Stream of Consciousness – Breaking Bad

Anghus Houvouras talks Breaking Bad…

It’s difficult when a show dominates the pop culture zeitgeist with so much authority.  Everybody talks about it with such passion and reverie.  Lines from the show are quoted with such fervor.   You can’t pass a water cooler without hearing someone declare “I am the one who knocks.” or peppers every sentence with the word ‘bitch’ and make such an effort to emulate an actor who makes it seem so effortless. 

Few shows ever accomplish the kind of success that Breaking Bad has.  Some proudly declare it to be a crowning achievement for the small screen, a prime example of this ‘golden age’ of television we’re now living in.  Further proof that dark corners and irredeemable characters are better left explored on the small screen where the narrative has room to tunnel and lacks the constraints of the cinema. 

Even ten years ago a show like Breaking Bad would seem almost unthinkable.  There have been difficult shows on television before, even ones that generated a lot of words due to their dark and violent nature.  Something like HBO’s Oz immediately springs to mind.  But no one was dressing up like Augustus Hill for Halloween or flooding with portraits of a Vernon Schillinger. 

Many shows take up residence in the collective consciousness of our culture, but few have burrowed in so deep.  Maybe because the show was something more than quotable. It had a kinetic visual style and a unique palette.  Yellow hazmat suits cast a cold blue sky and a dusty desert landscape.  The chiseled lines of Walt’s face on a shaven head weighted down with the thick gruff of a goatee.  The dumbstruck, awestruck eyes of Arron Paul in a perpetual buggy state.  The sound of Hank’s voice growing grizzled with every subsequent season.

And what surprises me more than anything on the show itself is the fact that I just never liked it all that much.

I tried.  Oh how I tried.  I wasn’t a Breaking Bad early adopter.  I wasn’t there from day one.  Like many of you I read the critical praise and heard friends telling me about what an amazing experience the show was.  By the time I got on board there were three seasons filling up my Netflix Instant Queue.  And as I watched the pilot, I kept waiting for that hook.  That moment that pulled me into this story and made me eager to find out what happened next.  But that moment never came.  There was a moment, when the acid burns through the second floor bathroom and a melted corpse plummets to the floor below.  At that moment I thought “why am I not enjoying this?”

I have no issues with graphic violence.  To the contrary, I rather enjoy it.  On paper, this show checked every box.  In the execution, i found it woefully lacking.  I never found a character to root for.  Certainly not Walt, who always seemed like a sociopath.  Even a loving family and the looming threat of cancer couldn’t warm me up to him.  And Jesse was comic relief early on but inaccessible as a human being.  Hank could have been a character I rooted for, but everything in the early narrative kept telling me I should be pulling for Walt.  He’s the tragic everyman in an impossible situation.  I should be sympathizing with him, butIi never did.  Subsequent seasons proved me right.  Walt was never the hero.  Nor was he the anti-hero so many claimed him to be.

Breaking Bad was a show without a hero.  You were either an antagonist or a victim.  It’s certainly not the first show to embrace that notion, but it may have been the most fearless in its assertion of a bitter world populated only with the horrible and the disenfranchised.

There’s that part of me that always feels regret for ‘not getting it’.  When a show comes along that seizes people’s attention and gets so many talking, you feel the need to be involved in the conversation.  I invested a lot of time in Breaking Bad just to engage in discussions about Breaking Bad, in spite of caring so little about the show.  I never attached to Walt like I did to Tony Sorprano or Don Draper.  The supporting cast seemed so sleight compared to Walt.  Merely stock players to sell the drama given handicaps and pregnancies to increase the concentration of tragedy.  Violence turned up to a comically laughable level.  Watching Gus half blown to hell packing the emotional wallop of watching Daffy Duck getting shot in the face by Elmer Fudd.

And as the show comes to it’s inevitable conclusion, I find myself wishing it meant more.  Instead of a collection of lost souls all resigned to a rather horrible fate.  No one is walking away clean.  There is no redemption for the damned.  The show started out with melancholy and will end with morbidity.  A toxic blend of drama and violence that got everybody talking, even though it managed to say very little.

This was one bad habit I’ll have no trouble kicking.

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.

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