Why Breaking Bad is close to a “perfect score” – and why it matters for my therapy

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This summer Breaking Bad comes to an end.

The second half of the fifth Season will conclude the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Just eight more episodes until the end of the series – eight more episodes separating this series from achieving a „perfect score“ in my book.

A perfect score would mean that the series never made any serious misssteps or dragged out certain storylines or forced character changes for the sake of it. It would mean that Breaking Bad was a series with an artistic backbone using the TV medium to tell one of the greatest stories out there.

  • Why the perfect score is important
  • Why this relates to Lost and my therapy
  • Why a failure of Breaking Bad would mean additional therapy for me
  • and what this has to do with Game of Thrones

all this after the jump:

A note on spoilers:
The following review will talk about plot points for Breaking Bad. I will go through the overall storybeats of the series. Although I just want to give an impression of the show this article will reference some events in the series – so for a completely unspoiled experience don’t read this article. 
When I go deeper into story spoilers there will be an explicit warning before the paragraph.

How Lost made me go into therapy and how Breaking Bad might save me

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Lost was the first TV series with a continuing narrative that really hooked me. A complex story full of characters trapped on a mysterious island. With many mysteries tossed around I started to get obsessed with the show and because I couldn’t come up with anything but a generic resolution I anxiously waited how the writers would surprise me in the end.

Eventually Lost delivered even less than the basic resolutions I had put together in my head. The entire series collapsed under its own premise and fell victim to its writers throwing away all moral ambiguity and blatantly making a “faith = good, science = evil” story. The hollow ending of Lost rendered the entire journey pointless and sent me into a spiral of anger and self loathing. Eventually I was so obsessed with the TV series I lost my job at the nuclear power plant I was working and got into intensive therapy.

Lost taught me to never trust anyone and to not cling onto promises – hoping life would eventually get better. The series made me realize that there is nothing good in the world and anyone telling me different was flat out lying.

My only source of happiness – the only thing I could rely on – were sitcoms. 20 minute episodes which would end with the status quo. It was the only thing in life that didn’t disappoint and my therapist made it clear that I should stay away from long term narratives.

Unfortunately Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones happened. They broke my isolation and I had to threaten a lot of people in my ward to get the newest episodes. And when my therapist found out that I got addicted to the series it was already too late – Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones had become the two things that eased my depression. My therapist is convinced that when Breaking Bad ends I will once again spiral down into self loathing and anger outbursts because he thinks I am taking these things too seriously (I am not, for the record).

So we have made the deal that:

if Breaking Bad disappoints I will never again get too much into a series and expect something great.

So unless Breaking Bad delivers the finale I am expecting it to deliver I will not be allowed to continue my Game of Thrones obsession and that would mean getting outside and doing something worthwhile with my life – and I don’t plan on doing that.

Because of that here are the reasons for which I am placing my hopes on this series:

It always was about the characters

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When the writers of Lost realized how convoluted the story had become and that there was no way in hell that they could bring it to a meaningful end. Because of that they decided to pull a super stunt and started to pretend that the mysteries weren’t the thing people were interested:

While the mythology was important, first and foremost the show was about the characters. I think that a lot of people care much more about what’s going to happen to Kate. Is she going to end up with Jack, is she going to end up with Sawyer? 

Carlton Cuse in an interview with New York Times

Now I can’t speak for all of the viewers of Lost but I feel fairly safe in saying that 80% or more were more interested in things like the mysterious/cursed numbers than who random chick would end up with. The soapy relationship elements had never been the strong suit of Lost unless they were combined with the central mysteries. If you ask people what hooked them watching the first episode it probably was the question:

What the hell is a Polar Bear doing on a tropical island?
Who is that French woman talking?
Where is this island?
What is the monster?
How did they survive the crash?

And not:

Gee… I wonder if that hot chick is going to wind up with that handsome dude or the other handsome dude, what a completely relatable and meaningful conflict!

For more Lost-questions here is  a spoiler filled song titled “answers” written before the final Season to give you an idea of what the series meant to some:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1PAB6Sgdp8]

Instead of following the thing that made Lost interesting the writers decided to pander to the soap opera watchers and tried to lull people into thinking the mysteries weren’t what made the show. The result is a shockingly manipulative ending to a show that had aimed much higher.

On the other hand Breaking Bad has it much easier. This series IS all about the characters. No mysteries, no premises. The only premise is that it is the story of Walter White and we are in it with him. Contrary to Game of Thrones the series is not about shocking deaths (though there are plenty). The poster of Season 5 part 2 is featuring the same (two) protagonist(s) as it did in Season 1. The series is not so much about whether or not a character makes it but how he/she makes it.

Where Lost decided to switch character allegiances as it saw fit all the character motivations up to Season 5 of Breaking Bad make sense and are the result of everything that has come before. So while not all plots are planned out from the get go they are the result of logical interaction and not writers thinking about how to shock audiences with needless twists.

Skyler and what could have gone wrong

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Skyler White (Anna Gunn) is a prime example of how well Breaking Bad deals with its characters. She has the thankless task of being that one character who wants to know what her husband does when he is not at home. Her character got a lot of hate from some viewers who felt annoyed by Skyler’s constant interventions. Yet Skyler’s questioning of Walt is a very important part of showing how he slowly changes. A lazy writer would have had Skyler pop in from time to time to ask where Walt had been and be done with it – just to shut people up who ask questions like “isn’t anyone noticing Walt’s absence?”. Instead Skyler reacted like a real human being and wife and not a stock TV character. She realized that Walt had a dark secret even though she didn’t know what it was. And instead of accusing Walt of things he wasn’t doing she knew that his secrets meant an end to their marriage.

But we didn’t care about logical questions! We were in it with Walt and Jesse. They were the underdogs going up against the crazy mafia men and evading the DEA and all this was much more exciting than the troubles of a wife. But slowly this “game” became more and more serious as Walter descended into a realm of violence. The tension between Walt and Skyler would rise with it and the authors never shied away from showing us the ugly side of living a double life. The loyalties began to shift even more when Walt became the aggressor and started to oppress Skyler.

While some may have not liked Skyler during the first Seasons and wished she would just go away one now can only hope that she makes it out alive.

The villain is the guy we rooted for

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Being evil is often sold as sexy or badass.

Once again let’s bring up Lost. We had the badass Sawyer with his dark secrets. And while Sawyer acted tough when it wouldn’t interfere with the plot. Eventually he was reduced to an essentially good guy because the writers wouldn’t risk upsetting the fanbase by adding layers of complexity and having him do something truly bad (not everyone can be Jaime Lannister after all).

Another example would be Dexter from the series of the same name. The reason we are drawn to him is because of his complex dark nature. But his dark deeds have little to no effect on the people around him. Dexter is aways the badass we root for and his dark deeds never take much of a toll except for an occasional monologue. It takes four seasons for there to be any sort of loss for Dexter – and in case you are wondering: yes I watched Dexter despite my embargo after Lost, but don’t tell my therapist.

Walter White on the other hand makes a lot of truly bad/awful decisions and these are never sugarcoated. Sure from time to time he kills a “bad guy” but then we have moments where he calmly watches an innocent character die without helping. Walter White has now become a true villain and it makes sense – up until this point there always was an antagonist to oppose him but he has become the master mobster, the most ruthless and corrupt of them all.

And the question is not if he will be the biggest badass but if there is a shred of humanity left in him.

The Breaking-Bad-suspense-test

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This is a test I came up with while watching The Bourne Legacy. There were several “suspenseful” moments during that movie but I never was on the edge of my seat.

Why?
Because I knew that there was only one way the movie could continue. The other option – the one we should be worrying about – would end the movie right away. Of course Jeremy Renner will get through the pass control! Otherwise he’d get arrested and the movie would be over.

With Breaking Bad both options are possible!
And rarely do the writers tease without paying off.

The climax of Season 3 was a character shooting taking a gun to another character and the final cut to black was accompanied by a bullet sound.

Did he really just shoot that guy?

Most TV shows (True Blood) would leave us wondering if the character really would go so far only to reveal in the next episode that the shot had missed or something else (magic, the island, Jacob). It is a cheap device by many TV shows to get viewers hooked. But instead Breaking Bad never chickened out and went through with the decision they teased. Instead this very decision became the character’s main motivations for Season 4 and kept haunting him instead of being a mere inconvenience for the overall plot.

This is where Breaking Bad succeeds. Even if a decision means steering away from the initial plot it is a natural and logical progression.

No promises to keep

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Breaking Bad is a continuing story separated in many different acts. Much like the character arcs the series keeps evolving and might steer away from what we initially thought it would be. But unlike Lost this progression is a natural one.

And this is the main reason that makes me more optimistic that Breaking Bad will deliver (I have more fears about delivering an ending for Game of Thrones): The writers don’t have to solve a massive mystery they “planned from day one” – Or anything similar. Creator Vince Gilligan even admitted that he didn’t know all the details of the ending last year (premiere of the first half of Season 5).

But that is ok! The story of Walter White is not mapped out but made by the decisions down the road.
On top of that if they really screw up the ending we can just watch the end of Season 4 and pretend that it was the series finale (Season 4 really had one of the best finales of the show).

Will the “polarizing ending” be another pink bear?

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Detailed spoilers for Season 2!

Thorough the entire second Season we saw strange images of a burnt teddy bear or Walter’s glasses getting put into a plastic bag.

Were the feds on Walter’s tail?
There were many speculations but few (if any) would have called a planecrash caused by the father of Jesse’s girlfriend who died while Walt was watching her…

Yes, it takes a while to digest especially if you have been expecting a completely different story twist. But it completely fits into the world and visualizes the entire moral of the story: that every single choice has enormous repercussions.

So in a way the colliding planes scene is the polar opposite of Lost – it is not the most basic copout but something one didn’t expect AND it even makes sense within the story AND ON TOP OF THAT it says something about the entire moral of the story – even if it takes a while for us to understand why it lead to this. So if it turns out that the already teased 52nd birthday of Walt isn’t the showdown we imagine – if it is indeed as polarizing as the makers have teased – then I will gladly take another “what the hell was that?” moment similarly to a the two planes over everyone being happy

Seriously, what is going to happen?
Seriously, what is going to happen?

Eight more episodes left to end the journey of Walter White.
Eight more episodes until the perfect score.
Eight more episodes of Breaking Bad!

Breaking Bad returns August 11th for 8 weeks in the U.S.A.
AXN will premiere the series in Germany on August 13th

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Wolfgang Verfasst von:

Der Host des Flipthetruck Podcasts. Mit einem Fokus auf Science Fiction und Roboter sucht er ständig jene Mainstream Filme, die sich nicht als reine Unterhaltungsfilme zufrieden geben.

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