Friday, August 16, 2013

Breaking Bad

Posted by: Joely Sue Burkhart
It figures that as soon as I get hooked on a show, I hear that it's ending.  I'm late to Breaking Bad -- I just started watching it Tuesday.  It was the kids' first day back to school and after I ran all over town dropping them off, I had a headache when I got home.  I've been working (Evil Day Job) and writing a ton lately, so I figured it was eye strain.  I took a break from all computer and reading, and decided to go to Netflix.

On Twitter, I'd seen several people threaten to shut down their access to avoid Breaking Bad spoilers.  I was like, huh, it must be pretty intense if people are willing to avoid Twitter!  So I started the first episode.  And haven't looked back yet.

If you're not familiar with the show as I was just a few days ago, you might be surprised that the protagonist is a drug lord.  He cooks meth.  Yeah.  Let that soak in.  A whole TV show spanning several years' worth of episodes about a meth head?  But he's not a meth head (that's his partner, snerk). 

What I find so interesting is they SHOW how a normal, average nice man -- Walt was a Chemistry teacher -- could become a "bad" man.  A criminal.  What choices he makes.  How one choice leads to another dangerous situation.  How easy it could be to rationalize being "bad."  And it all hinges on one key question.  WHY?  Why would he do this?  Why should I care about someone making drugs? 

The show doesn't flinch away from the consequences of drug use.  The meth heads are desperate and crazed by their addiction, one woman willing to drop an ATM on her husband's head because he called her a skank while they were fighting over the last hit.

We buy Walt's motivation because it makes sense.  We understand why Walt would make these choices.  That makes all the difference.

You see, he was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer in the very first episode.  They're already barely making ends meet.  His wife doesn't work, he's a teacher and not some fancy chemist working for a pharmaceutical company.  He's got a handicapped teenaged son and a baby on the way.  Now his life is about to end and he's going to leave his family with nothing.

No savings.  Huge medical bills.  No nice life insurance policy.  Nothing.

He doesn't know what he's going to do, until he sees his brother-in-law -- who just happens to be a DEA agent -- on TV with a huge stack of cash on the table from a drug bust.  That gives him the idea.  He's a chemist.  He could certainly learn how to make meth.

Even more importantly, he makes mistakes.  Huge mistakes that could get him killed.  He doesn't think like a criminal at first, and that totally makes sense.  We're slowly lured into the underworld just like he his, and more importantly, we're rooting for him.  We're hoping he can beat cancer.  We're hoping he doesn't lose his family if they find out the truth.  We're as desperate as he is.

I'm not ready to "break bad" and turn into a drug lord, but I *am* pushing the envelope with some of my characters.  I've always been interested in antiheroes.  Assassins.  (I've written two so far.)  Then there's this other story cooking in the back of my brain.  A dangerous story, about a killer.  I just have to figure out the most important question.  Why?  Why is he the way he is?  Can I make it serious and real enough that you'll care whether or not he lives or dies?  No matter how many "wrong" things he's done?

Breaking Bad is definitely giving me ideas!

Do you watch the show?  What do you find interesting about it?


  1. We've been Netflixing Breaking Bad from the first season and really enjoy it. Fascinating how Walter's character changes over time. We also live an hour north of Albuquerque, where it takes place and is largely filmed, and the show says interesting things about the culture here, too. This is a great article on the topic

  2. How cool, Jeffe! I love the bits of culture they've woven into the story. Definitely, the way Walt changes over time is incredibly interesting.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...