Why I don’t like “Breaking Bad”

There, I said it. So this is the promised review and some people probably won’t like it (or me), so if you’re one of them you can skip this post (or this blog). And of course the following paragraphs will be full of SPOILERS for the entire series. You’ve been warned.

I really don’t like Breaking Bad

Really. Just in case you clicked on “more” in the hope of finding a positive review.

As I did with my Homeland review (another series I didn’t like), I should probably first explain where I’m coming from when it comes to Breaking Bad. The first time I heard about the series was probably when Jon Hamm lost out to Bryan Cranston at the Emmys race (for the first time). And as you know, I’m madly in love with Mad Men. So of course I was intrigued.

The first time I actually saw an episode must have been at least half a year later. It was broadcast on German television (dubbed, of course) and I missed the first episode because of the weird scheduling. So my first encounter with Walter White was episode two of season one: Walter and Jesse dissolve a body in acid. And no, that wasn’t enough for me to watch another episode.

Fast forward to 2015: Breaking Bad has won several more Emmys, has been lauded by critics and film scholars, and is generally seen as “must-watch” TV. So when I finally got my Netflix account, the series was of course on my list.

Unfortunately, it failed to convince me of its greatness. I mean, I kind of get why people think it’s good, but I fail to see why people are so obsessed about it they buy t-shirts and Funko Pop figurines (or maybe that’s totally unrelated, who knows).

So, I made it through all five seasons. Several times, I was close to giving up, but I always told myself “No, it’s must-watch TV, you have to make it to the end.” And here’s why it was so hard for me:

My first issue with the series is probably it’s pacing. Now, Mad Men is known for being one of the slowest series on TV, so that shouldn’t have been an issue. But Breaking Bad started out rather fast-paced and (at least in my impression) got slower as the seasons progressed. Especially season three was sooo slow (the low point was probably that episode about the fly in the lab – who greenlit this?). If you have only 13 episodes per season, you really should be able to leave out the boring stuff. And then in season five we learn that only one year has passed since episode one, which to me came as a total surprsie – did they ever celebrate Christmas? Anything? It all just felt like a big vacuum (maybe due to the Albuquerque desert, who knows).

My second issue is related to the weird passing of time in the series. Walter’s story is triggered by his cancer diagnosis, but then the whole cancer issue goes away rather quickly and then suddeny resurfaces in the last season. I mean, I totally get that the writers didn’t want to show Walter in the hospital all the time, but they could have at least mentioned that he’s still in some kind of treatment (that’s how cancer therapy works, right?). Instead, his lung cancer is now the deus ex machina in the final season, giving Walter’s actions a reason. And what happened to Marie’s kleptomania? It seemed like a big issue in season one, and then it just disappears never to come back. I’m no doctor, but it doesn’t feel very realistic

My third issue, and this a major one, is the way the show treats the center of the story – i.e. crystal meth. Or rather, how it treats it as if it were a product like everything else. Never mind it’s a highly addictive drug and a serious problem for many communities, we’ll just ignore that fact for the sake of our story. Okay, sure, we get that meth head couple with the kid and we get Jessie’s short-term girlfriend, and of course Jesse and his stupid friends. But given that blue meth is so huge in Albuquerque and the surrounding area, shouldn’t we see even more? And why is Walter never really confronted with the effects of his products (save for the girl he watches choke on her own vomit)? Not that I think that it would change his mind about his job (after all, it’s mostly about selfish pride for him – I’ll get to this in a minute), but treating the addicts as an afterthought doesn’t give the series credibility.

And now my biggest issue, which is: the characters. Or rather, me being unable to relate to them. Which doesn’t mean that I hate them – which would be fine (from a writer’s point of view – it means I’m emotionally engaged). Instead I find myself in the position of an onlooker who’s puzzled or annoyed (a feeling I want to avoid as writer).

Skyler: Okay, I know there are a lot of discussions about her and that she gets a lot of hate (or at least that’s the sense I got from my Twitter time line when I wasn’t watching the series). My problem with her is that I don’t get her. Okay, I get that she wants to protect her children, but everything else is kind of blurry – and I think it’s because she doesn’t get to talk to many people outside her family. This is a women with two kids who has had a job, and yet the only people she talks to (on screen) are her husband, her sister and her brother in law (and her lawyer)? Where are her friends? We can’t read other people’s mind, no matter how good the actor/actress is, so we need the character to talk. But Skyler never really does that – apart from saying that she wants to protect her family. And then she willingly becomes Walter’s accessory. I don’t get it. Maybe I would if they had shown why she had fallen in love with Walter in the first place. As is, Skyler remains weak and pathetic, and she doesn’t even get a strong rebuttal of Walter’s self-righteous rant at the end of the series.

Walter: He remains a mystery to me. In the beginning it looks like he’s cooking for the thrill of it. Later it becomes an issue of pride and greed. Which is okay, but not really compelling. He’s not a criminal mastermind, he’s just willing to go all the way, no matter how many bodies he leaves behind. Writer’s advice usually says that villains need a strong motive, but personally, the whole “I’m doing it for my family” just makes me shrug. In the beginning, you totally get that he needs money: the cancer treatment is expensive. But when that falls away (see my issue two), what’s the point of having more money? Walter’s family owns a house with a pool and two cars. Sure, they’re not super-rich like the Schwartz couple, but they’re also not poor – or at least we don’t see that they are. Maybe it’s because I’m not living in the US, but the whole “I want more money” is not a strong motive to me. Sure, everyone would love to have millions of dollars in their bank account, but that’s not enough for a compelling character. Tell me more about what you need that money for, why you’re unhappy with your current situation etc. As is, Walter is just egoistic.

So these are my main issues with the series, although I found the ending kind of satisfying: Walter dies through his own invention. Fitting. Personally, I probably wouldn’t have chosen “Baby Blue” as the final song. Yes, the lyrics are totally fitting, but somehow it sounds very kitschy, especially with the rather kitschy Walter-says-goodbye-to-the-lab scene. This is what I hope Don Draper’s final moments (on screen) won’t look like – although he’s probably going to die as well.

And as for the question whether Bryan Cranston did deserve all those Emmys, well… As you know, I’m biased. Although I remember Cranston as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle (and didn’t recognize him at first), so I’m not totally baffled. Let’s just hope Jon Hamm gets an Emmy for the last season of Mad Men.

And now you can disagree with me.

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