’s single minded obsession to nail Heisenberg – and all the things that led to and resulted from these formed an intricate web of action and consequence involving every single character in the show. It is really a beautiful thing if you meditate on it.
Think of it. A set of people with a certain initial characters/personalities and tendencies living through different times in their lives. An initial set of circumstances are thrust on them and thus begins the indefinite and incremental loop of response, consequence and further stimulus. But every time the response is going to be incrementally different because of the characters’ previous experience and newer set of circumstances to respond to. All this happening with minimal to no external interference or involvement. It is almost like an elegantly crafted genetic algorithm.
Maybe it is. (Or maybe it is an allegory for free market economics).
But to me, personally, Breaking Bad was a celebration of the human condition. A celebration of how everyday people respond when subjected to stress, loss, unexpected wealth, getting caught, uncertainty, guilt, cancer, and ultimately just plain old fear. Everything – Walter White deciding to embark on his meth making venture, Jesse helping the cops to capture Walter, Skylar cheating on Walter, Marie returning to her kleptomania, Walter revealing the location of the money in the desert – was all just the perfect portrayal of what a normal person under extreme stress and uncertainty would do.
There is an inevitable viewer disillusionment that comes with the vicarious experience of watching the plot unfold on a Television screen. It leads the viewer to having a false sense of superiority over the character for ‘knowing’ what the correct choice the character ‘should have’ made for his/her own good (which is usually nothing more than just the viewer’s preference). But the question to ask yourself is this: If you were really in that character’s shoes with that much stress, fear and uncertainty looming around you all the time, would you be reacting any differently? Once you answer that question honestly, Breaking Bad begins to transcend to a whole new level of TV drama.
The show will be missed. All the characters will be missed – everyone from Walter White to the most adorable Saul Goodman and Huell. But most of all, I would sincerely hope that the series finale does not go overboard just to create a happy ending. I would be at complete peace if Walter never gets to see his family, Jesse commits suicide and Skylar gets hold of part of Walt’s money. But that’s just me. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.