On Breaking Bad, The Second Time Around

by thethreepennyguignol

You’ve probably seen Breaking Bad by now. I mean, you are a person, with eyes, and a face, and an internet connection, and at least a passing interest in TV. If you’ve somehow avoided the avalanche of hype that surrounded this show in the eight years since it’s first season aired, welcome back from that enormous rock you were presumably trapped under. I certainly watched it, and loved it, like everyone else. But I always had this nagging feeling that perhaps I’d been swept along on the unstoppable Breaking Hype Express, that it wouldn’t look so good outside of the hysterical enthusiasm that everyone (myself included) seemed to buy into. When we rewatched the series four years after it finished early this month, I was prepared to be at least a little bit let down by what is, by popular agreement, one of the best TV shows ever made. So, how does Breaking Bad stand up outside the buzz?

It Really Is That Good

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I really, honestly didn’t think there was any way that Breaking Bad could be as jaw-droppingly excellent as it was the first time around, but if anything, it was actually better. This is a show that requires a re-watch, just so you can pick up on all the fantastically subtle foreshadowing, themes, and arcs that take place over it’s five-season run. You’d think that nothing could live up to the hype around this show, but you’d be wrong. It truly is just a staggering achievement in terms of writing, acting, and direction, and it deserves another look (or a first one, if somehow you’ve not seen it yet). I don’t think it actually is the best show ever made (not while Hannibal still exists in this timeline), but it’s a worthy contender for the throne.

Hank is Actually The Best Character

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In a show about bad guys, making the one main character who’s actually good as compelling as Hank Schrader is an achievement in and of itself. There are more eye-catching roles than this (Walt, obviously, not to mention the endlessly brilliant, restrained-yet-unrestrained Gus Fring), but no arc is more tragically compelling than Hank’s. Not only is he a raging badass (hello, Salamanca killer), but there’s a nuance to Dean Norris’ seemingly-broad performance that just gets more and more refined as the show goes on. With so many shows attempting to bring something new to the cop character, Breaking Bad actually pulled it off.

If You Don’t Like Skyler, You’re an Idiot

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I was never on the Skyler White Hate Train, mainly because no matter how bad or unreasonable you thought she was, it could very easily be put down to the fact that her husband is a fucking meth dealer. But, more than that, on a second viewing, Skyler is one of the more nuanced characters in a show full of them. She finds herself trapped in a relationship with a man who has changed beyond recognition, and does her best to clutch on to some kind of semblance of a family unit – an endeavour which ends with her trapped alongside her husband as he turns into the violent sociopath we see by the end of the show. In a show that is all about deconstructing toxic masculinity (if you don’t believe me), Skyler (and the rest of the family) is a perfect example of the collateral damage wreaked by Walt’s endless pursuit of his ego. In a show about men, Breaking Bad never underserved it’s women, and if you can’ see what an excellent and important character Skyler is, you don’t deserve this show.

The Acting Was Always Better Than The Writing

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One of the things that makes Breaking Bad so endlessly excellent is it’s characters. We’ve got a bunch of classic arcs playing out over the course of the show – the redemption of Jesse, the corruption of Walt, the destruction of Gus, etc, etc. And I’m not arguing that these characters aren’t well-written, but it truly is the performances that turn these characters into the titans of television that they are. Johnathan Banks is the one to take Mike from just a fixer to a somehow-likeable serial killer. Giancarlo Esposito turns Gus from yer classic villain-with-a-perfect-public-face character into a compellingly watchable and genuinely terrifying bad guy. And, obviously, it’s Bryan Cranston who makes this show what it is, a towering performance that will cast a long shadow over the whole rest of his career. Look, even the fucking baby who played his daughter ad-libbed a killer line., that’s the level of acting quality on this show.

Random Observations

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  • Ozymandias – the third from last episode – is the best episode of the show. An actual masterpiece of storytelling and really, the climax of Breaking Bad.
  • Jesse is really skinny. Like, I could probably fight him, steal his meth, and take over his kingdom. Just saying. It’s not important, but it gives me an even stronger urge to mother him than I had first time around watching this show.
  • The best scene in the whole show is the “no half measures” speech that Mike gives Walt. Fight me on this.
  • Take a drink every time the show reaches a scene that everyone spent the next two years quoting. You’ll be too drunk to stand by about halfway through season five.
  • The “Jesse is sad about someone dying ” arc repeats three times. Three times. Just saying.
  • Todd and Lydia are secretly the best parts about season five. Especially Todd, that baby-faced psycho.
  • If you haven’t watched this show yet, you really should get on that already. It’s all on Netflix, and I promise you won’t regret it!
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