I must confess that I am very opinionated when it comes to television. I have waged a private war against Indian daily soaps and reality television ever since I was old enough to manipulate the ‘Freedom to Speech’ right. I have faced a lot of wrath on social media at various points of time for suggesting that people need to calm themselves down about Friends and The Big Bang Theory sitcoms. In fact, allow me to say, in a moment of careless, vainglorious pride, that when it comes to television, I do not impress easy.
Therefore, it hardly ever happens that I fall in (true, meaningful) love with a television show. Breaking Bad was one such show. Times are difficult, now that it is over. My catharsis from the show’s ending is just about entering its fourth day of existence. Meanwhile, it was suggested that maybe it would help if I just got it all out on paper instead of looking around for innocent targets whom I could overwhelm with fan-boy knowledge and the Vince Gilligan philosophy. In view of the same, I duly apologize to all the three people who read my blog, because you are the targets now – brace yourself. It is also my duty to give you a SPOILER ALERT if you have still not seen the Finale. Quick question, what the hell else is so important in your life?
There are too many bloggers who have given much better analyses than me of why the show was so important to them. Truth be told, I am just sitting, facing my word processor, and the only thing I can think of is the camera circling upwards, focused on Walter White as he lies lifeless on the floor of a methamphetamine lab. The song, Baby Blue, by Badfinger plays in the background, and I am struck by the amazing way in which the lyrics reference the show. I know that technically I am nowhere, but I also know exactly what to say.
What is so special about Breaking Bad? I often get stuck suggesting the show to others. They ask me what the show’s about, and when I tell them, I always end up feeling that I haven’t done justice. ‘A high-school chemistry teacher turns to the methamphetamine business after realizing he has lung cancer’. Nope. It simply doesn’t do justice. So I immediately launch myself into things like the direction, and the cinematography, and the acting and the depth of characters, while being completely aware that I am, in fact, bullshitting. Breaking Bad had an amazing cast and crew working to make all the awesomeness real, but that is definitely not where the secret lies.
The secret does lie in the plot. It is not easy to describe how, and the best I can do is try and give you my take on it. (Insert disclaimer that takes your right to rage about this away)
Walter White was the protagonist of Breaking Bad. And no matter what character has influenced you, and in no matter what way, it needs to be understood that he/she didn’t drive the show for you. It wasn’t Jesse Pinkman being bipolar and Saul Goodman’s hyperactive banter and the ability to ‘know a guy who knows a guy’. It wasn’t Marie being dumb or Skyler being inexplicably complex. It was Walter White. A high-school teacher turned drug-lord. He was the one you turned the show on to watch every time. For the six years that everyone saw the show, they were looking at much more than just drama. They were looking at a regular guy breaking bad.
They were looking at a hero, a caring father for two run down by hard times and cancer. They were looking at a man who decided to craft his own destiny, using what he knew best to do what would pay him best. And they were looking at a pathological criminal, one who wouldn’t stop at taking a man’s life to protect his interests. It seemed as if the metamorphosis of Walter White was gradual (some would say it moved with his hairstyle), and yet there were bits of the old Walter in the new one and the new in the old.
In India at least, it is very hard to have an anti-hero. We hardly ever have the tendency or mind-set to root for the criminal. In India, there could hardly be a Walter White. And not just in India, it simply is rare and rather weird to have a show in which the audience is supposed to be on the side of a man who murdered, orchestrated murder, and caused quite a few deaths indirectly. And yet, in the case of Walter, it happened. I was with him when he ran down people in his car, I was with him when he vaporized one half of Gus Fring’s face, I actually did not mind it too much that he had poisoned a kid to have his way. And all this while we hated the Cartel, and we hated Hector and Tuco Salamanca, we hated the twins, and we hated Todd. They were all equally bad, but somehow Walter seemed to be alright.
And that was where the plot won. We rooted for Walter White, because we didn’t just see the man who shouted ‘Vamonos’ after setting fire to a drug lab, or a man who quite dangerously said, ‘I am the danger’. We also remembered the guy who got screwed by lung cancer. We also remembered a father of two who couldn’t ensure his family’s future and a chemistry genius whose ideas sky-rocketed a company’s profits that he couldn’t be a part of. The plot of Breaking Bad won in the way it made its protagonist – a villain who came as justified as they come. And the way the ending sealed his fate is nothing short of commendable.
What made the end of Breaking Bad one of the best on television was that this realization – the fact that ‘all bad things must come to an end’ is handled beautifully well. Gilligan makes sure to let us know that evil doesn’t work, but not before Walter ties all the loose ends up. He avenges the death of his brother-in-law and the stolen money. He creates a shaky-but-sure way to make more than $9 million reach his son. But there’s more to the show than that. Walter admits to his wife that he had been lying to himself and to everyone else when he said he was doing it for the family. He admits that he did it for himself. Somehow, for me, those words justified being on the wrong side perfectly. It was a beautiful and fitting end, an end that gave us more than we asked for. It gave the disgruntled viewer a perfect redemption; I could almost feel it coursing through me as the lyrics to Baby Blue poured out – ‘I guess I got what I deserved…’ At that moment, I knew that I had rooted for the bad side, but I was also sure I was right in doing that.
And we are back to the circling camera. There is a lot more I could have said if I had the right words. But sometimes it’s best to just keep it short.
Walter ‘Heisenberg’ White – I will remember your name.