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The Slate

What Made "Breaking Bad" Great?

“I won”, “Say my name”, “I am the one who knocks.”

                     - Walter White (some of his best quotes) 

Walter White has finished his fight - the series finale of AMC’s "Breaking Bad" has premiered. The end was welcomed with record high viewership and overall positive reviews. Even though the fat lady has sung, the show will be remembered and re-watched for years to come. Why?


  • Premiering on January 20, 2008, this chilling crime drama started out as a dark comedy helmed by X-files veteran, Vince Gilligan. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a Mr. Rodgers-esque high school Chemistry teacher is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and is given a few years to live. Fearing he doesn’t have enough money to leave his family, he uses his chemistry knowledge to cook the best meth ever. The series has been praised and nominated for its unique and memorable characters, spine-tingling scenes and heart-stopping acting. 


  • This is one of the first shows to follow a protagonist slowly becoming the antagonist rather than just an anti-hero; a simple yet brilliant twist on the story. The audience is introduced to Walt as a bumbling, sympathetic, cancer-ridden family-man which makes it much easier to forgive him as he sets a car on fire or blows a hole in someone’s head. It could be compared to or even called a modern day “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story. If Walt was this tyrant of a killer to begin with, then audiences would find it much harder to support him.


  • The series follows Walt as he slowly climbs the corporate ladder of the meth business. He starts small, dealing with hostile local dealers. Walt has to get his hands dirty, but he really starts swimming with the sharks when he meets Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), the calm and collected cartel leader that hides in the open as a fried chicken restaurant owner. Fring chooses his words carefully, is strictly disciplined and rarely makes mistakes. Many consider Fring to be one of the greatest modern villains of TV. “[I was] seven years old when I did my first Broadway show” says Esposito, and he hasn’t stopped since. Moving into voice acting, commercials,and finally “Breaking Bad”, Esposito’s harrowing performance earned him an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor in a drama.


  • The show has the amazing ability to go from blood-curlingly dark to childishly hilarious in the blink of an eye. Physical comedy and one liners are everywhere. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), Walt’s cooking partner and former student, cemented “bitch” as a catchphrase that can end any sentence. While Jesse is a deep character, he is still good for a laugh when he inflates his hazmat suit and dances around like a kid in a candy shop. Some scenes were nothing but three guys, high on meth, discussing their “Star Trek” movie spec scripts. Humor is an ingredient that many series skimp out on these days. Sometimes there’s just too much drama. “Breaking Bad” found that perfect balance between the two. Audiences were gripped so tightly in the silent serious moments they felt they were going to snap followed by big laugh from the pizza on the roof.


  • As previously stated, “Breaking Bad” started out as a dark comedy. The opening scene of the series has Walt barreling down a New Mexican desert in a Winnebago. There are two corpses in the back, an unconscious body in the passenger seat and he’s at the wheel wearing nothing but a gas mask and his underwear. From that moment on, the story slowly becomes darker and darker, reflecting Walt’s transformation. This was the greatest draw. Walter White’s metamorphosis into Heisenberg, his meth cooking alias. He became a compulsive liar, a millionaire, a killer and above all: a manipulator. Character growth is essential for any good story and Walt grew. He grew from a man lied to keep the truth from his family to a man who *SPOILERS* poisons a child in order to trick his partner into staying on his side.


  • Despite all this, “Breaking Bad” was not universally recognized as gold when it first came out. Originally the show was compared to “Weeds”, a similar series about a mother who turns to selling marijuana to support her family. Luckily Gilligan never knew about the show, if he did he said he would have given up on his show idea. Since then, “Breaking Bad” has greatly proved itself to be unique. It slowly gained a fan base that spread the show’s story through word-of-mouth which steadily increased the viewership. The numbers skyrocketed when the show became available across multiple platforms, most notably Netflix. The audience was able to binge watch the entire series at their own pace rather than wait for reruns. An experience this author personally endured in only one week. In fact, after it became streamable, the viewership more than doubled on the premiere of the final season. According to Forbes, commercials for the series finale went for “$250,000 for 30 seconds.”

With 62 episodes to tell its story, “Breaking Bad” was able to compose a complex world filled with intricate characters and plotlines. The show became as addicting as Walt’s meth with cliffhanger endings, huge payoffs and zero disappointments. As the final cloud of smoke rolled across the screen and the first of the last 75 minutes began, people could only watch in anticipation. Some theorize that the show raised the narrative bar so much that movies will “[move] back into the realm of stylishness” rather than elaborate storylines. 

Thanks to current media technology, underappreciated great shows like “Breaking Bad” can be shared and enjoyed by everyone. Gilligan himself admitted the season 1 premiere received under a million views. Quite a jump to the 10.3 million for the finale isn’t it, bitch?

Comments (1)

  1. Imad Taylor:
    Nov 07, 2013 at 01:14 PM

    I think this is a great analysis on why Breaking Bad became the sensation that it did. I love how you pointed out has the show blends its " blood-curlingly dark to childishly hilarious in the blink of an eye". Most shows are either way too serious or has too much comedy that takes away from the seriousness, of this show, but Breaking Bad did not let this affect its show. I also like how you stated that Netflix was one of the biggest reason that it got known. I know personally that I didn't know anything about Breaking Bad, until I watched Netflix, and got hooked on it ever since then.


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