“Blood, Meth, and Tears” – Paying Tribute to Breaking Bad

     DISCLAIMER! This review of the full Breaking Bad series contains major spoilers for the show.


The streets of New Mexico are finally safe. Gone is the Great Heisenberg and his methamphetamine empire, which produced perhaps the purest and most potent drug ever to circulate, measuring at 99.1% purity. But the harrowing reality is that even after Walter White is dead, his legacy lives on.


Enthralling us one last time in the tale of the most epic mid-life crisis ever, Breaking Bad, perhaps the most significant show in television history, concluded when ‘Felina’ aired on the 29th September, 2013. The finale connected every missing piece, leaving few stones unturned. The fate of Jesse and Walt were revealed, and in one of the more feel-good scenes of the episode, we were made aware that Walt’s infamous ricin, a recurring feature in the final season, was to be used on Lydia. Moreover, the part that Grey Matters technology was to play in the ending was revealed, in an extremely satisfying scene where Walt took control of Elliot and Gretchen, two of his old friends who had publicly disregarded him as a key founder of their company all those years ago.


And what’s impressive is that the episode achieved this while staying true to the vision of Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator. This is a significant achievement given that unfortunately, many creators gradually lose control of the progression of their show, resulting in crowd pleasing twists and turns that render the plot unrealistic and mundane.


But then, that’s what made Breaking Bad such an amazing show. It never told a lie. Since day one, where a boring, civil Walter White found himself diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he lived under a death sentence. There was no question in my mind that Walter White would die, though the circumstance by which he did was impossible to guess. This is atypical of American cinema, where film and TV often rely far too much on death as a point of impact. Instead, Breaking Bad realizes the inevitabilities of its story, and focuses on exploring the driving forces of human behavior for impact. As the plot progresses, the audience is rarely ever coerced or manipulated into empathizing with Walter White. Naturally, we sympathize with him when he is initially diagnosed with cancer. But gradually, over the course of 5 seasons and 62 episodes, his character is mercilessly stripped of all honesty or decency, resulting in, quite possibly, the most interesting anti-hero in television history.

And it’s this constant deterioration that made the show so dark and tragic. It was the change, the transformation of all characters involved. Walter White’s chemistry rant in the pilot episode actually came to manifest what the show would be all about, when he told an indifferent and uninspired chemistry class that “Chemistry is, well technically, chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change… it’s fascinating, really.”


Think about the flashback in ‘Felina’, a gem of a scene, where Jesse is seen carefully and masterfully crafting the wooden box that he spoke so affectionately about while in therapy. The scene has magnificence about it, with soft, golden lighting conveying the unbridled joy Jesse felt when, for once, committing himself, something that his character had continuously failed to do. Then the camera cuts to the present, with Jesse captive in a box, chained and forced to cook meth, courtesy of Uncle Jack and his Neo-Nazi crew. The contrast between the two scenes is striking, and it’s difficult to image the people in them being the same character.


Character studies and screenplay courses are going to be focused around Breaking Bad for years to come, simply because of the quality of its character development. Again, all credit goes to Vince Gilligan here, as he amazingly managed to stay true to his vision throughout the entire series. His missteps were few and far between, and his overarching vision never wavered.


Perhaps what made the character development so fascinating was the poetry about it, which the show’s writers mastered, and which only added to the tragedy that each characters fall from grace entailed. In a flashback to Walter White and Skylar purchasing their home, an unrecognizably cocksure Walt assured his wife that they were merely buying a starter home, that they had “nowhere to go but up”.  You couldn’t have blamed him for thinking this, he was, after all, a borderline genius that was a co-founder of a company that would go on boast a billion dollar net worth. Yet flashing forward 15-20 years, Walt is living out the working-class fantasy of middle-income salaries and extra jobs, all while living in their ‘starter’ home. This was the reality that Walter White was living in, and perhaps, that’s what made his descent into drug trade so thrilling for him.


This isn’t the only instance of poetry in the show’s plot, in fact, there are too many to name in one article. But most notably, Walter’s fall from a Heisenberg-induced grace was the most thrilling of transformations, as it was crafted like an ancient Greek tragedy, supplemented by a fair share of poetic justice.


Walt’s initial reason for becoming a drug manufacturer was to provide for his family, yet when he reaches his end, his family detests him and the ramifications of his work have extended far beyond what his naiveté would have allowed him to imagine.


Moreover, notice the title of Season 5 episode 14, “Ozymandias”. “Ozymandias” is a poem in which the narrator speaks of his meeting with a man who proclaimed himself “Ozymandias, king of kings”. This draws comparisons with Walt’s infamous “I’m the one who knocks” speech, and to one of the most bad-ass dialogues in the entire series, where an adversary, clearly inferior to our anti-hero, utters the words “You’re Heisenberg”, as if worshipping him. Yet “Ozymandias” goes on to tell of the fall of this ‘king’ and his empire, when it laments that “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay, Of that colossal wreck”. This perfectly parallels Walt’s meth empire, whose true pillar was over-indulgent pride and raging bitterness, which led to a demise of catastrophic fashion. His arrogance got the best of him, as he ended up losing almost all of the money that he ‘earned’, as well as the people he loved.



Yet Walt’s death was not without redemption. In a final hail of bullets, courtesy of his own ingenuity (such a brilliant mind gone to waste), he managed to save Jesse and to dispose of Uncle Jack and his Neo-Nazi bunch, who were the very definition of scum on Earth. But more importantly, he shed himself of ‘Heisenberg’ and his aura of lies, if only for one scene, and revealed to Skylar the true reasons for doing what he did. “I did it for me… I was really good at it. And I was really… I was alive”, he explains, in a heart-wrenching farewell. This was also evident by the final scene, where Walt realizes his death is imminent and spends his final moments

Flame5caressing the equipment in a methamphetamine lab to the tune of Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’ (a reference to his beloved blue meth). Walt finally admits that, while he started out with family in mind, he did it for himself and loved everything about it. He loved the thrill and the chemistry, and he loved that throughout his underachieving life, nothing had brought him as much recognition as his ‘baby blue’. And with that, Vince Gilligan gave us one last look at the true Walter White, desperate and afraid, but no longer willing to be a victim. His actions were atrocious, but his reasoning was based on very real motivations that most can relate to.

I can’t stress enough how important that scene was. It gave the Walter White’s actions a very real human perspective. While we don’t respect his actions, we understand them, a very unlikely prospect amidst the superficiality that Hollywood film so often entails.


“Felina” gave, in my opinion, the closure needed to ensure a realistic but satisfying end to what has been a truly revelatory project. Walt admitted the truth behind his motivation; Jesse survived and, moreover, finally rejected the “Great Heisenberg”, as he once mockingly called him. He also seized his much deserved opportunity to murder Todd in bestial fashion, which, to some extent, avenged the deaths of Andrea as well as the constant torture he had been subjected to in that pit. And, for those that are sentimental like I am, Jesse and Walter concluding their storied history, bidding farewell with a simple, stoic nod, was icing on the cake. Something about that image was so chilling. No words, just acknowledgement that one would meet his fateful end in a somewhat redemptive way, and that the other could finally start a new chapter in his life, free of cold-blooded murder and manipulative drug syndicates.


And with that, an epic tale concluded, of a man fuelled by pride and bitterness, tired of being a victim. Walter White’s actions were rarely humble or serene. In fact, from the middle towards the end of the series, one could never tell whether Walt’s actions truly were unselfish. They were, more often than not, manipulative, cruel and perverted. And what’s worse, he eventually found pride in them. Yet here I sit, several weeks after the finale, as invested as ever, pin-pointing and marveling at the nuances that made Breaking Bad such a spectacular story. The show is gone, and a production of its caliber may never be seen again. Yet I know that I’ll always remember and contemplate it, as a commentary on the morals that we so blindly live by, and as a poetic tale of the actions that we choose to take and their consequences. Breaking Bad was a saga of blood, meth, and tears. Unforgettable.