Do those meth-scented khakis still wave over the land of the free and home of the brave? Breaking Bad premiered its debut episode ten years ago today. And the New Golden Age of Television took on a darker hue. Its creator, Vince Gilligan, was a veteran of pre-“prestige” genre television – in his case. A writing/producing stint on The X-Files – and with his protagonist Walter White. He built a monster more terrifying than Mulder and Scully confronted. This was a regular guy who fell on hard things after being diagnosed with cancer, then used his ingenuity and the assistance of a former student to develop a crystal-meth cartel. The American Dream was realizing until he ruined himself and everyone he cared about. And what a process it was – a slow-moving yet breakneck-speed tragedy.
That resulted in five seasons of the most addictive television ever aired.
The show’s fantastic ability to build scenes of brutally frightening action – even entire episodes and multi-episode runs – may be its most enduring legacy. But, in a bizarre sense, its protagonist’s high-concept character arc obscures that legacy: the slow transition of a bitter but mild-mannered high-school chemistry teacher into a mass-murdering drug lord, or, as Gilligan described it, “Mr. Chips into Scarface.” However, if you go back and watch Breaking Bad’s first season during the writers’ strike, you’ll see that things went downhill for Bryan Cranston’s embattled antihero almost immediately.
He’s also recently killed someone for the first time. It will be challenging to break the habit.
More than anything else, the emphasis on action transformed. Breaking Bad into must-see TV that grew its viewership like “Heisenberg” grew his meth enterprise. The show’s tone of cascading disaster kicks in right away and doesn’t let up throughout several seasons: through-plane disasters, poisonings, parking-lot shootouts, poolside atrocities, and more. It culminates in what is probably the show’s best point, a three-episode cat-and-mouse battle between Walt and his ersatz patron turned antagonist, Gus “The Chicken Man” Fring. This is how the show’s fourth season concludes – with a boom. Gilligan was able to drop your heart deep into the pit of your stomach by assembling a team of filmmakers that included. The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson and breakout director Michelle MacLaren; you were lucky if it found a way to climb back out after the closing credits rolled, after week.
However, Breaking Bad’s talent for communicating the magnitude of Walt’s moral destructiveness through action is imprinted in their shared DNA.
All of this is neglect in favor of the show’s position at the pinnacle of the antihero movement. A subgenre of TV drama that is today as reviled as it was admired. Like its AMC stablemate Mad Men, Breaking Bad was a ruthless autopsy of an iconic angry white male in the public psyche (and in network marketing). Too often, simple think pieces framed it as a celebration of such guys rather than a deconstruction. Fans may also make mistakes. In the grand tradition of fans tuning in to see who was a whack on The Sopranos. A large portion of the audience tuned in to see Heisenberg dispatch all of his enemies. Some of whom believed his wife, Skyler White, deserved on the list. The outcry against Anna Gunn’s character prompted the actor to write a New York Times op-ed condemning.