TV: The Blagger’s Guide To… Breaking Bad
We’ve all been there. Sitting in a pub amongst a bunch of well-informed mates, or just perusing Facebook newsfeed of an evening, when the talk turns to a show that’s a either a bit of a cult classic or has just kicked off a new season. Everyone’s going on like it’s the arrival of a previously undiscovered Harry Potter book. These are the shows that the cool kids always harp on about online.
Yet you sit there, panic-stricken, plastering on a wide-eyed smile, hoping nobody will sense your ignorance. You’ve never seen the show they’re waffling on about. The quotes mean nothing to you, the in-jokes sail right over your head, the characters they talk about are complete strangers and they may as well be reciting the Dead Sea Scrolls in ancient Aramaic for all the good it’s doing you.
You could try to watch an episode or two but the show is probably twenty-seven seasons in already, and you don’t have the time to take a decent toilet break during your working week, not to mind spend an entire Saturday watching fifteen episodes of a show as homework just to fit back in again.
Wouldn’t you like a way to get all you need to know about a particular show without having to sacrifice your weekends and your sanity? A place beyond Wikipedia and its clinical breakdown of plots? A place that fills you in on the general need-to-know aspects of a show, some crucial points of information for conversation and a background to all the in-jokes? Your very own tele-visual Cyrano De Bergerac hiding in the bushes while you hold your own amongst all your nerdy, square-eyed friends?
Damn straight you would. That’s why you’ve read this far already. No longer will you suffer the disappointed expressions on your friends’ faces, the incredulous head shaking, the forceful proclamations of ‘YOU haven’t seen it? But you’d LOVE IT!! Seriously! No, WATCH IT!’
Here at Ramp, we pride ourselves on leaving no man behind when it comes to being in the loop. We spend hours on end researching (read: lounging in bed glued to a laptop) all the cool shows, devouring a whole series in a single day as a sacrifice to The Greater Good – i.e. your social standing. We want to save you as much of your valuable time as possible, while still helping you give your friends the impression that you’ve got your finger on the cultural pulse. Thank us in cupcakes, please.
Consider your SPOILER NOTICE served. And so we kick off with…
The Blagger’s Guide to… Breaking Bad
Our focus here is on getting you up to speed on one of the most talked-about shows doing the rounds right this minute: Breaking Bad. It’s one of the most critically-acclaimed shows ever made, up there with the likes of The Sopranos and The Wire for writing quality and top-notch drama. Even to classify it as merely a drama series would be like referring to a Lamborghini as just a run-around to get you from A to B of a Tuesday. There’s so much in the show, we could present a full PhD thesis on it. However, we’ve distilled it down into some essential need-to-know things that we think should help you when caught in a full Breaking Bad themed conversation. For all of the sub-plots, characters and other goings-on, you may have to sit and watch it eventually. Until then, this will get you through.
Walter White is the main man. He’s played by Bryan Cranston, the wacky Dad from Malcolm in the Middle. Don’t let that be any sort of indication of what to expect from this series. The opening sequence is of him looking a bit mental in the New Mexico desert in nothing but a green shirt and a pair of saggy white jocks, looking ever-so-slightly freaked out, and it all goes a bit Pete Tong from there.
He’s a middle-aged, over-qualified chemistry genius, in a humdrum job as a chemistry teacher in a local high school, with a second job at a local car-wash to keep the family ticking over financially. His life gets infinitely more complicated when he discovers he has lung cancer and is most likely going to shuffle off the mortal coil and leave his pregnant wife Skyler and teenage son Walter Jr. to fend for themselves. Through a chance ride-along with his brother-in-law Hank , a DEA agent, to have a peek at a typical drug bust, he spots Jesse Pinkman, an ex-student and now local methamphetamine producer narrowly escaping being caught. After finding out just how much money can be made in a short period of time in this line of ‘work’, he recruits Jesse and, as one does when they have nothing to lose, goes into the drug manufacture and distribution business. Using his expertise, he manages to create a strain of meth so pure that business really begins to take off. However, it also attracts the attention of local dealers, who don’t take too kindly to this rookie muscling in on their territory. From then on the battle rages on for Walt to stay alive long enough to earn money to set his family up in comfort before he dies, either by the gun or by the lung.
THE MAIN PLAYERS
Walter White: Chemistry teacher turned meth-maker. Comes up with the alias of Heisenberg when dealing with the underworld in the early series, seems to become his alter ego as time goes on and he grows more testicular fortitude while dealing with elements of the criminal underworld. Alter ego Heisenberg is a target of the DEA, of which White’s brother-in-law Hank, is a member. Diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, however goes into remission and lives to fight on in his brave new world of meth manufacture and distribution. Sure, why not?
Jesse Pinkman: Walter’s partner in crime, ex-student ne’er-do-well, small-time dealer and meth cook with his own addiction rearing its ugly head from time to time. Their relationship and its rollercoaster of evolution and dissolution become one of the running main themes in the show.
Skyler White: Long-suffering wife and champion of her family’s well-being. She’s a smart cookie, who steps in to help cover up Walt’s secret life once she finds out, and begins to construct an entirely believable story to explain their sudden massively inflated income through some very imaginative book-keeping and storytelling. Gets increasingly more frightened of the man she once thought she knew as mild-mannered and sensitive, now becoming a dark-minded top-level drug dealer.
Hank Schrader: Brother-in-law of Walt, married to Skyler’s sister Marie. Happens to be one of the best DEA agents around, and unwittingly introduces Walt to the criminal underworld he decides to inhabit for the next few years. Bit of an alpha-male, tough-guy, live-for-the-job all-round man’s man. He comes so close to unknowingly busting Walt at times while searching for the elusive ‘Heisenberg’, you’ll blame him for the fact that you’ve regressed to biting your nails as a grown-up again.
Gustavo Fring: There are other ‘baddies’ scattered throughout the show, but none as bone-chillingly evil as Gustavo Fring. He’s the main distributor in the New Mexico area, and hires Walt and Jesse to exclusively produce their almost 100% pure meth solely for him to maintain control of the territory. His character is one of the more terrifying and ruthless villains you’re likely to see in a television series. From Season 2 onwards his presence becomes more imposing and ultimately becomes Walter’s arch-nemesis. It makes for some amazing tension in the final episodes of Season 4.
Saul Goodman: The stereotypical ‘shyster’ lawyer, but darn it if he isn’t done brilliantly. Works for both Walt and Jesse, which leads to some great conflict of interest storylines. He’s the comic relief of the show, if you can call him that. Probably the only one apart from Walter’s son, Walt Jr. to crack a smile (apart from Hank’s crappy joke sessions) in the whole show. Gets all the sleazy lines, the quick-fix phrases, and the badly-matched suits. Welcome break from all the misery and impending death threats.
THE BEST BITS
Now, while Wikipedia will break down every series for you so you get the bones of what’s happening in a more linear fashion, that’s not what you need when you’re sitting around the pub table (or in front of a Facebook homepage) discussing the awesomeness of a TV show. You need to get straight to the best bits so you can hold your own when the time comes for the “Oh my God, remember when…?? That was AMAZING…” part of the conversation. Here’s some for you, at least one from each series so far, hand-picked by us. Handy as a small pot, so we are.
- When Walt turns from timid teacher to some sort of Hogwarts-graduate potions master and constructs a deadly chemical bomb to take out the local dealers who want to cut his fledgling meth career down before it really has a chance to shine. He locks the door of the RV while they die horribly and then drives it like it’s stolen through the Albuquerque desert, wearing nothing but his jocks and a safety mask. We’re certainly not in Malcolm in the Middle territory any more.
- The Mariachi music video at the beginning of episode 7 called ‘Negro Y Azul’ by Los Cuates De Sinaloa. It’s an ode to the mysterious ‘Heisenberg’ who appears to be flying in the face of all those honest hard-working, God-fearing respected Mexican cartels who keep seeing this blue meth coming over the border. It tells us that poor auld Walter had better watch out, he’s treading on some very nasty toes.
- The dark side of Walt rears its ugly head when he arrives at Jesse’s house to find him and his girlfriend Jane both on heroin and out for the count. He sees Jane start to choke on her own vomit while unconscious and decides to do nothing to save her, in order to remove her influence from Jesse’s life and get him back on track and cooking.
- Two hitmen, twin brothers from Mexico, journey up towards Albuquerqe all the way through the series to get to Hank who had been marked out by Gus Fring . These guys turn out to be like Mexican cartel home-grown Terminators. Nothing will stop them. The tension all the way through the series waiting for them to arrive at their target is unbearable, and the final shootout scene between Hank and them in a mall parking lot is fantastic. Hank is left wheelchair-bound as a result, but as the show progresses he gets stronger and healthier and as of Season 5 is walking with a cane. He develops a fixation with collecting minerals while he spends time recuperating, to the point of being obsessive.
- Walt brings a giant pizza over to the house as a peace offering to Skyler, because they’re separated at this stage. She tells him to sling his hook, so he responds by slinging the pizza onto the roof in a fit of rage. One of the most memorable – and talked about – points in the show.
No question here – the best bit is clearly THE ENTIRE SERIES. But seriously, folks. The finale is one of the finest in TV history. Gus Fring gets half his face blown off when visiting an old adversary in a rest home, set up by Walter. Through a rigged explosive device hooked up to the bell on his wheelchair, Hector Salamanca, one-time deadly henchman and now old man suffering the effects of a massive stroke, is recruited for a suicide mission by Walter, who knows Gus will come visit him if he thinks Hector has been talking to the DEA. Hector can only communicate by ringing the bell with his index finger to indicate yes or no answers, and his final act of ringing the bell over and over again as the audience realises what’s about to happen is one of the best Breaking Bad moments ever. As the series ends, Walter rings Skyler who’s been freaking out the whole time knowing the danger they’ve been in all the way through the series, and simply says “I won.”
Having only just started in the States last week, it picks up from where they left off, so this season sees Walter dealing with the aftermath of killing the king, and asserting his leadership. They turn a van into a giant magnet and set it outside the evidence vault in order to destroy the contents of Gus Fring’s laptop which had hours of video footage of Walt and Jesse cooking in Fring’s giant meth super-lab. The van tips and sticks to the outside wall and they make good their escape, having tied up a loose end that could have finished them for good.
Walt’s final line to Skyler as the episode closes cements his new-found status as The Man. As he embraces her after all that’s been said and done, the alter ego of ‘Heisenberg’ rears his head, and he says, simply but terrifyingly, “I forgive you.” A total Kay and Michael Corleone moment from The Godfather if ever there was one.
Cool, Useless Info For The Pub
- Walt’s drug dealing alter-ego Heisenberg shares the name with Werner Heisenberg, a German Theoretical Physicist who came up with something called The Uncertainty Principle. Nerds, the lot of ‘em.
- Jesse has a habit of punctuating his sentences with ‘yo‘ when he talks. That’s how you know he’s street-smart, yo.
- The methamphetamine that Walt and Jesse produce has a trademark blue colour because of a chemical substitute Walt makes, due to availability of certain ingredients. The meth Jesse used to make before this had chilli powder in it as a signature mark.
- In Season 4 we meet a top Mexican drug cartel head honcho by the name of Don Eladio, played by Steven Bauer – you may remember him as Tony Montana’s best pal and doomed sidekick Manny in Scarface.
- Walt’s son, Walt Jr. has cerebral palsy, and is played by RJ Mitte, who actually has a milder version of cerebral palsy himself in real life.
- Want more Breaking Bad themed memes? Click here for more of the ones you see here.
- Ultimate Breaking Bad scene (Season 4). Walt finally asserts himself and reveals his Heisenberg side to a terrified Skyler:
So there you have it folks. Go forth and drop Breaking Bad knowledge bombs all over the gaff. You might not know everything about it, but you’ll have enough to get by and join in the banter. Failing that, there’s always the classic move of the trip to the loo.