Sunday, October 06, 2013

Goodbye Breaking Bad


Chemistry, cancer, meth and the very real making of a criminal mind, Breaking Bad is pure collectible genius … get all the seasons and lose yourself

Breaking Bad *****

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons
Created by: Vince Gilligan

In the very first episode of Breaking Bad, just a few minutes into the proceedings, high-school teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) tries to explain what chemistry is to his students.

“Chemistry is, well technically chemistry is the study of matter,” he says, “but I prefer to see it as the study of change. Now just think about this. Electrons, they change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements, they combine and change into compounds. Well that's ... that's all of life, right? It's just … it's the constant, it's the cycle. It's solution, dissolution, just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It is fascinating, really.” 

And before you know it, the entire thesis of the show has been presented, masterfully delivered in a couple of lines that seem so revelatory in hindsight. 

Over the course of five seasons, we have seen this change, solution, dissolution, growth, decay, and transformation. And it has been fascinating. Now, 62 episodes later, we must say goodbye.

Little did we know when the show premiered in January 2008 what a phenomenon it would turn out to be. Anti-hero Walter White's transformation from a downtrodden everyman who goes from being a cancer stricken chemistry teacher into brutal drug kingpin Heisenberg has been nothing short of riveting. And as his actions have taken a toll on those around him (including the family he claims to be doing everything for), the series has often left us wondering whether we should root for him or despise him, or perhaps do a bit of both at the same time. 

And this dichotomy and ambivalence is just one of the many things that have made Breaking Bad so phenomenal. A series that has functioned as both a crime drama and psychological thriller with occasional dabs of black comedy while being a “contemporary western” at its heart, Vince Gilligan's small screen masterpiece has relentlessly hit us with twists and turns, often caught us off guard, and never failed to leave us emotionally giddy. 

Its layered characters, played to perfection by a superb cast led by the absolutely terrific Bryan Cranston (and I don't care what the Emmys think; in what upside-down world Jeff Daniel's performance was better than Bryan Cranston's, I'll never know!), have helped to bring fascinatingly complex relationships to life. Where else can you find something like the brilliant dynamic that we saw between Walt and his student turned partner in crime Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, yo!) from the first scene to the last? (And now that the show is done, maybe certain people can stop hating Anna Gunn for portraying Walt's wife Skyler White so convincingly that for some deranged viewers the hatred irrationally transferred from the character to the actor portraying her.) 

This is what you get when powerful writing (kudos to the writers for a consistently enthralling experience for five seasons), spot-on editing, outstanding direction, perfect choice of settings and locations, and meticulous attention to detail come together. And the perfect placement of music doesn't hurt either. Will Breaking Bad fans ever be able to listen to Mick Harvey's 'Out of Time Man', Marty Robbins' 'El Paso', and Badfinger's 'Baby Blue' without thinking about this series? Highly unlikely. 

Even though it's hard to lose a show like this, we're actually lucky that Vince Gilligan has made sure the series goes out on top instead of dragging it through a slog of unnecessary seasons (I'm looking at you, Dexter!) before coming to an end with a thud (now I'm glaring at you, Dexter!). After the breakneck speed of 'Ozymandias' and the suspenseful buildup of 'Granite State', the AMC series has bowed out with 'Felina' this Sunday (September 29th), tying up all the lose ends in an intense, calculated finale. It wasn't the most flashy or shocking of endings, but it was very exhilarating and thoroughly satisfying. 

But now we're stuck with the big question: with Breaking Bad concluded (and yes, even Dexter gone), what on Earth are we going to obsesses over next summer? As actor Simon Pegg tweeted, “What's going to fill the void after Breaking Bad?! If I'm looking for something as addictive, it's probably going to have to be meth.” Maybe we should hold off the meth for the moment and wait to see what unfolds next. Yes, the fate of our favourite anti-hero has been revealed, but series mastermind Vince Gilligan is now spearheading the spin-off prequel Better Call Saul that focuses on Saul Goodman (the delightful Bob Odenkirk), the shady lawyer who knows a guy who knows a guy who can get things done for you, before he met Walt. 

Till Saul goes on air, this seems like the perfect time for a marathon rerun of Breaking Bad, or for those who haven't seen it, a chance to binge watch the show for the first time in its entirety; the complete series box set (with lots of special features) comes out this November. This series definitely is not for the faint of heart; violence and drugs feature throughout its run. But if you are into dark and twisted tales, then you're likely to find Heisenberg's world very intriguing. 

As of now though, we must say goodbye to a series that reveled in change and changed us in the process. Thank you Bryan Cranston for bringing Walter White to life. Thank you Walter White for showing us how fascinating chemistry can be. And thank you Vince Gilligan for giving us one of the best television series perhaps of all time

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 6th October, 2013