by Ali Burden |
Bryan Cranston, though widely known for his role as the lovable, bumbling father of Malcolm in the Middle, truly comes to life in Breaking Bad. His amazing talent is perfectly showcased in this well-written and deeply engaging drama, which aired for the first time back in January of 2008.
Cranston returns to the small screen as Walter White—an easygoing and overall good-natured high school chemistry teacher with a lot on his plate. A pregnant wife at home (Anna Gunn), a teenage son with cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte) and a too-small paycheck top the ever-growing list of Walt’s worries. To top it all off, he receives a truly devastating diagnosis—terminal lung cancer. Doctors estimate he’s only got months to live.
Thanks to his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), Walt discovers that there’s real money in a world that he never would’ve touched as a straight-laced schoolteacher.
The manufacture and sale of meth.
Knowing he’s running out of time, and his current financial situation being bleak, Walt figures he has to make as much money as possible in the time he has left. While Walter was once a part of an upstart company called Gray Matter Technologies with his friend Elliot and then-girlfriend Gretchen, Walter left, selling his share for five-thousand dollars. Since then, Gray Matter grew, and as of the start of the show, has a net worth of over two billion dollars.
But Walter missed out on the fortune—leaving him no other way but the manufacture of meth to ensure his family’s financial security long after he’s gone. Of course, being who he is, Walter knows nothing of the drug trade… but he knows someone who does. A former student and major slacker by the name of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
Together, they secure an RV and head to the middle of the vast New Mexico desert to work their magic. With Walter’s chemistry background, and his almost madman-level commitment to excellence, they’re able to produce meth of unequaled purity. Before long, Walter devises an alternative process using methylamine—which yields unique blue meth, referred to by dealers and users alike as Blue Sky.
And it absolutely dominates the market.
But with great power—and great meth—comes great complications.
Walter and Jesse are pulled further and further into what was supposed to be a simple, easy-money gig becomes a tangled web of lies, deceit, murder, sleazy lawyers, violence, romance and of course, piles and piles of cash. Walter adopts his pseudonym “Heisenberg”, after German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg, as well as a signature look to package himself as the drug kingpin he’s supposed to be…and eventually becomes.
Creator Vince Gilligan has an unforgettable masterpiece on his hands. Absolutely brilliant writing keeps viewers binging, but the true magic is in the performances of these talented actors. While they’re sure to drive you absolutely crazy, you’ll fall in love with Jesse and Walt. Each supporting piece falls perfectly into place next to the last—Skylar’s invasive behavior (which drives most viewers to eventually despise her!), Hank’s overbearing “manly man” persona, his wife Marie’s (Betsy Brandt) arguable instability and kleptomaniac tendencies, and Walter Junior’s innocence dissipating as he navigates the difficult teenage years. All work in perfect organized chaos to deliver episode after heart-stopping, gut-wrenching episode.
For his performance in Breaking Bad, Cranston received four Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama—three of them being consecutive. During his plunge from mild-mannered teacher to merciless, ruthless kingpin, you’ll love him every step of the way.
Jesse is another story altogether.
Aaron Paul’s performance as the impulsive and emotional Jesse Pinkman is nothing short of masterful, and is a sharp parallel to Walter’s logical nature. While Walter has a clear mission in mind, Jesse gives the impression of being just a guy trying to make it through life. Because of his passionate personality, Jesse tends to feel things far deeper than Walt—especially loss. Through the course of the show, Jesse experiences death at many turns—including his paramour, Jane—and is normally deeply shaken by them.
Even though Walter treats Jesse like an idiot, with constant correction, criticism and berating, he and Walt share a deep loyalty to one another. Walt puts it all on the line to protect Jesse more than once, and seems to align him in importance with his own family.
Right around the time Walt’s daughter, Holly, is born, his marriage to Skylar begins coming apart at the seams. He has no choice but to come clean after many months of suspicion on her end, and she kicks him out, requesting a divorce. Walter finally cedes, signing the papers for her as to give her what she wants. Meanwhile, Skylar finds romance in the arms of her new boss, and Walt fights for time with his son and daughter, just like any devoted father would.
In a terrifying twist of events, Hank is attacked in a parking lot, and mortally wounded in season three—and always-meddling Skylar volunteers Walt to pay for his medical treatment. Walt reluctantly agrees, and Skylar begins a web of her own, weaving elaborate stories and desperately searching for a way to clean all of Walt’s drug money.
As would be expected from these brilliant writers, events spiral out of control in an artful and perfectly chaotic way. Fans have gone absolutely crazy for Breaking Bad—while it ended in 2015, you can find it right now on Netflix and enjoy it over and over and over again…and we definitely recommend you do! However you may want to wait until after you put the kids to bed—while Breaking Bad is a no-holds-barred thrill that will keep you wishing there were more than five seasons, it’s definitely not for everyone!
(Note: Devoted fans can also go on to enjoy Better Call Saul—a spinoff series following Saul Goodman, a full six years before he begins representing Albuquerque’s most infamous kingpin, the one and only Walter White.)
TV HACK Rating
- Breaking Bad