Breaking Bad is an American crime and drama series in which a chemistry teacher called Walter White (Bryan Cranston) seeks a solution for his unforeseen financial problems. While looking for a way to resolve this, Walter comes across the idea to start producing methamphetamine. Together with one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), he starts doing so. The product that they manufacture – blue meth – has a purity of 96%. Because most methamphetamine that is sold on the street has a purity of just 70%, the demand for their magical blue stuff increases rapidly. The rush that they get from the extreme amounts of money they make, will eventually turn them into two top criminals.
The series consists of five seasons and aired between 2008 and 2013 on AMC Network. Despite the controversial subject matter, Breaking Bad became critically acclaimed. In this article, we’ll have a look at the storyline, the series’ different layers, its reviews and a few noteworthy details. Of course, we won’t give away too much, since we wouldn’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the series yet.
According to Bryan Cranston, ‘Breaking Bad’ is synonymous with ‘deviating from the right path’. There’s a reference to the catchy title in the pilot episode, where Jesse says to Walter: "Nah, come on, man. Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass all of a sudden at age, what, 60, he's just gonna break bad?”
The series’ logo is very striking as well. The ‘Br’ from ‘Breaking’ and ‘Ba’ from ‘Bad’ are presented as two parts of the chemical periodic table. Br stands for bromine and Ba for barium. Broom and barium aren’t placed in that position of each other on the table in real life, but it still creates a great design since the periodic table is of huge importance in a chemistry teacher’s life.
Before Walter started working as a teacher, he was the co-owner of a chemical company. He didn’t care much about business though and decided to take the noble job of being a teacher in high school. He was overqualified but fulfilled that same job for years. Together with his wife Skyler, they got a slightly physically disabled son, called Walter Jr. In this article we’ll talk about Walter Jr.’s handicap and the thoughts behind it.
In the first episode, we get to know Walter as a decent citizen who works hard and lives a stable life. But in that same episode, we see how that stability starts to fall apart when Skyler unexpectedly becomes pregnant and Walter hears that he has terminal lung cancer. On top of this, his health insurance doesn’t cover the treatment. To be able to pay for the life-extending treatment and to make sure that his family won’t end up with financial problems after his death, Walter starts looking for a solution.
Not much later, Walter joins his DEA agent brother-in-law on a ride-along. To his great surprise, Walter sees a former student of his, Jesse Pinkman, fleeing the scene of a meth lab via the roof. Instead of turning him in, Walter asks his brother-in-law how much money you can get out of running a meth-lab. This turns out to be an enormous amount, which gives Walter the idea to start producing methamphetamine together with Jesse to cover his health insurance costs.
Walter contacts Jesse, who doesn’t seem to be convinced directly. Eventually, Jesse agrees to work together after Walter claims to know how to cook the best meth ever made in the United States. They combine Walter’s chemical knowledge with Jesse’s connections, which makes them a rather perfect and comical duo. It turns out that Walter didn’t exaggerate; his meth is almost completely pure. His product has a distinctive blue colour, which makes it look quite different from all the other meth in the streets. The demand for their product quickly increases because of the good quality and within no time they start earning lots of money.
The two men slowly get sucked into the world of fast money and start producing more. They get in contact with even heavier criminals, which results in a whole new range of problems. Because Walter often chooses to solve his problems in a rather surprising way due to his background as an academic, the series is full of unexpected twists. Soon it becomes clear that producing meth means more to Walter than simply making money to pay for his treatment and his family. After a while, he has enough money, but still won’t stop producing. The incredible amounts of money start to reveal his darker side. Each season, we see how Walter spirals down and loses his dignity as a teacher, husband and father. If you want to know how this ends for him, you can watch the entire series on Netflix.
The American Dream
Breaking Bad carries an intrusive message – when you choose to get a noble job (such as being a teacher like Walter) you might still bump into the boundaries of the American system someday. Breaking Bad not only shows us the states of despair that one can end up in but also how bad the social safety net in the American society is and how this can influence someone’s morals.
Walter’s character development
At first glance, it seems as if Walter doesn’t have a choice. He starts producing methamphetamine to give his family a stable future and be able to pay for his treatment. In the first episode, Walter, therefore, appears to be a neat citizen who’s simply a victim of the American system. Not long after though, it turns out that he’s capable of being way more criminal than you would expect. He shaves his head before going into chemo, which gives him even more of a criminal look. But once the chemos have finished, he keeps shaving off his hair. This change in appearance perfectly fits his change in character
In some series, characters will go through very unrealistic changes. One moment they can be the good guy, but only a second later they’ve turned into the bad guy. This often changes a few more times throughout the plot. In Breaking Bad, on the other hand, Walter’s dark side slowly creeps in as a result of the many setbacks he has to conquer. Step by step, he undergoes a major change in character. This process of change has been brought to the screen in a very realistic manner.
Walter doesn’t just use his chemical knowledge to produce meth but also makes his own chemical weapons and other tricks to outsmart his enemies. Here are seven examples of the chemical tricks that Walter comes up with:
- In the first episode, Walter and Jesse drive into the desert in an old camper, which has been converted into a mobile meth-lab. During the production of the first batch, they get raid by other producers who are after Walter’s recipe. While being under fire, Walter pretends to produce meth to then suddenly throw red phosphor in the open fire, causing an explosion. Walter runs outside, keeps the door closed and leaves the other men to die in the vapour of the red phosphor.
- When the camper’s battery is empty and Jesse and Walter get stuck in the middle of the desert, Walter builds an electromagnetic cell out of wires and sponges. They use it to reload the battery and drive out of the desert.
- Walter puts the dead bodies from the phosphor attack in barrels with hydrogen fluoride. This makes them dissolve, so they can easily be dumped. This trick is used multiple times throughout the show.
- When Walter visits a big dealer for the first time, he drops a small cube of fulminated mercury, causing a severe explosion. This impresses the dealers and brings them to an agreement.
- Walter uses beans from the castor oil plant to extract ricin. This substance is already lethal at the small dose of 0.3 milligrams. The symptoms appear to be a normal flu, but can’t be treated. Besides that, it’s difficult to detect ricin in someone’s blood. This way you can kill them while making it look as if they’re dying of the severe flu. Walter, therefore, thinks of this as the perfect weapon and uses it to poison certain enemies by putting ricin in their food.
- Some of the chemicals that Walter and Jesse need for their enormous meth production are locked in a storage with strong metal doors. Walter uses termite to blow up the door so they can steal the chemicals from the storage.
- To manipulate Jesse, Walter poisons the son of one of Jesse’s friends. At first, it looks like he’s poisoned with ricin. But when the little boy doesn’t die, it turns out that it was actually the poison of a lily of the valley, which has the same effect. Lily of the valleys isn't as lethal as ricin though. Why Walter tried to poison the kid, becomes clear when you watch the series yourself.
Breaking Bad has been critically acclaimed. TV Guide put the show on number nine of the best series ever made. Rolling Stone even gave Breaking Bad a third place on the list of best tv-shows ever made. The ratings became higher every season. The first season had a score of 73 out of a hundred on Metacritic, while the last season received a score of 99. Between season four and five the number of viewers doubled, which made it the most watched show in America. Furthermore, the series won six Grammy Awards.
The growing success of Breaking Bad partly has to do with the fact that the entire show forms one logical and complete story from beginning to end. In advance of the series, the writers clearly stated that there would be five seasons and already thought of ways in which these loose elements would be intertwined. This gives the five seasons one coherent story but is a pretty unusual thing to do. Normally one would use yearly viewer rates to decide whether it’s worth it to continue the series and create another season. This often causes the storyline in between the different seasons to be weak, resulting in fewer viewers after each new season. Breaking Bad clearly distinguishes itself here by having one continuous storyline. Besides that, it’s an idiomatic show with an exciting subject, great actors, interesting special effects and beautiful decors.
Details: the handicap
Actor Jr Mitte, who plays Walter’s son, is physically disabled. He has a mild form of cerebral palsy, making it difficult for him to talk and walk. It’s remarkable that they decided to give this role to a handicapped actor since his disability is of no pivotal importance within the plot. It does, nevertheless, complete the image of Walter’s troublesome situation. Furthermore, Jr chose to play this role to raise awareness around such handicaps. In real life, we regularly see people with a disability, but it’s rare to see this in series. Breaking Bad deliberately spends barely any attention to Mitte’s condition, showing that Walter Jr. is just like anyone else.
What’s not right
Dr Donna Nelson is a Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Oklahoma. She was responsible for the scientific accuracy of the formulas in Breaking Bad. This made for an even more realistic image. Nevertheless, there are a few funny mistakes in the series that were mostly put in there to contribute to the story. Here’s a list of these errors:
- Pure meth is never blue, but always a white powder. The colour blue would actually indicate the presence of other substances, making it less pure.
- It’s not possible to get meth as pure as Walter’s directly from a production process. If you’d strive for the same purity percentage, you’d need very expensive equipment.
- In the show, the purity of the meth is measured with a machine that almost immediately gives you an answer. This machine doesn’t really exist. An analysis to measure the purity would take at least two hours and a much bigger and more complex device.
- Ricin is indeed lethal, but not after eating only such a small amount as they do in the series. In this case, the biggest part of the substance would break down in the digestive system and you’d need a whole lot more to actually make it lethal. 0.3 milligrams can only be lethal when you directly inject the ricin.
Despite the fact that some things aren’t as realistic, Breaking Bad is a great, compelling story that you have to see at least once in your life. The series is without a doubt a must watch.