This past week I began watching Breaking Bad, a series known to be one of the best to ever grace television. Despite its notoriety, I’ve only just now gotten around to starting it. So far I am only two episodes deep, but I’d like to talk about first impressions because of a comment my friend made when we started it together. They remarked that they — and a lot of other people — didn’t like the first couple of episodes of the series, and it wasn’t until the season really got going that the series began to shine.
To begin with, even only two episodes in I can see why the show is considered of high quality. The performances are really strong, especially by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, and I see the makings of a very strong dynamic between the two already. The unlikely pairing of an aged high school teacher and his former student turned drug addict washout making crystal meth is compelling on its own, and the two actors play off of each other well.
Having learned a lot about the show through general awareness of it and people talking about it has made the experience of meeting Walter White at the beginning of the series very interesting as well. His appearance is very meek and ordinary, contrasted with the later more menacing imagery that you see on posters and promotional material. It is fascinating to be able to notice this because this will allow me to be hyperaware of the character development that White will go through as the series progresses. I wonder how much will change, how much will stay the same, and how much was clearly always there in the first place waiting to reveal itself.
This awareness of development has also made watching the first two episodes a bit of a negative experience for myself, however. While I do feel a good enough job was done establishing that Walter White is at a dire point in his life — working two jobs to try and make enough money (one of them a degrading car wash job), being humiliated and unappreciated for his brilliance and passion for chemistry, and suddenly being diagnosed with inoperable cancer — I do not feel they spent enough time effectively breaking the character down.
He is a 50-year-old man, and I can only imagine very set in his ways. The idea of him suddenly being okay with cooking meth and even committing murder is a little hard to believe. I find the circumstances they have established for him to be perfectly acceptable to push a man to the point of absolute desperation, but I feel more like the episodes simply told me this rather than showed me it happen gradually. He is shown to be in conflict with some of the things he has done, but this is all a little after the fact, where I would have liked to see him pushed more in this direction by his circumstances.
I am hopeful, however, that the situations that have developed in the first two episodes are building up inside of him, getting ready to burst forth when things come to a head. He’s due for a meltdown of some kind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one is coming soon. He’s bottling up a lot of what’s been happening in his life, and it’s not going to stay buried forever.
Despite my criticisms of believability, I do really love that things went wrong almost immediately after he started cooking. Without selling a single crystal or cooking more than a batch his entire situation was compromised, and I think that was quite brilliantly done. It indicates clearly that he’s going to have a hard time earning his success and establishes a strong source of continual conflict for the series — not including, of course, how it compromises his personal life.
While I did have some minor issues with the episodes, it is obvious to me what has made the show so popular and why it is hailed as a masterpiece by its fans. I am eager to continue delving deeper into Breaking Bad and watching Walter White become the icon I recognize.