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Did You See 'Breaking Bad'? You Should Have - This Just Might Be the Best TV Drama Ever
September 9, 2013  | By Mark Bianculli  | 10 comments
 

[Editor's Note: SPOILER ALERT! This story reveals details of Sunday's September 8 episode of Breaking Bad.]

Can we all just take a moment to acknowledge the absolute perfection we are witnessing with the final season of Breaking Bad?

Last night's episode was yet another tour de force in a final season that far surpasses that of any other show, and more and more people are joining a consensus that loyal Breaking Bad fans have known all along: we just might be watching the best TV drama ever.

Too bold a statement? Maybe a tad subjective?  Perhaps. But while other people stood and cheered for the Cowboys/Giants game last night, this particular fan was standing, pacing, yelling at his television over an episode of a serialized TV drama. And it was far from the first time that has happened with this show. That's because this story, more than any other in TV history, has executed a singular, focused vision, without hitting a single wrong note or losing the ability to amaze and surprise. 

Just look at the brilliance of last night's episode. Fans of this show got to see the two cathartic moments they've been asking for all along. One, the conclusion of a Hank vs. Walter showdown. Two, the conclusion of a Jesse vs. Walter showdown. You asked for it, you got it.

How satisfying-yet-scary did it feel when Hank sent Walt to his knees? How proud were you when Hank read Walt his Mirandas? Or how about the tension on Jesse's face, disbelieving, unable to breathe until the cuffs were finally snapped on Walt's wrists? Better still, watching Jesse spit into the face of his tormenter. Emotionally, it hit every beat I needed it to hit for the series to satisfy me. And, oh wait, that's right... There are still three episodes left.  

It is so rare in this world that something so groundbreaking and new ever fully lives up to its potential, and I think that -- before this TV series reaches its end -- we should all pause and reflect on that.

This is my prime reason for defending the old model of television and scorning the Netflix binge-watching method. This show is unfolding, week by week, in real time, right before our eyes, and it is nothing short of a masterpiece.  How fun is it to enjoy, and discuss, and theorize about it, employing the rare faith in its creator that it will stay this fulfilling until the final moment? I can only imagine this is the feeling Beatles fans got in the Sixties when album after mind-blowing album was released. It's like watching an all-star quarterback in the final minutes of a game, fully confident that he is leading your team to victory.

In pure storytelling ability --strictly measuring enjoyment -- there really isn't another show on the level of Breaking Bad. I've always classified it as an "Option 3" show: they'll lead you into moments where your brain can only process the idea of two possible outcomes. Option 1, he's caught. Option 2, he escapes.  Right?

But then, Vince Gilligan and his writing team introduce Option 3, something that afterward might even seem inevitable, but never predictable. But more important, Gilligan has publicly scoffed at the auteur style of storytelling. He leads with collaboration, respects input, and understands that the piece of art he has created is larger than himself. He also has a humbled respect for his audience that is more distinguishing than you might think. 

Take, for example, the ending of the current title-holder for "Best-Written Drama of All Time": The Sopranos. Regardless of how you interpret the final cut-to-black, the ending in general always felt, suspiciously, like it satisfied its creator more than its audience. In a way, it was like being put to bed early by a cold, neglectful parent, sick of telling stories.

Conversely, look at the ending to a show like Lost. If David Chase was a neglectful parent, the Lost writers were the drunken lush parents who promised adventure and magical activities, only to forget about their promises the next morning. Their final season felt like an obsequious rush to fulfill message board expectations, only to realize that their original idea for an ending was probably best, even if, at that point, it made little sense.

But here, with Breaking Bad, we have the rarest thing. A show that hasn't taken a true misstep yet, three episodes from a creatively wide-open finale, having already hit nearly every beat that could possibly be desired, helmed by a man to whom viewer satisfaction seems paramount. If Gilligan and his writers can stick this final landing, and do what they have done a million times before, they are taking home the gold medal, and cementing themselves atop the canon of great television. 

Now, before I mix any more analogies, let us get back to the matter at hand. At the closing of Sunday's most recent episode, Walt is in a car that is getting blown to pieces.  Jesse is in another car, ten yards away. Hank and Agent Gomez are completely outgunned by Todd and his crew, and probably out of ammo, facing what should most certainly be their end. Immediately, we think Hank is going to die, right? It would be tragic, but acceptable. At least he got to cuff Heisenberg before he went out, right?  And from the looks of it, the cavalry's not coming, and there's nowhere to go. 

Or is there? The writer in me can think of only one way for Hank to stay alive and escape: pull open the truck's door, and put a gun to Walt's head. Walt's brain, after all, is the most important thing to everyone in that desert, and no one wants to see it go just yet. Stop the shooting, hop in the car with Gomie, and high-tail it out, leaving Jesse to his fate. Or, hell, walk back to the other car with Walt as a shield and drive the whole team away.  I'm not sure.  It seems like that might be the only option, short of an unlikely negotiation. Take Walt hostage, or die.

But then, of course, I've been a fan of this show for too long to believe that.  I'm betting it's Option 3.

 
 
 
 
 
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10 Comments
 
 
Ben Stocking
Breaking Bad is great. The Wire was better.
Sep 19, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Mark
I was expecting to see black and then "The End. Though it may have been ambiguous like Tony's "fade to black" it would have sent people over the edge as they would have been expecting three more episodes. Because of the money to be made I don't think AMC would have allowed that to happen. I also don't think Gilligan would have wanted to end that way. Would would have been your feeling if it did?
By the way this season is the only TV short of sports that I have been watching in real time. I saw St. Elsewhere, MASH, SNL in its infancy and all the shows mentioned and this is hands down is the best. (They better not blow it!"
Sep 10, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Bb Fan
Sunday's episode was incredible. This show seems to never disappoint. Good prediction, it seems inevitable that in order to stop Hank or Jessie from getting killed that Walt must be at the centerpiece somehow. However, like you also said, the show is so unpredictable! You never can correctly predict what will happen, which I love!
Sep 10, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Noel
To the person signing in as Ceolaf: I'm very curious about what show or shows you believe answer best or most interestingly the questions you raised (i.e., What does it tell us about ourselves?).
Sep 10, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Editor Rex
No doubt one of the greatest dramas ever, primarily due to the devolution of Walter White. Gilligan and his team started down a path and never veered. But for me The Wire is still the single best drama I have ever seen as a TV series. Still when it comes to getting me to the edge of my seat or jumping out of it - the award goes to Breaking Bad.
Sep 10, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
HvD
You're a bit over the top here, but your enthusiasm is appreciated. The show--while definitely among the very best, I agree--has made some missteps. Chief among them (SEASON TWO SPOILER), the writers orchestrated an elaborate set-up of a plane crash, caused by Walt, which happens directly over Walt and Skyler's house. That's just ridiculous, and although it gave us some neat suspense with all those heavy-handed, mysterious openings in Season 2, it was flat out absurd.

For what it's worth, the earlier commenter's point about the female characters is sexist and kind of dumb. That description of Marie, alone, puts her among the more complex and interesting women on TV drama.

Anyway, Breaking Bad is good, but it doesn't touch The Wire or Deadwood. Fingers crossed for the future of Orange is the New Black, too.
Sep 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
HvD
You're a bit over the top here, but your enthusiasm is appreciated. The show--while definitely among the very best, I agree--has made some missteps. Chief among them (SEASON TWO SPOILER), the writers orchestrated an elaborate set-up of a plane crash, caused by Walt, which happens directly over Walt and Skyler's house. That's just ridiculous, and although it gave us some neat suspense with all those heavy-handed, mysterious openings in Season 2, it was flat out absurd.

For what it's worth, the earlier commenter's point about the female characters is sexist and kind of dumb. That description of Marie, alone, puts her among the more complex and interesting women on TV drama.

Anyway, Breaking Bad is good, but it doesn't touch The Wire or Deadwood. Fingers crossed for the future of Orange is the New Black, too.
Sep 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
sirduxalot
I enjoy "Breaking Bad," but I have some problems that I think are over-looked that keep it from being great.

The women are treated strictly like Hitchcockian McGuffin's. Skylar's affair was completely unconvincing and existed solely to give Hank something to react to. A silly side road. Marie is a joke. A competent medical professional, a comic relief shoplifter, an upwordly mobile yuppie, an overbearing in-law, a revenge-filled wife. The women are drawn inconsistently.

My other big issue is with Jesse's drug use: He's lost in a drug-fuelled haze the next day he's competently doing complex chemistry. He's addicted to meth them he got no withdrawals and happy with pot. Now he's in hiding with Hank and has no problem with withdrawal. For all of the show's treatment of how drugs destroy, Jesse gets off awfully easy.

For me, you need to go back to pre-HBO and take a look at "Hill Street" four best ever.

My opinion.
Sep 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
ceolaf
Breaking Bad has real strengths. No question.

It is inventive. It is in surprising. It does not disappoint.

It seems to achieve it's vision and goal consistently -- perhaps more consistently than any other show, ever. Or maybe I mean that it achieves its potential more than any other show, ever.

But does it tell us about ourselves? Does it tell us about our society? Does it makes us better or better informed people? Does it shape us as human beings? Does it reveal things to us about ourselves and others that we might not understand otherwise? Does it reveal thing things about society that we might not understand otherwise?

In other words, what do we get out of this great show? Surely, a ton of entertainment. But is that enough to be 'the best TV drama ever"?

No.

It might be the best EXECUTED TV drama ever. I grant that.

So, that page that was torn out of the your textbook in 1989? It was torn out for a reason. But it was originally included for a reason, too.
Sep 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
Eric Gould
CEO - All good points, and all points taken. However, do a search in the TVWW search box for "Breaking Bad" and you'll see -- ad-nauseum -- lots of high-minded rants on big themes in "Breaking Bad", particularly on Walt being a microcosm of the middle-class being economically squeezed to extremes. We could spend the next few years writing such stuff about the show, there is so much there. –EG
Sep 9, 2013
 
 
 
Noel
A teriffic, thoughtful and astute piece of writing, Mark, and I say that as someone who hasn't even seen all of season three yet. Breaking Bad, from what I know of it and from what I read, is perhaps the first of its serialized/novelized kind, to actually follow a well-thought out narrative thread to its conclusion -- that is, it really was written like a novel, with everything in place before publication. The Sopranos always felt to me like a series that was over after the first season but had to be kept afloat to satisfy a contract. Lost, as you point out, spent most of its run flailing around like someone playing Pin the Tale on the Donkey. Twin Peaks, well, see Lost. Deadwood was headed for greatness, it seemed, until David Milch infuriatingly walked away. The Wire, my personal all-time fave, had its legacy marred by a shockingly inept fifth and final season. So, yeah, you well may be spot on with this.
Sep 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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