One of the first posts I wrote for Popdose was a Three Strikes Rule review of AMC’s Breaking Bad in late February 2008. It’s always interesting to revisit old columns to see where my head was at. After the series’ first three episodes, I praised Bryan Cranston’s “brave” performance as high school chem teacher turned meth cook, Walter White, and correctly predicted an Emmy nomination. I also complimented the rest of the strong cast, including Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn and Dean Norris, whose performance as Hank, Walter’s good guy DEA brother-in-law, is one of the most underrated performances on the show.
Throughout the review you’ll see that I complimented Breaking Bad for its superior writing, direction and overall production value. Yet, I couldn’t get behind the show 100% because at that time my head was in a different place. Something about the meth business and watching Walt become less of a good man as the episodes progressed didn’t sit right with me. At the time, my viewing habits involved more “upbeat” entertainment, such as Friday Night Lights. I didn’t stick with Breaking Bad after the first four episodes, even though the remaining three from season on sat on my TiVo for weeks. Boy, did I make a mistake.
Fortunately, this marvelous era of television allows old episodes to be found online – legally or otherwise. When you miss out on an acclaimed series or a water cooler show (I guess they’re called Twitter shows now) the opportunity is at your fingertips to discover what you’ve been missing. Several years after my Breaking Bad review, I was convinced by a couple of friends to give it a second look. So I went back and began watching again. Guess what, my opinion changed.
What happened that cause me to reevaluate Breaking Bad and consider it one of the best shows in the past decade? There were several factors. The writing got stronger and the characters more balanced. They introduced Heisenberg, Walter’s evil alter ego. They managed to have Walt lie his way out of situation after situation and make it comical, as well as terrifying. But most of all, it was the emergence of Jesse (Paul) as the soul of the show. As each season wore on and Walter, the original hero, became the antagonist in this twisted drama, Jesse, the apathetic sideman, became somewhat of a hero. Paul and the writers made Jesse a unique and troubled character, one that I care about more than any of the others (besides Hank; he just kicks ass). I’m edge waiting to see how Jesse and Walter settle their differences by the end of the series run.
Speaking of the end, this Sunday the final episodes of Breaking Bad begin airing on AMC. There are only eight remaining, so by October, we’ll know the fate of Walter, Jesse, Hank and the rest of the Breaking Bad family. I’ve seen the first of the final eight and it’s everything I hoped for when the show took a hiatus last September.
For regular viewers, you know that the last image we saw was Hank sitting on the can, taking a dump and leafing through a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Hank reads the inscription in the book, a gift from Gail, a chemist that Jesse murdered to save his and Walt’s hides. Gail’s handwriting matches that of some evidence Hank has collected in the Heisenberg case he’s been building. Suddenly, Hank realizes that his mild mannered brother-in-law is the city’s most notorious drug dealer. Heisenberg has been under his nose all along.
The premiere episode on Sunday picks up right where we left off. Actually, it picks up where two stories left off. Way back in the season five premiere of last year, the episode opened with Walt retuning to Albuquerque on his 52nd birthday, indicating that a year has passed between the events of the show and this little prologue. Walter has a full head of hair and a thick, scruffy beard. He buys a used car with a trunk full of weapons and drives away from the Dennys where he met his arms dealer. On Sunday, this storyline continues, as well, and we see a little more of what has transpired in a year, in particular the single story ranch style home where Walter and his family lived. That house has been as much a character of the show as any of the human actors, and to see what has happened to it will shock you.
From there, the episode jumps back to Hank’s “holy shit” moment and we see him come to terms with the information he’s just uncovered. At the same time, Walt puts forth an effort to keep his promise to his long suffering wife, Skyler (Gunn) that he’s through with cooking meth. As for Jesse, he’s still reeling from the execution of a little boy that occurred last season during a train heist. Jesse’s soul is tearing as he finally realizes that Walter is a lying sack of shit.
I do not want to ruin the final scene of Sunday’s episode, but fans will not be disappointed. I’ve watched the episode twice and that last scene four times. When the show airs on Sunday, I will watch it again. It’s that intense.
If you’re like I was and you dismissed Breaking Bad as just another dark drama about an antihero, there is still time to get caught up with the show before its series finale. There are only 54 episodes leading into the series finale. With the final episode scheduled for the end of September, that’s just eight weeks of semi-serious binge watching. All of the previous seasons are streaming on Netflix and are available on Blu-ray and DVD. Then again, maybe you’re not ready, which is fine. At some point I believe all fans of exceptional entertainment will discover (or rediscover) this show and they’ll be like me, declaring it one of the greatest of all time.