Malcolm in the Middle’s dad is a crystal meth cook. To be more accurate, the actor Bryan Cranston dons this new career path as Breaking Bad’s Walter White. To watch this Jekyll and Hyde-like character is a master class in acting, and full credit is due to the Emmy Award winner (3 consecutive years nonetheless).
Walt is a fifty year old chemistry teacher (and part-time cashier), a remarkably intelligent man whose life could have been very different, a man trying to support his pregnant wife and disabled son (played by RJ Mitte, who suffers from cerebral palsy in real life), a man who discovers he has lung cancer…
And it is here that the real brunt of the narrative begins – knowing you are going to die, how do you carry on? How do you look after your family when you’re dependent on a low income salary, teaching chemistry to indifferent teenagers, and washing the wealth’s cars?
I cannot remember a show’s pilot gripping me in such a way as this. The very opening will leave you impressed and bemused (and wondering where the hell this show is going exactly). The middle is a wonderful introduction to the show’s core themes and characters. And a clever twist ending will leave you grinning, not to mention reverberating Walter White’s emotional state. Breaking Bad is – and has always been – about Walter.
So what is a man with terminal illness to do? This is when the writer’s (the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, in this case) introduce a wonderful plot device, one that will certainly factor into the end of the show. Walter’s brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (played by the intimidating Dean Norris), is a Drug Enforcement Agent – an intelligent and psychologically troubled character – and his specialty just happens to be in the incarceration of makers and shakers of a certain synthetic drug. It is Hank who unintentionally sows the seeds in Walt’s mind, mentioning offhandedly that the selling of crystal meth brings in a lot of the almighty dollar.
And so begins the main premise of the show, which takes Walt (and unwittingly those around him) through a world of life threatening situations and liaisons. There are deaths, there are shocks (one particularly disgusting moment rings true in episode 3), tears are wept, breath is bated, and moments of dialogue will make you smile or even laugh.
Breaking Bad works because it combines great writing with a great cast and crew. It has an addictive quality, much like its subject matter, and while this can be a cheap ploy (think Lost), the show manages to maintain a strong identity that is never forced – you just want to know what happens to Walt and the dangerous game he’s playing.
I would like to mention a character that has so far been left out of this article – Jesse Pinkman (the relatively unknown – up until now, at least – Aaron Paul). Jesse is Walter’s partner in crime: the window for the reserved chemistry teacher to enter into the bloody world of meth making.
I didn’t like Jesse initially, seeing him as a hindrance to Walt’s character, and some sort of wannabe gangster. But Jesse grows on you as much as feelings towards Walt become skewed as the show unfolds. It turns out Jesse sacrifices a lot – and I mean a lot – almost becoming a new man by the last episode of series 5’s mid-season finale. The chemistry (pun subconsciously intended) between Walt and Jesse works wonders – to quote Walt mid-dialogue, “Smoking marijuana, eating Cheese Doodles, and masturbating do not constitute ‘plans’ in my book!”.
There is a lot to say about Breaking Bad, and doing so would be leading you into the unpleasant (and woefully pointless) world of spoiler territory. What I can say is that the show manages to progressively better itself, culminating in finales (and openers) that will leave you tense, if not speechless for short periods.
The only criticism I hold is aimed at the mid season episodes, due only to the fact they don’t quite match the pace of their respective beginnings and endings. Nevertheless, they do highlight the characters’ relationships as well as plot points, and slowly shine a light on the cracks that appear in the shattered mosaic of Walter White’s psyche (one perfect example is an unnamed scene, of which the emotional anguish on Walt’s face is oh so clear – as he grips with his own identity and that of his newly created alter ego).
So… check it out now – buy the boxset, go on Netflix, watch a re-run. You’ll have to wait until next year to see how the story ends for Walt. But in the meantime, remember this: you will never view Malcolm in the Middle’s dad in the same way again.
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