I’m doing you all a favor and rewatching all of Breaking Bad before the final eight episodes air. What follows are my immediate takeaways from each season so far, so expect five of these in total. They’re partly recaps, but mostly just the stuff that strikes me as interesting while I’m shotgunning the show. Also, this should be a no-brainer, but don’t read this if you ever plan on discovering the show for yourself.
So every season of Breaking Bad is an ordeal unto itself, but while rewatching the first season for the first time in a couple of years, I was immediately struck by how much of the beginning of the show I’d misremembered. It’s easy to justify Walt’s ascent into the role of Heisenberg, Drug Emperor of the ABQ, when there’s been some distance between the beginning of that ascent (or descent, I suppose) and where he is now right before the show’s last eight episodes. But that’s Breaking Bad’s dirty little secret: Walt wasn’t anything but a prideful little shit from the very beginning. Now it might have taken him fifty years to act on it in the worst way imaginable, but from the very beginning of the show, it’s apparent that Walt was never destined for anything good. Bryan Cranston is imperative to selling all this, because the way “Pilot” opens -with him in his underwear and raging against his circumstances – foreshadows the entire show. That moment where he freaks out and howls to himself as he thinks the cops are coming to get him is the epitome of the series. Walt is rarely scarred by what he has to do, more-so by the consequences those actions bring for him. He’s a merciless dick masquerading as the dopey, way-in-over-his-head chemistry teacher with a pretty wife and impossibly sweet son, and that’s what keeps the show so refreshing. Watching Walter White discover how much of an asshole he’s always been is one of the main reasons the show is so rewatchable, and probably why it’s so scary to some people. You feel like he could be you if life doesn’t hand you exactly what you want. And watching Walt reveal his inner demon is what really carries the first season of the show, because without the insane amount of character work the writers put into making Walt such a believably prideful person, the rest of the show would have felt like it was coming out of left field.
Something I’ve always thought the writers of Breaking Bad were so good at pulling off was the idea that Walter could be any of us, even though that’s entirely untrue. Walt was a brilliant man, who felt his future was stolen from him by his former partners, (ex-roommate Elliot, and ex-flame Gretchen) who started a successful company called Gray Matter that Walt felt was jumpstarted by his research. His fate then becomes that of a man with unflinching puritanical work ethic, stuck in the confines of modern suburbia. The reason that hits so close to home for some is because Walt does represent us at the very beginning of the show. We don’t find out how brilliant he really is until the fifth episode of the show (“Gray Matter”), and by that point the writers have already convinced us, the audience, of how tragically mundane this man had been until he found out he had cancer and decided to cook meth. It’s easy to empathize because he’s already been floated so deviously as one of us for three or four episodes. Again, that’s the beauty of the show. Seeing ourselves in a man who is completely his own creation, through pride and a lack of cordiality, is essential to the show working, even though most of the show’s audience could never commit to the unending paranoia that Walt has to deal with after he takes the plunge into drug-dealing.