Breaking Bad

The other day I surprised myself by talking about Breaking Bad, the powerful drama/comedy running on AMC, with my Realtor, who is about the last person I would expect to watch the show. (In my defense I brought up the show because we were in a house that had a ceiling just like the one in Jesse's house in season one, after the incident with the bathtub. Those who have seen the show will know what I mean and those who haven't will hopefully watch to see what the heck I'm talking about.) She's not at all the type of person who would be interested in the goings on of a drug dealer, but that's part of what makes Breaking Bad so wonderful – it's really about the lengths we humans find we're willing to go when it comes to protecting our own.

Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher, brilliant but a little dismayed at the fact that all of his college friends have gone on to become much more "successful" than he has. (Of course when you see him in his classroom and in his day to day life you can tell he is a natural teacher and wouldn't really be happy trying to run a company or do other businessy types of things.) As the series begins he is happily married and the father of one son with another baby on the way. His wife Skyler works in the home, so they are a one income family, depending on Walter's salary of about 42,000 per year. Walter Junior has cerebral palsy and the baby is an unexpected surprise. Walter might already be forgiven for feeling the pressure of the burdens of his growing family but that pressure becomes intolerable when he is told he has stage 3 lung cancer, which is inoperable.

He does some math and comes up with a ridiculously high sum of money, which he will need to leave to his wife to provide for the family until his unborn child comes of age. Since it's a little late to buy life insurance he comes up with another solution; use information from his DEA brother-in-law and his chemistry knowledge to brew up the purest crystal meth around. He chooses as his partner Jesse, a former student who is now cooking meth (with his specialty, a pinch of chili powder) and smoking it. Jesse is a bit of a scatterbrain, which isn't made any better by getting high all the time, but he knows a lot about the business end of selling drugs and between the two of them they should be able to make a decent team.

But if everything went well there wouldn't be much of a show so of course all sorts of things go wrong. Whether it's not being able to get the ingredients necessary to make their product or problems with distribution, Jesse and Walter run into trouble twice for everything that goes right. Walter is in trouble with his wife, who is suspicious of his absences while Jesse is in trouble with his parents who are panicked over the idea of him using a family member's home to brew up the meth. A terrifying distributor puts one of them in the hospital before putting them into even more danger.

While there's plenty of excitement, action, bloodshed and mayhem, it's the character dynamics and humor that make this show so beloved to me. Jesse, whether he knows it or not, is looking for a father figure, and it shows when he speaks to Walter. He goes back and forth from calling him Mr. White, remnants of his high school days, with respect, to freaking out and calling him all sorts of terrible names as he panics. Jesse wants the bond at the same time that he struggles against it.

Walter also has his own struggles as he tries to balance family, work and drug lord life. Everything he does he justifies as protecting his family, working incredibly hard to build up a vast sum of money to keep them going once he succumbs to his cancer. He has to fight against his natural teacher instincts, as evidenced by a wonderful series of scenes in season two where he sees a shopper at a hardware store and realizes the shopper is there to buy the ingredients for meth. Walter turns back and lectures the cooker, telling him where he's gone wrong and advising him not to buy all of his materials at the same shop. Then as Walter is checking out his new side takes over and he goes out into the parking lot and protects his territory from the interloper.

Breaking Bad is by Vince Gilligan, who was one of my favorite writers on the X-Files, writing some of the funniest episodes. He's at the top of his game with this series, which just entered its third series. It runs on AMC with episodes also on demand. There's a catch up page on the AMC website:

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Not Hiring who writes in to say, "I don't get Human Target. Isn't the dude supposed to be a bodyguard? He seems more like a super spy." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at