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Breaking Bad Television Series
Breaking Bad is a widely acclaimed television series that ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2013 on the AMC Network, and generated a massive cult following. It is a crime drama set in Albuquerque, New Mexico and filmed there. This article discusses the show's depiction of the southwest. There are no plot-spoilers included.
Main character Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) is a mild-mannered nebbish who has washed up at age fifty in employment that is far below his abilities. He teaches high-school chemistry and is paid so little that he must also work as a cashier in a car wash to make ends meet for his family, which includes a pregnant young wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and a teenage son with cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte). In the pilot episode, Walt receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer, which he keeps a secret from his family. This motivates him to start cooking and selling methamphetamine to provide for his family’s financial future before he dies. He knows he can easily manage the cooking part, but who will be his partner-in-crime to hook him up with a distribution system? Desperate, he blackmails his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to fill that role. But he has to be scrupulously careful that he doesn’t attract the attention of his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), a hard-charging cop with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
While I love Breaking Bad, it is not one of my favorite shows of all time because of its pervasive nihilism. Nearly every episode ends on a bleak note. You might not notice this if you watched the show week to week during its production, especially because it contains some great moments of black humor, many of which are centered on corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman or on the love-hate relationship between Walt and Jesse. But if you watch several back to back, you might see what I mean. Even so, there are many episodes that reach absolute perfection such as the riveting pilot, the stunning “One Minute” (Season 3), and the amazing “Salud” (Season 4), just to name a few. Walt is refreshingly free of self-pity, and after the first season his medical condition almost drops out of the series story arc. This is good because it provides room for the series to explore the tension inside a good man tempted to do bad things. If Walt could be said to personify one of the Seven Deadly Sins, it would be PRIDE.
Overall, the five seasons of Breaking Bad create a sophisticated, striking character-driven story that evolves out of the tremendous changes that occur in the personalities of Walt, Jesse, and Skyler in particular. During the show’s series arc, the fans came to hate Skyler for her growing conflicts with Walt, but I never saw her as a shrew. She remains clear-sighted in her desire to protect her family. Meanwhile, Walt becomes lost in the seductively evil allure of power via his criminal persona Heisenberg.
What about the setting in Albuquerque, New Mexico? Albuquerque has long been popular with filmmakers because it is a relatively big city that is easy on the production budget. Show creator Vince Gilligan originally wanted Albuquerque to stand in for Riverside, California. He soon realized that it would be easier to set Breaking Bad in Albuquerque than to try to avoid all shots to the east, which would reveal the looming Sandia Mountains. In the show, Albuquerque is portrayed to be both good and bad. There are some gnarly moments in drug crashpads set in the South Valley as well as a scene off Second Street and near the railroad tracks where a boy on bicycle guns someone down. The real-life Crossroads Motel near Central and I-25 is the place where junkies lurk (notably prostitute Wendy who plies her trade once during a hilarious montage of images set to the innocent 1967 hit by the Association, “Windy.”) But then there are the landscape shots that show the dazzlingly big sky and gorgeous cloud formations that characterize the wide-open southwest; it is one of the things I like best about the show. If you’re in the mood for some brilliant writing and character interaction set in New Mexico, give Breaking Bad a try. Just be sure to take its nihilism in small doses.
BREAKING BAD (suitable for adolescents and older): The show contains profanity, drug use, alcohol use, guys getting shot or stabbed, fistfights, and some mild nudity. It does not glorify drug use, but shows the utter destruction that comes with immersion in the criminal underworld. The violence is not too bad (e.g., it’s not at the anything-goes level typical of HBO), and occurs between men who mostly deserve it. Find the pilot episode on Amazon.com: Pilot
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