Breaking Bad: Why I Stopped Watching
Published: Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014 13:02
I started watching Breaking Bad for the same reason many people start watching Breaking Bad: I heard about how awesome it was from my friends and then binge-watched it on Netflix. I continued to binge-watch it as a means of procrastination, and even watched it before I went out on Friday nights. Like many others, I was hooked. I watched until I got to the fifth season finale, and then stopped. At this point, I had gotten sick of the show. Here is why:
Breaking Bad, for those who are not acquainted with it, relies on a very simple premise—a high school chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with lung cancer, and because he cannot pay for treatment on a teacher’s salary, he starts cooking meth and paying for treatment with his drug money. In even simpler terms, a man confronts a difficult, life-threatening situation, which he sees no solution to, something occurs that is entirely unexpected, and the man gets past the aforementioned situation. This formula repeats itself within the show. In fact, the first scene of the first episode of the first season sets us up for this formula. Walt, the main character, drives an RV wearing only his tighty whities and a gas mask, with a knocked out partner in the passenger’s seat also wearing a gas mask and two dead bodies and a meth lab in the back. He crashes the RV in the middle of the New Mexico desert and police sirens wail. He exits the vehicle and leaves a message for his family, believing that these will be the last words he has with them before going to jail. There seems to be no way out.
Because the show continues for six seasons and is not set in a prison, we immediately know that there is a way out, so we keep watching. We are held in a state of suspense for the rest of the episode, watching as he does in fact get out of it and it’s exciting. This formula does not change. Most other shows follow similar formulas for suspense, but like in the show with Walt’s blue meth recipe, Breaking Bad’s formula is better than all the rest. Like Walt, the showrunners do not stray from this formula. The major plot arcs of the later seasons follow the same simplistic trajectory of the first episode. Some impossible conflict presents itself (usually some big bad drug kingpin), something entirely unexpected happens, and our protagonists are saved. As the seasons go on, they simply amplify the stakes. More meth is produced, the bad guys get smarter, and the reward after the conflict is resolved gets larger. As these stakes get larger, the “suspense high” gets better.
But, the suspense high wore off for me, and I realized the show really is not that good. It is exciting. I will not deny that, but it is not quality television. The characters are unlikable, except for maybe Jesse, the witty meth-dealing former student of Walt’s. Yet, in the later seasons, even he becomes unlikable as the show has a tendency to develop characters by making them “darker and grittier,” or in other words, less sympathetic human beings. Furthermore, the novelty of the villains in the show wears off. The owner of a fast-food chain who moonlights as drug kingpin, the twin cartel assassins, and the grandpa hitman all reveal themselves to be one-dimensional and flat. Lastly, I rarely felt any emotional attachment to any of the show’s characters, good or bad. I did not care if they lived or died. Compare this lack of emotional attachment to the effect character deaths have in other shows of a similar genre such as The Wire, The Sopranos, or even Sons of Anarchy. Tony Soprano, for example, kills without remorse, but the show renders him with enough humanity that I care whether he lives or dies. Largely, Breaking Bad fails to do this. Hank, Walt’s brother in-law and DEA agent who is traumatized after a cartel hit, or maybe Jesse, are the only characters who seem to show glimmers of humanity, but this humanity is often sacrificed to make these individuals appear “gritty.”
As mentioned earlier, the show’s plot fails to achieve any degree of complexity, following a simplistic, but successful formula for holding its viewers in a seemingly constant state of suspense. It makes them want to stay on Netflix, putting off that paper assignment to watch one more episode to figure out how they get out of this time. The show is exciting and gripping, but it rarely dares to go deeper than that.
Admittedly, I’ll probably end up finishing Breaking Bad for some closure about what happens to Hank’s mineral collection, and maybe this sixth season will change my opinion about the show in general. But I doubt it.