Critically Assessing Breaking Bad v. the Cult-like Mentality

Breaking Bad is a brilliant show. Breaking Bad is even likely to be among the most celebrated TV shows of all time. But here’s what Breaking Bad is not: it’s not yet the best of all time. In fact, it is likely way too early to debate that rationally, as we are still within the aura of its final season. In fact, there is no way to debate “best of all time” PERIOD. It is a label assigned by people who treat opinions as fact. And guess what, fact and opinions as much as we like to think otherwise are two very different things.

You see, I find any sort of cult-like enthusiasm both deeply annoying & completely off-putting for the type of emotional thinking and blind-folded group-think that it connotes. I think many people would say Sopranos is still a better show than Breaking Bad, myself included. And that’s nearly ten years removed from its penultimate finale with a lot of time to contextualize and think back. I think people are too quick to get caught up in the herd versus critically analyzing what they’re saying or thinking. People want to belong to a movement so badly, to fit in with what is popular, that they loose all sight of critical analysis. So people just blow up your Twitter feed with “OMG best show EVER. PERIOD. No debate.”

And so the ultimate reason I am so critical of Breaking Bad is not because it is a highly flawed program, it is not even in the slightest way highly flawed. The reason I am so critical is because when people are attaching “best ever” labels and fanatically crying its name, it must live up to that expectation. And for me it doesn’t.

And before you click “X” in a fan-boy rage, at least hear me out *FINALE SPOILERS*….

For me, I could not get into the characters of Breaking Bad. To this day, I do not like Walter White, I do not emphasize with him the way I feel I should have. Additionally, despite being a huge fan of Gilligan since the Xfiles, I feel like the writing throughout this show tended to underline things too much, as opposed to letting the viewers interpret things for themselves. The most recent example I can think of is the foreshadowing of Lydia’s fate. Could you honestly spend any more time with that Stevia insert? Come on! The thing is, this narrative technique is littered throughout this series (think the pink teddy bear and every time Walter goes to the Black Board to parallel his thug life with school life). Now maybe for some less sophisticated viewers, it makes literary techniques more easy to grasp, but for those with more comfort in literary interpretation, it comes off sort of weak effort-wise. I think you can even make the argument that Breaking Bad also tends to at time rely on fast-forward narrative and “Deus ex machina“, making the show at times feel contrived. And this creates some issues with believability gaps throughout the series (especially in the finale as the New Yorker points out very well in its ‘Felina’ recap here). But even Spielberg employs fast forward narrative and “Deus-ex-machina” moments. I mean, who didn’t love the ending of Saving Private Ryan, or the epic velociraptors ending of Jurassic Park?! …You get my point, it’s a cheap no-no technique (that most screenwriters would never get away with) but it friggin’ works.

Now that I’ve done some critiquing, Breaking Bad is also highly addictive, good TV. The fact that those are the only things I can think of to critique the show is telling to just how good of a show it still is. Those critiques are really very minor and do very little to reduce the overall effect of the show being extraordinarily good. The cinematography is among the best if not the best on TV. In fact, I would say it is the best, but hey that’s still just my opinion. And Bryan Cranston does an outstanding job as Walter White. The fact that I don’t even like his character, yet still watched the show, is telling to his ability as a brilliant actor. And the series really moved like an action movie. It was literally like sitting down to watch a gripping thriller every time you watched it (even if the writing was at times a bit too obvious or the plot too unbelievable at times).

Now here’s the thing, that’s all my opinion. You see, when we sit down to watch television, movies or listen to music, it is our opinion. You cannot debate opinion, it’s like talking politics, you will never get that person to change their mind. So why then do fan-boys and cult-like enthusiasm continue to dominate the Breaking Bad debate? Probably because it is recent cultural phenomenon and the cult of Breaking Bad is a helluva large one. People are judging Breaking Bad through the lens of its final season which was 10 times above any season before it. Naturally this is the case, because it is structured in the vein of a Shakespearean tragedy! And again, if people spent any time being critical about something, instead of blindly accepting it as dogma, they would know the final act is always earth shattering. I think if most people judged the series in its entirety, they would realize there were at times quality gaps, particularly in the slow-moving second season. And so when judged as a whole, apart from being trapped under the awe of the monumental Shakespearean “Fourth Act” (AKA the Final Season) we can say “hey Breaking Bad was really damn good, but I don’t know about best of all time. Maybe Sopranos was more consistent and better overall. But hey, that’s just my opinion.”

So how about everyone just calm the hell down and put down the blue meth for a second. Breaking Bad is great. Breaking Bad is brilliant. But the best of all time arguments need to be at the very least held off until all this can sink in for a little while. And even after it has, that’s still your opinion. And so are all “best of” lists and silly statements like that. They’re opinion, not fact. And oh by the way, in my opinion Mad Men is better 🙂

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” – Friedrich Nietzsche