Monday, February 3, 2014

Breaking Bad Put Me Through the Ringer

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT for Breaking Bad and my apology for a long post.

I came a little late to the party as far as Breaking Bad, the TV series is concerned.  I knew about it, understood the premise and had even seen snippets here and there but did not start watching it until some time in late October.  Through the magic of Netflix, we were able to watch 5 years worth of show in a few short weeks.  At first we figured we'd watch it when nothing else was on but, when I (we - Moondoggy was equally invested here) did start, I was hooked; pun intended.

I don't think I've ever experienced this depth of emotion with a television show; characters I loved and loathed, often in the same breathe. The subject matter was ugly, the presentation often humorous.  That's life.  One of the arguments I've read against the show was that it glorified crystal meth.

Glorified? I lost count of how many people died because of the stuff - perhaps more indirectly than directly. Periferal characters that had great potential died via murder, overdose, greed. Countless also are the many lives beyond the immediate users and producers that were negatively impacted simply by the production of the stuff.  Glorfied?  No.  To me the obvious message was Meth = Bad. I see no glory in that.  But here is where the brilliance of that message, the writers, directors and actors drive the point home.   They are not gorgeous, well dressed, financially successful people. In fact, they define ordinary with all of the blemishes that come with it. Walt, Skylar and Walt Jr. (Flynn) are just average people, we identify with them and understand that on some level, we are them. How close am I (you) to finding yourself in a desperate situation?  At what point is doing bad for good acceptable?

There are long running themes and literary devices that ribbon their way throughout all 5 seasons.  Dual identities: Walter/ Heisenberg, Walter Jr./ Flynn, Marie/ any number of personas as she flits from Open House to Open House. Good vs. Evil: Walter as the teacher and family man vs. Meth cook and murderer, Gus Fring as a Do-Gooder Chicken Franchise Owner vs. Cold blooded Meth Kingpin, Saul "Good"man as the crooked lawyer. I won't even explore the nuances of color.

What was most shocking to me was the way the show's themes stirred my emotions.  As I said , from the first episode I was hooked.  I loved it.  I wanted more.  And so, through the magic of Netflix, we set out to watch an episode when there was nothing else to watch on tv.  That quickly escalated into a episode a night, which by the 5th episode became two and three at a sitting.  We watched as Walt, in his best teacher role, guided Jessie through perfect cooks to attain the purest meth around. It's all fun and games until someone dies (and believe me, they start dying in droves).  Then, it get's intense.  What does a chemistry teacher do with a dead body?  Dissolve it in a barrel of acid, of course.  Shocking.

And after a nightly marathon of Breaking Bad, depending on the episodes, I would feel exhilarated, or anxious, sometimes sad or even downright pissy.  We both felt it. We knew it was from the high dose of "Bad" we had watched and had to force ourselves to watch something funny before going to bed just to take the edge off. We rollercoastered through seasons 3 and 4.  High highs, low lows. Moondoggy would ask, "What do you want to do today?"  I'd reply, "Nothing. Nap, maybe.  Another Breaking Bad."

With each episode and each new season, affable Walter allows his bad ass alter ego to emerge.  Through 5 and a half seasons we watched as he faced true evil in Gus Fring and later with Uncle Jack. He faces them and outwits them and continues to produce a product that has been called the downfall of our nations youth.  His justification?  His product is pure.  He is doing it to secure the financial future of his family because, after all, he has cancer and is going to die.  Does that make all of it more pallatable?  Is it supposed to? I don't know.  It didn't for me.  I despised Walter by the fifth season. And then something terrible happened, the fifth season was released in two parts; the second and final part UNAVAILABLE on Netflix.  Not only was I not going to get my fix of BB, it wasn't going to be available for awhile.  My heart pounded, I felt panicky.  And that is when I realized my addiction to BB was parallel to what addiction is like for users.  I was willing to go out and buy the whole boxed set just for the last 8 episodes (thankfully Moondoggy talked me out of it).  I checked Netflix daily sometimes hourly to see if it updated with no luck.  Finally, I found a video store (an actual store where you can rent dvds - almost impossible to find around here).  Motherlode! I could feed the monster that was my need to see BB to the end.

In a two day marathon, we watched all 8 epidodes;  the final demise of Walt. He dies. . .gunshot wound, death through meth, not cancer.  Fitting.  I worried about Jessie who wanted out so badly but was always dragged back down because of Walter until he was not only a figuative prisoner of Meth, he was literally a prisoner to Uncle Jack, forced to cook Meth to stay alive.

But even with the closure, a few concerns remain. I worry about the effect of all of this on Walter Jr. I wonder if Skylar was able to get out of her money laundering charges. Jessie is finally free, but what happens to him?  These questions weren't answered so I have taken it upon myself to sketch out what I'd like to have seen after the credits were finished rolling.

A small group of people sit in a circle.  It's a rehab group. One of the group, a young housewife, is talking about a particularly difficult  moment during the week where she wanted to use.  An unseen voice thanks her and then asks another young, withdrawn, angry looking guy if he'd like to say anything.  Anything.  He is silent, his jaw is twitching.  Finally he sneers and looks up at the group leader and snarls, "You bitches have no idea what I've seen and done,  you'd never understand."  The camera pans to the group leader, Jessie Pinkman, "Probably not," he responds, "but why don't you tell us."


Finally, in a busy Dunkin Donuts in Omaha, Nebraska, Saul Goodman runs the counter.  There is a jar on one side of the counter marked "Tips" and a jar on the otherside maked "Legal Tips".  A thug stands in line, orders a donut and stashes a handful of cash in the Legal Tip jar.  Saul Goodman hands him an envelope.  The thug leaves, Saul cleans out the Legal Tip jar and then puts a five dollar bill back in the jar .

End.

Now I have to go watch some Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother reruns.


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