I’ve never been much of a TV person.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good show when I see one. There are definitely shows that I love and enjoy watching—The Office, Daredevil, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine come to mind immediately. However, I always found TV shows to be pretty big commitments, and the stories often feel unnecessarily drawn out. I find it much easier to sit down and watch a 2 hour and 30 minute movie and take in a full story, than to watch merely 4 episodes of a show in that time and get a small portion of a grander story.
However, over my time on the Internet and as a massive fan of visual media, one show has always been held at such a high regard by almost everyone I come across online. People said there wasn’t a single bad episode, not a single dull moment, and many called it the greatest TV show of all time. Enter Breaking Bad. I’ll admit, it took me a while to finally start watching the show. I was busy with school, movies I was watching, and with other life in general. I knew that one day I would watch the whole show, because with all the things that people were saying about it, there was no way I couldn’t.
Once it was announced late last year that a Breaking Bad movie was being made, I finally felt like I had a reason to watch it, but still held back due to other commitments. With no release date attached to the movie, I was in no rush to watch it, so I was able to focus on the things I already had on my plate. Then in late August of this year, Netflix released a video announcing that the release date of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie was October 11—less than two months away from that time. As you can imagine, I dropped practically everything, hopped on to Netflix, and immediately started watching Breaking Bad.
Less than a month later, I sat on my bed watching the final shot of the series finale cut to black, knowing that I would never be able to watch that show for the first time again. And to be completely honest, it was rather heartbreaking.
Now I’m still not much of a TV person, but this is a show unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt so invested in a group of characters and a series of events before, and I bet that many others would agree. So, in honor of the release of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, I wanted to look at three reasons why Breaking Bad is the greatest and most important show of all time.
1. Creativity At Its Fullest Potential
Just take a look at that beautiful shot up above. I mean, how do you even preface something like that? If you’ve seen the show, I don’t think I need to spell out what it does that makes it unique from any other show out there. But I’m going to do it anyway.
To start, the cinematography. My god, the cinematography. As I watched this show for the first time, I was in awe of every single shot in this show. It is almost entirely handheld, which not only reflects the instability and unpredictable nature of the show and the characters, but it makes you feel like you are in the show—like you are a character. It draws you in and makes you interested in how each scene is going to play out. There are also shots that I never even knew existed, or were even possible for that matter. Extreme lows, creative camera placements, insane focus control, and so much more. This is a crew that took what they had and utilized it to the fullest, creating an experience that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
On top of the creative cinematography Breaking Bad has to offer, the editing we find in this show is just as pitch perfect. It feels painfully slow when it needs to, and takes off like a rocket ship when it needs to feel quick. The editing is used to reflect the feelings of the characters, and it furthers the story in so many ways, even when the writing is on point.
One of the best ways I love to describe editing is hiding in plain sight. When the story wants to keep something from you, it gives you just enough to keep you interested and then holds back the rest until you’re ready for it. That is something this show does brilliantly. The way that Breaking Bad utilizes teasers at the beginnings of episodes and cliffhangers at the ends of episodes is so effective and keeps us, the audience, so drawn in to whatever is happening, and always leaves us wanting more.
In an age where creativity seems to be going down the drain, this cast and crew went above and beyond and made something unique. They could’ve very easily used basic and boring cinematography and editing, like many shows out there do. But they didn’t. They didn’t strive for normalcy or the familiar. Rather, they wanted to tell a story in a way that had never been done before. And in the process, helped make some of the most memorable moments in television history.
2. Spectacle Tied to Realism
When people think of Breaking Bad, most people immediately think of the big moments, and rightfully so. The big showdowns throughout the show are so memorable, that they easily stand out when compared to, say, a simple scene of the White family eating breakfast. For example, one would be much more inclined to watch the episode “Face Off”, a huge, inevitable showdown between Walt and Gus, than to watch the episode “Fly”, a dialogue-driven episode of Walt and Jesse trying to kill a fly. But what people can easily forget is that without those down to earth moments and episodes, the big moments of the show lose their weight. There’s no spectacle.
The little moments throughout Breaking Bad do so much. They further story in numerous different ways, primarily in raising the stakes for certain characters. They also help develop the characters as they change throughout the show, as well as giving them depth that allows the audience to see each character for who they really are. It helps the viewer to be drawn into the story and the players involved, and to be able to connect with these characters on a deeper level that the bigger moments never could.
Obviously, I have nothing against these huge moments. In fact, I absolutely love them. They often carry the story forward in unexpected ways and keep the viewer guessing as the events unfold before their eyes. But with this show, it’s not so much about the destination, it’s the journey that makes it what it is. This is something that Vince Gilligan balances brilliantly—he is able to bring to life these astounding, mind-blowing events that leave viewers with their jaws on the floor. And yet, at the same time, he creates these still, quiet moments that carry so much emotion that it can often become more investing than when the guns are blazing.
These are the steps on the journey that aren’t meant to carry the satisfaction that reaching the destination does, but they are steps that propel you closer and closer to that destination. Steps that, without them, wouldn’t get you to the destination.
3. What We Can Take Away
When I started watching this show, I had no idea what it would turn into for me.
When I started watching it, I saw a story that was told in a different way, and I enjoyed it. In the end, I took away so many writing and filmmaking lessons, and I think, because of it, it will help me be a better filmmaker and storyteller.
The way Vince Gilligan crafted his characters and built this story is an absolute masterclass in storytelling. There is not a single character that feels pointless or a single plot point that does not fit. And, of course, writers and filmmakers should learn something from this series. However, they should use different techniques and styles to help develop their own style, and not directly copy the success of others. Find what works for you and do it.
In multiple interviews, Vince Gilligan has stated that his studio pitch for this series was: “This is a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.” And having seen the whole show, I could not agree more. Now, I’m pretty sure that anyone who watches this show would advise against going down the same path Walter White does. In the end, he’s not exactly a likable guy. In fact, I would venture to say he is a bad guy. The things he does, especially in the final season, are truly horrible.
So what do we take away?
Throughout the series, Walter White feels justified in what he does. He is doing this for his family once he dies of lung cancer. His family is struggling, and this gives him a chance to leave them some money to make ends meet in the future. Or at least that’s what he tells himself.
A couple times throughout the show, Walt is given golden opportunities to leave the drug trade for good. On one occasion he’s cured of his cancer, and on another occasion, he kills his leader Gus. He has no reason to cook the meth anymore. But he couldn’t help himself. He liked it, and that desire leads to some pretty dark places. Breaking Bad depicts human desire in such a unique way, maybe even better than anything else I’ve ever seen. More importantly, though, I think we learn a brutally honest lesson that does not get talked about enough. It’s a lesson we don’t like to hear, but it’s one that we probably need to.
Through Walt’s actions, we see why we can’t let our desires control who we are. We have to recognize what is more important in life, and sometimes that means putting aside your own needs for the benefit of others. Life is not always about what we want, what we like, or what we think is best. As we see in the back half of the final season, Walt definitely reaps the consequences of his actions in ways he hates to see, and as the audience, we hate to see it too.
As I said earlier, we can see multiple points in the show where Walt had an opportunity to leave the drug trade and live the rest of his life with his family. And as we keep watching, we want that life for Walt. We want him to stop the terrible things he is doing and live happily with his family, and imagine the things that could have been prevented if he did. If Walt had actually stopped cooking at any of the points that he could have, characters who died would still be alive, lives wouldn’t be destroyed, and we wouldn’t be getting a movie.
Alright, so I guess there are benefits to his actions.
Closing Regards: The Real Danger
I often think back to how I felt as the credits ran after the finale episode. The utter shock I was in from having experienced such an incredible work of art, and the utter disappointment knowing that I would never get to experience it for the first time again. But now, I will get to sit in a movie theater and experience the next chapter of this incredible story from where it leaves off in “Felina”. I am giddy thinking about the fact that I get to experience a new part of the Breaking Bad story for the first time. And not just a prequel story, like Better Call Saul, but a continuation.
I know that Walt famously says that he is the danger, but I think I might have to disagree with him there. The real danger is the knowledge that there are people out there who have never seen anything from this show before.
But at least they still get to experience it for the first time.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix