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Television Collision: The Unlikability of Breaking Bad

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

AMC’s smash hit Breaking Bad is kicking off its fifth season in two weeks. Time to revisit CC2K TV Editor Phoebe Raven’s take on why the show is good, but wholly unlikable.

More than any other basic cable channel in recent years AMC has established itself as a place for quality dramas (FX might be the only channel that can give them a run for their money), its cornerstones being Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I have gone on the record many times with my love for Mad Men – even though I do agree that Matthew Weiner is milking it for more than he might be worth – but I have not yet addressed my thoughts regarding Breaking Bad.

The reason for this is simple: I have only recently caught up with the show. I had watched a couple episodes of the first season, but then had lost track, so before this summer’s Season Four rolled around, I brought myself up to speed. One thing is obvious: Breaking Bad is a high-grade television show. It qualifies as “critically acclaimed” in pretty much any category you can name, from the acting, to the direction, to the cinematography. And yet…

I am still not sure I actually like Breaking Bad. Sure, the storylines are interesting and keep twisting in unpredictable directions, but I have a very hard time connecting emotionally with any of the characters. Their universe and life experiences are so far removed from anything I can relate to and when I actually do have an emotional reaction to the characters, it is mainly one of dislike or even disgust. In some cases, like with Walter, that’s precisely the point. We are watching the journey of a respectable high school chemistry teacher to despicable drug lord. It’s fairly obvious we are not supposed to like Walt, we are meant to be offended and outraged by some of the things he does, even if at the bottom of it all we may understand that he is just trying to provide for his family.

There is some humanity left in Walter White, but it is fading fast as he becomes deeper and deeper involved in the drug trade. His partner Jesse, on the other hand, for a long time was the only character I could muster up some sympathy for, up until the point he started using again and threw wild drug parties at his house. While I understand this was a reaction to him having to look someone in the eye and shoot them point blank, it also turned me off the character a little bit, because it portrays such weakness: instead of voicing how much killing someone is weighing down on him, Jesse reverted all the way back to the escapist junkie he was when we first met him in Season One (in which he was originally supposed to die). There is some hope for Jesse, as Mike, the Drug Boss’ right hand, takes Jesse under his wing and makes him realize he can actually be useful (whether that is by way of a ruse or not), but the fact that Jesse stays loyal to an egotistical douche like Walter, who keeps putting him down, is annoying to me.

Walt’s wife Skyler, meanwhile, has just been dealt the shittiest hand of all characters. She keeps pointing this out herself, but no matter what she does, she always ends up being “the bitch wife”, because she has to fix a lot of the mistakes Walter makes, so her family will remain safe and the IRS won’t come bursting through the door. The character has become a little more likable to me ever since Walter filled her in on his illegal drug activities, but her passive aggressive ways of just leaving for a day without notice or simply shutting Walter out even when he wants to actually talk truthfully piss me off to no end and I can understand why Walter would think it might have just been easier to keep her out of the loop completely.

Everything I have listed above makes me glad it looks like Breaking Bad might get a definite end date, as in the show will have a fifth season and that will be it. There is talk of it moving to another network and continuing, but I hope that doesn’t happen. Not because I am against good television (Lord help me!), which – I can’t stress this highly enough – Breaking Bad most definitely is (see, I can recognize the quality of something without necessarily liking it myself), but because I think the show can benefit from having that final episode looming in the near future. It will give the whole interwoven webs of storylines more urgency. Clearly all of the characters are on a journey to transformation (Walter is on the road to becoming Scarface, basically), but the most satisfying television is always when we get to actually see the results of such transformations.

Furthermore, given how careless Walt has been with some of his illegal activities and the subsequent cover-up, it is highly unbelievable that the DEA will not sooner or later knock on either his or Jesse’s door once again, especially since Walt’s brother-in-law is a DEA Agent (albeit disabled these days). I would hate for Breaking Bad to stretch my suspension of disbelief to the limit and go on for another five years. I’d much rather see it all come to a boiling head and a big, sad, messy ending, because there is no way this story can end well for anybody.

There are a million issues about morality, family, loyalty, strength and weakness one could discuss with Breaking Bad as the basis, it is by all means a nuanced show. But the fact that it has elicited very few emotions in me, because I can’t connect with any of the characters, makes it more of an intellectual viewing appointment to me than one my heart cries out for. How about you?




Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 13 below.

Topics include Against the Wall, Friends with Benefits and Haven.



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