It took me a while to get into Breaking Bad. I watched the pilot several times over the course of the last few years, but never really found myself hooked by its premise. A month ago, I decided to give the show one final shot, and practically forced myself to make my way through season one (it’s well-made but slow). Sure enough, beginning in season two, the show slowly began to morph into masterful television. After so much doubt, I’m finally a believer; this is one heck of a show.
The most impressive thing of all is that after the show takes flight in season two, it doesn’t make a single misstep. So many series struggle with weak episodes and sloppy plotting, but Breaking Bad‘s narrative is pretty perfect all the way through to its conclusion. Nothing is forced, and Walter White’s story unravels in an organic manner that’s both devastating and painfully realistic. And since I love a good cliffhanger, the series is peppered with a ton of goosebump-worthy endings that completely blew me away (particularly the final stretch of season five).
But the primary reason Breaking Bad works so well? Its characters. The show’s elaborate world is populated by a number of compelling personalities, but it’s Bryan Cranston’s turn as Walter White that’s truly astounding. As the show’s anti-hero, his development across five seasons is a treasure to behold. He begins the series as a pathetic cancer-stricken husband who resorts to selling crystal meth to solve his financial woes, and ends the show as something else entirely. His story is supremely gripping, and the show never once loses sight of his journey as all hell breaks loose around him. The most surprising thing here is that you always sympathize with Walter no matter what heinous acts he commits, and he holds on to your goodwill right to the very end. Incredible.
But the rest of Breaking Bad‘s cast is also first-rate. Aaron Paul does some terrific work as Walter’s partner Jesse Pinkman, and undergoes a powerful journey across five seasons. Other standouts? From Giancarlo Esposito’s ruthless turn as the villainous Gus Fring, to Mike the lovable private investigator (played to perfection by Jonathan Bank) and DEA Agent Hank Schrader (the unexpected hero of the piece), there’s not a weak link in the bunch (okay, season five’s Lydia was a bit irritating). Even a character I wasn’t too fond of in the beginning (hello Skyler), grew a whole lot more intriguing thanks to some stellar writing and a no-holds-barred performance by Anna Gunn. Plus the dynamic with her sister Marie (a hilarious Betsy Brandt) was always spot-on.
So what do I do now in a world without Breaking Bad? Well I’ll be diving right into Better Call Saul, a prequel series based on Bob Odenkirk’s sleazy lawyer Saul. His character is ripe with potential, and the fact that Mike is also part of the show makes it all the more exciting.
A captivating and absorbing drama with complex characters and near-flawless storytelling. A definite classic.