Published: Sep 23, 2013 12:00:00 PM


The above is the first comment on a recap of Breaking Bad's penultimate episode.

It's unlikely this love affair with Breaking Bad will be the make-up sex that re-ignites the dying relationship with television.

That's why Breaking Bad functions as the bleak, warrior poet of our age.

'Cause, we're all kinda Walter White, aren't we? We've all seen this meth-cooking, cancer-ridden Were-Gollum, and we've dipped index and middle fingers into this blackened puddle he has become, and we examine the shit that sticks to our skin, sniffing it, only to wretch, barf-coughing aloud, "Fuck, this shit is amoral and complex. And I love it." Tell you what, go do one hundred push-ups in the middle of traffic right now. If you can come back and read the rest of this, then you'll probably realize that you aren't as much like Walter White as you initially thought.

Why Do People Like Breaking Bad So Much?

So why does Bryan Cranston's poison-wheezing craggy-daddy-kingpin bring all the boys and girls to the yard? Didn't Hollywood divide up all of the TV programming so we could go our separate ways, and the assholes could watch The Big Bang Theory, and the other assholes could watch Law & Order: SVU, and the tertiary assholes could watch Mad Men, and your mom could watch NCIS: Los Angeles, and your dad could watch nothing, and we could pretend that we all had taste?

Hollywood didn't expect one of the late-season X-Files writers to cast Malcolm's dad for a show about methamphetamines in Albuquerque. Hollywood didn't expect AMC to throw a dildodillion dollars at the show's marketing, not to your dad, he wouldn't watch it anyway— they marketed it to the people that wanted to TALK about the show. Talk to each other.

Talk to anybody. That's why people love it. It makes them talk.

There is complexity in thar hills! Things to discuss. Color, foreshadowing, shit and words that you remember from a creative writing class you never went to in college. There's backstory and consistency in Breaking Bad. That's attractive, if you play it right. If you bring Breaking Bad to a party, like he was a buddy, and you say to the masses present, "Hey, this is the guy I mentioned."

The guests might turn up their noses at him. They had heard Breaking Bad was the fella that was calm and complex, and maybe even a little modest. Breaking Bad starts to talk to this group of strangers. Immediately, after getting six or seven sentences into the conversation, they realize just by the way he is speaking, in his very vocabulary and in his candor, that all the rumors are true, he is a hard motherfucker, and he very likely will be leaving town soon.

Breaking Bad doesn't even have to ask, no subtle inquiry of, "Ya wanna fuck?" hipsters and dude-bros alike have already presented their softest, screaming crevices to him.

It's pretty obvious we've been undersexed by TV for a while now.

What a wacky prospect that we would be infatuated with such an anit-heroic, sociopathic protagonist, a Caucasian American man weaseling his way through the criminal drug trade (shiiii't, dude!) in order to pay for his medical bills and leave his family a nest egg after he dies of cancer (aww, sweetie!). The fact that the show is uglier makes it more universally-appealing than something like Mad Men because it does not have the discomfort involved with sympathizing with an attractive anti-hero shitbag like Don Draper.

This isn't a show about pretty people with pretty-people problems. That makes it punk-rock and when it turns out the diseased, criminal mastermind also is clever, its appeal only grows.

Observational and slack-jawed, somebody notices a simple monetary fact about the plot, perhaps to remark it as a hole, or as, like, some commentary:

"Well, uh, hey, if he, like, lived in Canada, he'd have free healthcare, and the show would have never happened," he says before scratching his beard.

"I know, right?! Totally!"

Viewers get it. And we love the irony. It psyches us up, to be dragged along down into the show's depths, feet lashed together by some tangled line, observing red herrings and the gathering darkness. It's a sweet little time, watching the show bend and warp, tightening, and then letting us breathe at last. There's so much respect for the viewer, too. People love that shit. That's why the end of Lost got so dumb. So blunt. Always holding all the cards. Not so with Breaking Bad. These characters should have had horrible comeuppance by now, so much so that it has become the crux of the entire last season. With all the blood on his hands, Walt's gotta die, and with this being a show that has used a mid-air plane collision as a major plot point, we are in no position to predict how the show might end.

Breaking Bad only feels breakneck-fast, because there's a chance a character might be walking across the living room, having just survived a gunfight with neo-Nazis, trip on the carpet, and fall face-first into a fruit bowl filled with poisonous razor blades.

That's the difference between "realism" and the "reality" that the show as established.

If Breaking Bad were trashier, we could get all defensive and say, "Well, it's a guilty pleasure, like Grey's Anatomy, or any reality show produced by Jerry Bruckheimer." Finally, a show that can make us feel like a smart little pile of shit.

We feel good having discovered it, way up there, in the higher-numbered cable channels. Maybe on your own, maybe recommended, maybe as a bandwagon fan. It dwelt in obscurity for years as The Show On AMC When Mad Men Wasn't All-New, this urban myth that a crime-drama could be serious, and thorough, and downright scary. People that like to talk like Breaking Bad, because people like to talk about Breaking Bad. If you don't like to talk, you probably don't like Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad unites conversation in a way that doesn't happen anymore. It's been a long time since a show has cross pollinated so many markets—young, grouchy, hip, old, whatever. There are enough channels on TV that we ought to be divided by now, but no.

Breaking Bad is a tragic magnet.

This is our shared drama that gets us talking. It's great that we all get to talk again.

-- Alex Crumb (originally published 9/23/13)
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Tagged topics in this post: storytelling analysis, tv tropes

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