Breaking Up with Breaking Bad

Breaking Up with Breaking Bad October 18, 2013

“It’s over, bitch.”

That’s how she put it in no uncertain terms as the credits rolled at the end of the series finale.

It was the voice of Jesse Pinkman that she chose, the show’s outlaw Robin to Walter White’s cancer-clad Batman on a self-destructive mission to save his family from financial ruin at the cost of such greater ruin.

She being the bitch, of course—or, rather, the son of one in the best sense of that term.

After six long years of our on-again, off-again, you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet-again seasonal trysts, Breaking Bad is done with me.

But I’m not done with it. Un-uh. Not so fast. Not before I get to say a few words myself, thank you very much. So get back here like the trophy show that you are and hear me out—lest you forget that you needed me way before I needed you.

Truth be told, it wasn’t a six-year affair in my case, as it was for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of other viewers; no, I was among the greater number who only caught up on back seasons of the series in time to watch this last one live.

She and I, we made up for lost time in a serious way.

The thing is, this wasn’t like me: I may work in television, but I sure as hell don’t get hooked on it like…a meth addict.

Hell, yeah, I did, this time around. Are you kidding me? Don’t make me start talking like Pinkman’s sidekick, Skinny Pete, after sampling a fresh batch of crank.

Don’t make me do a Riverdance like his other sidekick, Badger, after sampling the same.

But most of all, don’t bother me with questions of whether I think Breaking Bad is the best TV show ever. I don’t know. And I certainly don’t care.

But I do know this: it is certainly the most dramatically satisfying show I myself have ever seen. I haven’t seen every contender, nor even every episode of the contenders I have watched, but for the sheer sense of total dramatic satisfaction? As hard as the drama was to swallow in certain moments: B to the B, yo.

Inevitably, given the spiritually-minded traffic the “Good Letters” blog attracts, there are those who would argue that for all the good things that can be said about Breaking Bad dramatically speaking, its host of evil things is a serious problem for the godly viewer.

After all, in sixty-two episodes of the series run, there is not a single mention of God (as far as I recall), nary a character or story with the faintest apparent concern for any power higher than kingpin drug dealers and local DEA agents.

So why does it feel like the most spiritually rigorous show that I have ever seen?

For starters, I would be hard pressed to recall a single gratuitous moment in all sixty-two episodes, which is no small badge of honor given all the violence and nearly zero sex. If you think this isn’t saying much in today’s sensationalist, competitive landscape that defines much of television, think again. Or spend a night watching some.

Graphic moments? Yes, some unbearably so. Gratuitous? No.

The corollary to this dearth of gratuity is an unparalleled moral calculus that unfolds across the series like a lengthy complex theorem on the Walter Whiteboard of his own self-induced demise.

Or, more to the point of his having been a high school chemistry teacher before he put his skills to more profitable use as a crystal meth cook: watching the show was like watching a chemical reaction of ethical proportions take place step by step in super slow motion.

To put it differently for the purposes of this blog, is there any other show in recent (or even distant) memory that so faithfully abides the principle of you reap what you sow?

The long, slow burn before certain lead characters broke two (among others) of the Ten Commandments lent such common TV pastimes as murder and adultery a moral gravity that was viscerally refreshing. And one that puts to shame much of the more palatable fare out there, whose whiplash depravities have as much moral weight as the next commercial break.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” the adage goes.

That is foundational Christian ethics. And that is Breaking Bad in a nutshell—pun intended. It begins with Walter White sowing a thought on a ride-along with his condescending DEA brother-in-law…and it ends—well, avoiding all spoilers, let’s just say that it ends on a note of parabolic perfection.

If this isn’t a paean enough already—and Breaking Bad has had them aplenty long before this one—what makes me appreciate the show all the more is knowing (though not knowing him personally) the good reputation that precedes its creator and showrunner, Vince Gilligan.

This, too, is no small badge of honor, in an industry whose showrunners often fancy themselves the kind of brilliant, mercurial antiheroes they love to create. Gilligan isn’t the type to take sole credit for the masterpiece of Breaking Bad, so I would be remiss not to name his trusty staff of writers who deserve a shout-out: Peter Gould, George Mastras, Sam Catlin, Moira Walley-Beckett, Thomas Schnauz, and Gennifer Hutchison.

I imagine they’re all feeling the shaft, too, after the finale. Even if they brought it upon themselves, just like Walter White. That’s what they get for a job so well done.

On that note, I’m done with her. There were just a few things I needed to say first.

Sorry, but I’ll be having the last word.


Bradford Winters is a screenwriter/producer in television whose work has included such series as OzKings, Boss, and The Americans. His poems have appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Georgetown Review, among other journals. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.

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  • Chad Thomas Johnston

    Brad, this is hilarious! I loved reading this. “Breaking Bad” is probably my favorite TV show of all time, and it was a pleasure to read this. Since you write for TV, too, I only wish I could have watched this whole series with you so I could hear your feedback on each episode. I have to say: the train heist episode is one of the best things I have ever seen on television. Any in particular that especially wowed you?

    • Brad Winters

      The train heist episode was amazing; how they pulled that off in production left me all the more impressed. The escalating stakes episode-to-episode in the last season are unparalleled in TV. The first episode of the final season amazed me with its choice to let Hank and Walt have their showdown right off the bat — not save it for the end as the obvious choice would suggest. But lest the final run blot out all the earlier gems… I knew I was in the hands of a master right in the pilot with Walt’s speech to his high school students about the foundational principle of change in chemistry. That kind of tight and thematically resonant writing never let up once.

  • Allison Troy

    LOVE THIS. jesse was such an amazing character. i want to adopt him as my brother and just take care of the poor guy.

    • Brad Winters

      Seriously. Maybe try asking the APD if they know of his whereabouts.

      • Chad Thomas Johnston

        Brad, I think you and Allison and I should create a follow-up show called “Fixing Good,” and it can be about a repentant methlord named Walker Black who, when he is diagnosed with lung cancer, decides to become a high school chemistry teacher and thereby use his knowledge to help students better the world through applied science. It should have some rom-com undertones, and feature music by Air Supply. Also, I want an ongoing role as Jersey, a repentant former methhead who aces all of Walker Black’s tests and becomes his jokey sidekick after finishing the class. Instead of always dropping the b-word, Jersey will say, “Oh, that’s silly!” or something equally harmless. 🙂

        • T.Martin Lesh

          ….. or … you could get me involved as well ( you know this’ll turn out Ba ) and introduce ‘ Pagey ‘ … a more than blunt ex something or other musician from New Jersey [ originally ] … ___ bent on mayhem and the ultimate destruction of ‘ politically correct ‘ … as well as demanding music with a whole lot more ‘ substance ‘ to it while in the background .. Pearl Jam’s ” Alive ” playing whenever he’s in the scene.

          ( told ya this’d turn out Ba .. like thats any surprise CT .. Lol )

          Nahhh .. I’m betting either Walter gets resurrected or Pinkman makes a comeback . [ TV ] Nature abhorring a vacuum as it does 😉

        • Allison Troy

          haha! seriously, jesse has my whole heart. the episode early in the show with his parents kicking him out of his aunt’s home, and walter telling him how stupid he was, killed me.

  • T. Martin Lesh

    Br Ba . In many ways ( especially if you’re familiar with the realities of the drug underworld ) completely unbelievable . Yet in others .. totally engaging . And I like you came late to the party .,. but wound up getting ‘ stuck ‘ in the marathon till the finale … so there you have it . But … seeing the open doors left by the last scene of the final episode … I’m not so sure we’re ‘done ‘ with Br Ba quite yet …….. Szat you Walter ? [ hint hint ]