I watched the first two seasons of Breaking Bad more than a year ago on Netflix and became instantly hooked. Nevertheless, after finishing the second season, I had to walk away from it. Not forever. And certainly not because of any defect with the series itself. Quite the opposite, in fact. I needed a break from it because of its commitment to realism, which is far superior to any television show or film I’ve ever seen that deals with addiction. There isn’t the slightest bit of romanticism or glamor. It is pure, stark addiction in all its ugly glory. And because of that, it actually got so painful to watch that I had to step back and breathe for a bit. Thankfully, I’ve never battled addiction (other than a few years spent nursing a nicotine addiction which I’ve long since given up and a current
love affair with dependence on caffeine which I believe to be relatively harmless) but I have been close to a few who have and listen, if you know nothing of it, count yourself lucky because it is one of the most grotesque, heartbreaking and utterly useless experiences to have ever plagued humanity. I’m speaking specifically of drug and/or alcohol addiction which is particularly abundant in Breaking Bad (season 2 especially). Hence, my year-long respite. Finally, a couple of weeks ago I returned to the phenomenal series, ready to brave whatever cold truth it had to throw at me. And folks, let me tell you, it is so worth it.
I am now nearly all caught up. I have but one more episode to watch before the final eight episodes air this summer and all I can say is that this show is one of the smartest, well-planned and superbly executed shows ever created. EVER. No exaggeration; it is nothing short of extraordinary. The growth and changes (some evolve, some devolve) in every character are stunning and even though some major major major shit happens – I’m talking insanely tense, gripping shit – the show’s pace is expertly managed. It doesn’t rush anything. Not in the smallest, slightest way. Which adds to its realism because it feels like the pace of life. There are these moments that are kind of slow and calm and at first you think, why are they dwelling on this? And then you realize – it’s because this is just like life. Those quiet moments in your life during which you actually get to pause and think about your own problems, recent events, the world around you or even just take stock. They never last too long and that’s probably a good thing but they do crop up now and again and the writers of Breaking Bad not only perfectly depict them but they carefully weave them throughout to lull you the way those moments do – those brief periods in your life that very slowly enfold and evolve, making you forget just how quickly time is passing and how much of the world is changing and then all of a sudden you’re waist-deep in it and everything’s happening so fast, you barely even understand and suddenly it’s over and you remember to breathe – that is exactly how this show is! Never have I seen such an eloquently paced series. The balance they have struck makes Breaking Bad feel more real than anything else on TV, certainly now, maybe ever.
Not that its pace is the only thing that makes it so utterly real. The characters themselves could be anyone – you, me, your neighbor, your sister, your brother-in-law, that guy you chat with in the break room every morning. Watching them as individuals and their relationships to each other progress, change and evolve (or sometimes collapse) over the course of five seasons feels wholly natural, as honest and organic as the memories of your own personal relationships. The outstanding acting by the entire cast, and the two leads in particular, give their characters a depth that’s far from standard. Bryan Cranston deserves ALL THE AWARDS. He and Aaron Paul will blow your mind and break your heart again and again and again. And again.
Breaking Bad is a dark and heavy series and surely not for everyone. Nor is it the kind of show you can put on and watch in marathon fashion. It’s too intense for that. I can stand only two episodes back to back before I need a break but that speaks more to its merit than anything else. Because just as if it were real life, the shit they get into will wear you down. You’ll find your heart racing, your palms sweating, your breath staggering and your chest aching as you watch and more than once, you’ll thank the universe that this isn’t your life. Simultaneously, you’ll thank it for giving you this show.