Breaking Boundaries: The chemistry of making bad so good
Note: Answers to the Breaking Bad quotes can be found at the end of the article.
Similar to the actual effects of crystal meth, “Breaking Bad” is a highly addictive phenomenon that has quickly captured the attention of America. Hype surrounding the show is reaching an all-time high with the series finale scheduled to air on Sunday.
The show has steadily grown in popularity since its premiere in 2008, but peaked for its episode on September 16 with a 6.4 million-strong viewership, more than any episode in its first four seasons.
The show centers on the enigmatic protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher who goes to great lengths to provide for his family. After being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Walter joins former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and begins producing meth to leave a nest egg for his family.
“The storytelling is classical storytelling,” said Christopher Hansen, Baylor’s director of film and digital media. “How a man gains everything and loses his soul.”
The show received positive feedback during its first season but garnered national attention following Bryan Cranston’s 2008 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor. He would go on to win the same award three straight years.
Hansen believes that the rise of Netflix played a key role in the popularity of the show.
“This show came of age in a time when people starting binge-watching television,” Hansen said. “I think it’s that it’s quite possible that if Netflix had not existed, ‘Breaking Bad’ could have been lost. The show is getting five times the viewers it was getting in its first season. That’s rare, and usually the other way around.”
Many students agree “Breaking Bad” is a show that gained traction through secondary outlets.
“All my friend were watching and talking about the show,” Dallas sophomore Meg Wilder said. “I had Netflix and an empty Christmas break so I decided to give it a try!”
Grapevine sophomore Nicole Pepper agrees that Netflix has played a huge part in the popularity of this show.
“It’s like a long movie that has its ups and down,” she said. “Every episode is vital to the entire series.”
As the series goes on, the tragic hero of Walter White turns into his ruthless, meth-producing alter ego Heisenberg. Executive producer Vince Gilligan describes the transformation as “from Mr. Chips into Scarface.”
“I think what ‘Breaking Bad’ brings is fundamental transformation of its main character,” Gilligan said in an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter.” “To that end, the mandate here has always been to take our hero and turn him into a bad guy throughout the life of the series.”
Walter begins as an apathetic character but transforms into a dynamic, controversial antihero as he commits more heinous acts.
“It’s a polarizing show,” Hansen said. “People are firmly pro-Walter White or anti-Walter White. It makes for an interesting dialogue that shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ don’t exist in a vacuum anymore but exist in their discussion online.”
Gilligan has received critical acclaim for his directing style and hidden messages within every episode. Motifs are often present in early episodes that are resolved satisfyingly in later episodes.
“The entire plot has been connected somehow,” El Paso sophomore Henry Lujan said. “I can never tell what is going to happen. The mind game this show pulls on people is just great.”
Whatever the reason, “Breaking Bad” has gone down as one of most heralded shows of all time. In 2013, Guinness World Records named the show the highest-rated TV series of all time. Guinness cited review aggregator Metacritic, which gave “Breaking Bad’s” fifth season a 99 out of 100, the site’s highest rating ever.
In total, the series has won 10 Primetime Emmys over the course of the show, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor for Aaron Paul, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Gunn and Best Television Series – Drama.
Heading into the series finale on Sunday, Gilligan has left the plot wide open for a variety of endings.
“I’m a sucker for redemption, but I don’t know that there’s a satisfying redemption that they could achieve at this point,” Hansen said. “I don’t think it’s Walter White seeking revenge; it’s Heisenberg. Nothing Heisenberg has done is redemptive, and Walter White has let Heisenberg control himself in these final moments. I think that’s where we’re headed.”
1. Walter White, Season 3, Episode 12
2. Jesse Pinkman, Season 3, Episode 10
3. Gus Fring, Season 4, Episode 11
4. Walter White, Season 4, Episode 6
5. Hank Schrader, Season 4, Episode 4