Crime, Drama, Editorial, Thriller, TV

Broken—Or Why I Can’t Stand Breaking Bad

The above video by Michael Tucker from his series Lessons from the Screenplay  is quite insightful and useful. And it has helped me determine exactly why I do not find Breaking Bad to be at all compelling.

For a long time, I thought it was largely because I tend not to find the rise of the white dude gangster narrative very compelling. I don’t particularly like The Godfather, or The Godfather 2 or most other similar stories. I don’t find the protagonists of those stories people that I can root for, so I do not feel any of the intended tension when they are in danger, or going through their trials and tribulations. I just want them to die. Now. And for the movie/show to be over.

This general distaste for, and lack of interest in, the kind of character Walter White instantiates is multiplied by the other facet I found off-putting about Breaking Bad — its general lack of tension and its highly repetitive structure. Walt gets into a slightly worse/more dangerous/more criminal situation and the person higher up than him in the organization Walt happens to be involved with at the time is getting tired of him and needs/wants to kill him. But Walt, because he is sad-sack-white-dude-wish-fulfillment, instead, outwits, and kills these long-term, highly successful bad men, and moves up the ladder. At no point in the first two seasons did I feel, or remotely believe, that Walt might die, or that his kids might die, or his wife might die, or that his wife whom he seems to despise, and that the audience is clearly not supposed to like, might leave him in any substantive way. (Nor do I find it plausible that Walt should get the better of his frenemies).

But this video helped me to understand exactly what is wrong with Breaking Bad as a series, and identify the cause of this tensionless, repetitive structure, and explains much of why it is so boring, and why I could not watch more than the first two seasons, when I first tried it out, and why, when I went to watch Season 3 recently, I could only get through a couple of episodes before refusing to deliberately bore myself any longer.

This Lessons From the Screenplay video let me know that the problem is that the Pilot is excellent as a self-contained story about Walter White’ descent into crystal meth making criminality from his banal, suburban, existence.

As a consequence, Walter White has his entire character arc begin and end in the very first episode. Walter White has, essentially, become a bad guy by the end of the first episode when he chooses to pursue more power and his willingness to be a violent criminal to have it. The rest is denouement. We basically have five seasons of denouement. Repetitive, repetitive denouement.

In each season, the show reaches its ultimate dramatic conclusion, and then has to ‘reset’ to something resembling Walter White’s original status quo for the beginning of the next season. (I know I have not seen the whole thing. Seeing this happen in Seasons 2 and 3 was enough.) This is the classic soap opera, or sitcom, structure, where the status quo needs to be re-established after every destabilization so that the same story can be told over again. (Which is fine in those broad genres. They do not typically try to offer nuanced character studies and the story of characters that go through interesting, lasting transformations, or have tragic endings — they are, after all, ultimately Romances or Comedies — the status quo is supposed to return in each story. See any Shakespearean Comedy for illustration.)

And so, the rest of the series consists of repetitions of the same character-altering moment witnessed in the very first episode — Walt gets a taste of more power, and he reaches for it, there is a threat to his life (or Jesse’s life) because of this reaching, and he overcomes it. With violence.

So, while Michael in the video, and doubtless, the fans of the show, were tantalized by the promise of the further adventures of Walter White, and satisfied by them, I was not (well, not beyond the first season, at any rate).

This point is very similar to one Mike Stoklasa makes in his extensive review of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

At the beginning of the film, Anakin Skywalker kills the defenseless Count Dooku, whom he has just defeated in a lightsaber duel. And it is at this point that Anakin has basically transitioned from Jedi Knight on the side of the more-or-less right and just, to an evil Sith apprentice — he is now, effectively, Darth Vader. And the rest of the movie is just the story of how this character got into his iconic suit. The character arc is over before the bulk of the bulk of a story supposedly about this character’s arc has been told.

I find this sort of story structure incredibly boring.

And I think, if we are all honest, it should be admitted that Breaking Bad should have been a single season, or mini-series. And thereby a lesser exercise in tedium.

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