2008 in Review: ‘Breaking Bad’

There are few shows that can legitimately say they changed the television landscape. One of those shows is “Breaking Bad,” a series that unmistakably announced the era of Peak Television in the entertainment industry. It was a time that few forces came together in perfect harmony. There were two actors ready to begin a meteoric climb in Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. Vince Gilligan had learned his lessons on “The X-Files” and was ready to take the next step professionally. Gilligan would bring in a series of directors, including Rian Johnson and Michelle McLaren. In a perfect blend of actors and writing, “Breaking Bad” became one of the greatest shows of all time.

When I Fell in Love with “Breaking Bad”

I’ll be honest. It wasn’t really my cup of tea out the gate. I felt I had to watch “Breaking Bad” because it was a cultural behemoth. I didn’t watch my first episode until the entire series hit Netflix. Even then I was hesitant. However, I gave it a shot. After all, even if you don’t enjoy each piece of entertainment you watch, you have to be able to understand influential pieces like this one.

What I didn’t expect was it to make such a profound effect on my opinion of television. It didn’t happen at first either. Sure by the end of the show I was hooked to a few characters, specifically Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Hank (Dean Norris). Yet as I think back about the show, I can’t help but love it. Perhaps it was the introduction of Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), or Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) that cemented it. The murder of Gale (David Constable) shook up the series in ways I didn’t expect. Maybe it was the episode “Half Measures” or “Fly” or “4 Days Out.” I’m not sure when, but I was unmistakably taken by this show.

Most Rewatchable Episode

This comes from the second season of the series, introducing one of the great characters of the series. “Better Call Saul” has one of the funniest openings of the series. Badger is an idiot and the events that take place in the episode begin to legitimize Walt and Jesse as criminals. It introduces Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), one of the great side characters ever on a Drama series. The episode also advances Jesse’s relationship with Jane (Krysten Ritter), who will become one of the formative characters on the series. “Better Call Saul” tosses balls into the air that begin the move towards the end of the season, and ultimately some of the horrors that Walt will be responsible for. Yet in this episode, things are relatively calm. The show was often at its best in these relatively quiet moments, allowing the series to take a step into comedy. That flex makes “Better Call Saul” an easy to rewatch the episode, especially if you are looking for a one-off that won’t ruin your day.

Best Episode

There’s some debate as to what could claim this slot. After all, the entire last season is full of gems. Yet “Ozymandias” takes this crown as a narrative finale to the events of the series. There was only one real way for “Breaking Bad” to conclude. Everything had to go sideways and Walt’s life must be destroyed. There was never any going back for Walt once he started these events. People were always going to die. The episode begins with a flashback that sets the stage for the events that follow. Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn) discuss the names of their upcoming daughter Holly. The camper disappears and we’re transported to the same spot in the future.

Hank crawls to Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). He’s dead. Jack (Michael Bowen) and his gang are going to execute Hank in front of Walt. Walt tries to bargain for Hank’s life, but there is nothing to be done. This moment perfectly fits each character of the series. Jesse hides under a car, fearing for his life. Hank would never give up his pursuit of justice. Walt believes that money can fix every problem. Then we get vengeful and evil Walt. If there was ever a question of whether we should have rooted for him, that question is gone. Walt is the villain of this story.

As the episode barrels towards the close, it features some of the best performances in the show’s history. The quickest 47-minute episode in history features RJ Mitte and Anna Gunn at their absolute peak. The argument can be made that Cranston was never better. The phone call is brilliance. Gunn’s reaction to it is just as captivating as Cranston’s choice to take the entire rap. He loves his family, yet was always motivated by something deeper. The scene is one of the most complex pieces of television ever delivered, and while you’ve pulled a thousand ways, Rian Johnson expertly delivers each moment. This might be the single greatest episode of television ever put to screen, and the ride you take to this moment is worth every second.

Why should you watch “Breaking Bad” again?

Well, it comes down to whether you like the story that Gilligan tells. It is a dark story. There are no happy ends in this story. The finale is perhaps the most fanservice driven storytelling we get in the whole series. Yet that’s what makes the conclusion of the series so satisfying. Other than the “Parks and Recreation” finale, there is almost not series finale that is so universally beloved. That’s special.

What makes “Breaking Bad” exception is not just the storytelling but the craft. It was exceptionally well made across the board. Somehow I even went a whole article without bringing up other favorite characters, like Mike (Jonathan Banks) or Todd (Jesse Plemons). The cast is insanely deep.  The writing infused comedy into what should have been a bleak and dark story. The morality of the characters is constantly called into question. For many seasons, you could wonder if you were rooting for the good guys. With the villains they encountered, you could almost be fooled into believing you were. No show since has quite lived up to the bar “Breaking Bad” set for television. It’s doubtful one will for some time.

What do you think of “Breaking Bad” 10 years later? Does it continue to hold up? Let us know in the comments

Check out our other retrospectives on 2008 here!

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