For days after the final episode of Breaking Bad aired, I wondered if Sunday night would ever be the same again. In America, we have a precedent for this kind of withdrawal. Those who remember Bonanza, The Wonderful World of Color, and The Ed Sullivan Show – Sunday evening standards of my youth – know what I’m talking about.
Habits formed before the age of ten can be hard to break. Even now, a little tingle of anticipation sets in about 8 o’clock, as the weekend rolls to a close. Believe me, if your life had changed the night of the Beatles’ debut on national TV, you’d feel it, too. How could Sunday night be anything but magical when the Fab Four just livened up your living room? No TV experience ever approached the same high. I hear that’s what addicts do – always trying to duplicate that first high, unsuccessful unless they graduate to something stronger.
Maybe that’s what I was looking for in Breaking Bad.
After the series finale (sorry…no spoilers here, in consideration of friends who can still resist the allure), some ten million of us who didn’t get enough of the stuff hung on producer Vince Gilligan’s every word during Talking Bad. We yearned to know how scenes and characters were conceived and marveled at how well the actors cleaned up for their interviews (Jesse Pinkman isn’t half bad as Aaron Paul). Our hearts went out to Skylar and her children (we knew the protagonist’s wife deserved the Emmy she won for outstanding lead actress and for putting up with Walter). And the final vindication — Bad took home the Emmy for best drama.
Now, having faced one Sunday night without a Bad fix, comes the simple truth: I was addicted to Breaking Bad, just as sure as Walter’s customers craved his product. But no more. Away goes the series, the story line, filed away to reference when someone brings it up, available through NetFlix in a weak moment. For the moment, I am liberated from dark images that invaded the wee hours of Monday morning and no longer care if crystal methamphetamine actually comes in blue.
I only realized my addiction as the series was winding to its conclusion. While visiting my 84-year-old mother last month, it suddenly occurred to me on Sunday night that Mom had gone to bed and Breaking Bad was about to broadcast. Quietly, like a kid looking to sneak an extra piece of chocolate cake, I switched channels, lowered the volume and sat as close to the TV as I dared (no DVR, so listen close the first time, I reminded myself). Daughter’s instinct told me it wouldn’t do for loud signs (like gunshots or explosions) to carry down the hallway and wake Mom. I’d miss way too much of the story trying to bring her up to speed.
Besides, how could I possibly explain to Mom my innocent obsession with a program that showcased a high profile drug operation which involved common everyday folks like a science teacher and his bookkeeper-turned-carwash-owner wife, and just happened to be set in Albuquerque – the city where, traveling alone, I had slept a few nights before on my journey to see her and would be returning to in just a few days?
At the hotel, I no sooner stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button than an image flashed before my mind’s eye of Walter White waiting on the fifth floor, head lowered with that determined stare of his, looking for all the world like he was off to retrieve millions of dollars in barrels buried beneath the sand at To’hajiilee, just a few miles down the road. That’s how television messes with your mind. Fiction or not, I deadbolted the door and didn’t leave my room until dawn (who’s to say he wasn’t the role model for an evil spawn stalking middle-aged women at Albuquerque hotels?).
Even those with no interest in the series have some idea why it became so wildly successful. Gilligan’s innovative treatment of lighting, scenery, dialogue, and the intensity he brought to TV drama hooked some of us from the first episode. Viewership was low the first season, , but patience paid off, and when the series became available on NetFlix, millions of people had a chance to catch up before the premiere of season four. That's when things really got down and dirty.
In the opening credits of every episode, Gilligan’s clever use of the periodic table carried me back to Mrs. McKelvey’s eleventh grade chemistry class at Plantation High. Though I could never imagine that stern little lady following the footpath of someone like Walter, that may be the very reason why I found the story so intriguing. Teachers aren’t supposed to behave like Walter did. In his case, egotism defied the obvious…something was bound to go wrong, even if it happened after he was out of the picture. To my great relief, Walter’s final soliloquy with Skylar explained why he set out to “break bad” in the first place (other than that crazy excuse about needing money to pay doctor bills).
A lot of us invested five TV seasons of our lives tracking Walter's nosedive from being Mr. White, the chemistry teacher, to the notorious Heisenberg, wanted by the DEA. We can now assure ourselves it would not pay to follow his lead (tiny spoiler here). Thank you, Vince, for tying up that loose end (unlike The Sopranos finale, which still has people pondering Tony's fate). Would-be methamphetamine mega-moguls needed a reminder that paybacks are hell.
I, for one, am glad the series has ended. Regardless of plans for a prequel spinoff, Better Call Saul – the wimpy lawyer everyone wants to slap silly – it's time to let it go. Intriguing as it was, Bad has dumped its share of darkness on the world. Walt and his shenanigans have exhausted their claim on this mind, those weekly runs through rocky, uncharted desert back roads that prompted more speculation over morning coffee than the nagging question of “Who shot JR?” during Dallas’ heyday in 1980.
Could be this country needed a distraction from political strife, war, social issues, natural disasters, and global warming. But today, with the ides of October approaching and a national debt crisis at hand, with the U.S. government shut down and workers furloughed, with national parks closed, with brave, aging soldiers who stood on Iwo Jima forced to break down barriers at a national monument erected in their honor and recently widowed wives of current war soldiers denied due compensation, I’d say we have enough drama to keep us busy, Sunday night and every other night of the week.
So, adios, Breaking Bad. It was a good run, and we won’t forget you.