So many times when I've talked about Breaking Bad around friends who don't watch the show, they've given me some kind of look or comment. The message I've gotten from them, both real and perceived? "You watch a show about crystal meth? And a guy who makes it?" Oh, how judgment burns sometimes.
For a while I felt a little guilty that I loved the show as much as I did--I mean, it was, after all, a show about crystal meth and a guy who makes it. Every week I was watching someone cook it, deal it, smoke it, snort it, lie about it, and/or kill because of it.
Frankly, isn't this the kind of show I should be boycotting? I'm on staff at a church. And I'm a teacher. How many times have I talked to my kids about avoiding drug culture at all costs? How many times have I lamented that movies and television glorify issues like drug use, senseless violence, gang culture, and the abuse of sexuality? How can I sit here with a clean conscience and love a show that does all that?
Here's the thing, though:
Breaking Bad doesn't glorify any of that.
I have a friend named Denny--he's the one who pushed me to watch the show in the first place, and then pushed me again when I almost stopped watching late in Season 2--who explained to me late one night at his place why this show is so great. It's also explains how Breaking Bad is a show about meth and a guy who makes it but doesn't glorify it. As soon as he said it, I knew it was true:
Bad behavior in the show produces real, gritty, heart-wrenching consequences.
Not like in every superhero movie where Ironman or another tights-clad protagonist grapples with some combination of demi-god, monster, or experiment-gone-wrong jumbo villain and brings buildings crumbling down around them and blowing up just about everything in sight. After said villain is vanquished, our hero is triumphant and the world goes back to normal. Oh, except half of New York City is in ruins. What about that? What about the ensuing economic crash? What about the slow, painstaking rebuilding process?
Oh, we could go down the list of TV shows, even the gritty ones, where little consequence takes place. On the other hand, you know what I love about the show Arrested Development? That a seal bites off Buster's hand in Season 2--and the show commits to it. I fully expected them to have his hand magically sewn back on, but it never happened. And that hand, or lack thereof, has become an incredibly hilarious part of the show.
Really, consequences are what make Breaking Bad so terrible and so amazing to watch at the same time .
As Walter White and Jesse Pinkman delve deeper and deeper into the meth business, as they make more and more money, they end up paying dear costs. They lose their families, their friends, their morals, and really, themselves. As we watch Walt lose more and more of the trust of his family, more and more of his humanity, we cringe. We drop our jaws in disbelief. We yell, "What are you doing??" We shake our heads in disgust. As we watch Jesse, we do much of the same we do with Walt, but then we also start to feel pity, then sympathy, then heartbreak.
At the end of the day, anyone who thinks that watching Breaking Bad is glorifying meth and drug culture hasn't watched the show. It does exactly the opposite. Breaking Bad is much closer to Intervention than it is to Half Baked in its portrayal of drugs.
More than it excuses drugs, it shows us, in a way no show has ever done before, just how dangerous, how tragic, how devastating drugs can be. And that danger is only elevated because Walter White isn't some at-risk youth who grew up in the ghetto with no real parents, probably destined to life on the street. He's a middle-aged, educated, white, boring chemistry teacher. A husband. A father. A man who found himself in a desperate situation, having to provide for his family with a terminal cancer diagnosis staring him in the face. And in his case, doing the wrong thing with good intentions led him down a slippery slope to destruction.
(Little aside: more Christian artists, producers, and publishers should take notes. You don't have to have a sterile, safe story with a heavy-handed moral message to express a worthy theme.)
We get the message loud and clear. We squirmed and screamed and sighed with each subsequent lie, each murder, each twist. We wanted it to stop, but we wanted it to keep going.
Please, no more. But then please, more. So, yeah--you know how I feel about this up-and-down, stomach-twisting, roller coaster ride that had me hooked on it like blue sky?
Best. Show. Ever.