"Breaking Bad," a true TV classic, ends tomorrow night, and now time for the appreciations. There are so many out there, but how many are under 400 words? That's the unique selling proposition - to paraphrase Ted Bates - of my "Breaking Bad" send-off. It's short! You can read it all in under thirty seconds. (And anyone who's looking for a longer take, here's another appreciation from August...)
Take it away...
"Breaking Bad," AMC, Sunday, 9
What it's about: Sheriffs have descended on New Hampshire dive where Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had been nursing a Pinch, "neat." Earlier, he had essentially turned himself in by calling the Albuquerque DEA. But before the law arrived, he had seen former girlfriend, Gretchen Schwartz (Jessica Hecht), now married to his former partner, on a TV above the bar. Walter disappears - and is headed back to ABQ for a showdown. '
My say: On the eve of The End, "Breaking Bad" has suddenly become hot - a first time best drama Emmy last Sunday; six million viewers a pop; a voracious Internet following... It's all enough to make long-term die hard fans shake their heads in wonder, to ask: Why NOW?
Because the rest of the world has finally discovered is a state-of-the-art thriller laced with deep think lit themes about the decline of the American dream, isolation in an indifferent universe, alongside urgent moral questions about society and individual responsibility.
But great TV series, like great novels, ultimately have to be about someone, and that's where Walter White - and the magic of Cranston's performance – have come in. There are debates - on the internet; where else? - that Walter is a hero for our time, a good man wronged by circumstance.
That's a profound misreading of the show, of course. White is a bad man who chose to be bad. This doesn't mean he's not relateable, or human or frail, or sympathetic. That's how Elmore Leonard wrote his bad guys over dozens of novels. That's how Cranston played Walter over sixty-two episodes and (as a result) in those cold blue eyes, we see a distant slightly disturbing reflection of ourselves.
It's still easy to see why there's a debate, though. Walter beat his inner-Willy Loman only to discover something much worse in it's place - or to quote that oft quoted line (from Samuel Johnson) that opens "Fear and Loathing," "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
In Walter's case, one action lead to another, which lead to another, and so on – until they all ended up at a vanishing point, or the inside of a dark cabin in the woods. As it turned out, he couldn't get rid of the pain either.
But Walter does have one last move, and it will be a doozy. Magnificent shows, and characters, have a way of affirming our devotion.