Breaking Bad: A New King’s Reign

Original Artwork by Catherine Mehringer
Co-authored by Blake J. Graham

It would be nearly impossible to shed enough praise upon Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan’s television drama on AMC. Through its 46 episode run, the series has proven itself as one of the most complete shows in TV history, combining superb writing, acting, and cinematography. Gilligan’s dedication to a meticulous narrative and tendency to push characters and the audience to oblivion make Breaking Bad one of the best shows to watch and to discuss. The Airspace is excited to announce that the fifth and final season of Breaking Bad will have full coverage—episodic reviews, video discussions, and debates galore—joining the ranks of Game of Thrones and Mad Men.

Breaking Bad begins with a small foundational concept: a high school chemistry teacher is diagnosed with cancer and begins cooking methamphetamine with a former student in Albuquerque, New Mexico in order to provide financial security for his family. But the cancer just serves as a chemical catalyst for a chain-reaction so entropic and required. The series details the trajectory of this decision, and proves choices have real consequences—effects that ruin, murder, rage, annihilate, and explode.

Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston as said chemistry teacher Walter White, a role with enormous depth and ambiguity that has netted Cranston three straight Emmy wins for Best Actor in a Drama. The first season established Walter as a good man doing bad things out of need. His foray into cooking meth seemed justified, as the audience felt for requisite desperation of a human only wanting to protect his family. Walt is clumsy and clueless when it comes to the logistics and reality of the drug trade. As he is forced into extreme circumstances, the audience is pulled along into meth lab nearing Winnebagos, close calls with his DEA brother-in-law, and drug lords crazy enough to kill their own men. The chaotic downward spiral pulls everything into it, bearing the repercussions for his actions on either his life or his psyche—whether this means dealing with relationship struggles with his wife and palsied child or deciding to kill the drug deal that is trying to kill him. One fact, though, shines through these obscurities and grey areas: Walter’s meth is the best and purest on the market.

In science, Walt trusts. In science, Walt is secure. Too secure, perhaps. For all that he lacks in street smarts, he compensates in straight scientific method and logic. Walter White develops the pseudonym “Heisenberg,”—in reference to Werner Heisenberg and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle—which serves as one of the many mantles he takes on while the series develops—chemistry teacher, family man, unfaithful husband, father figure, meth dealer, and chemistry genius.

Vince Gilligan tests the viewers ability to continuously root for Walter, no matter how despicable he becomes in the process of breaking bad. His exceptional product and ability to eliminate smaller territorial drug dealers leads him to enlist the help of of “criminal” lawyer Saul Goodman, who in turn leads him to the calculated, and soft-spoken methamphetamine kingpin Gustavo Fring. With Gus, Walt is able to construct multi-million dollar deals effectively securing his family’s future. The cancer goes into remission, Walt has millions in cash, and yet he decides to keep cooking his baby-blue glass for Gus.

The inertia of Walter’s actions is massive. What begins as a fruitful deal with Gus—working in a meth super-lab with an all too eager lab assistant—turns sour. Walter sacrifices his partnership with Gus to protect his former cooking partner Jesse, ultimately leading to several murders and proving White’s unmitigated ruthlessness when it comes to his survival. Every piece of the meth hierarchy is trying to position itself to the top. The only way to protect yourself is to forego half-measures and eliminate all threats. Walt is an integral piece so confident in his value and his chemistry he feels invincible. When danger is outside the door. He is the one who knocks.

The stand-off between Walter and Gus plays out as an epic game of chess with massive body-count. Walter is attempting to stay alive while finding a way to eliminate Gus. All the while keeping his DEA agent brother-in-law at arm’s length. A master-web of manipulation connects all points together, each thread pulled cascading into colossal consequences. The series-arcing story-lines intersect into a climactic finale wherein no one is safe from Walter’s schemes. No one is in more control; Walt is living on his own terms at the expense of all else. Walter himself best wraps it up with the final utterance—when asked what all happened—“I won.”

Walter is a murderous drug-peddling mastermind, but he is our murderous drug-peddling mastermind. With the cartel crippled—poisoned around a pool—and Gus Fring eliminated, the executive drug trade is experiencing a massive power vacuum. If the advertisement work for the first installment of the final season of Breaking Bad is any indication, Walt is the man to fill the void. With so much ruin in Walt’s wake, it seems unclear what he has won, and at what cost. Mr. Chips has transformed into Scarface, and in this role Walter has no chance of redeeming his old life. You can’t break good after so much bad. We are witnesses in Walter White’s final descent into hell. All hail the king.

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