Forget Lost, AMC’s Breaking Bad is currently the best television series going right now…by a mile. In fact, the first 5-10 minutes of the season three opener is better than the entire final season of Lost thus far. After the jump, I’ll give a very brief synopsis of the first two seasons and the first episode of season three as well as a couple of reasons why the series is just so damn good.
In Breaking Bad, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemist, forgoes a lucrative career in the private sector to teach high school chemistry in Albequerque, New Mexico. He is married to Skylar (Anna Gunn) and they have a teenage son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), and a daughter on the way. In the first episode, Walter learns that he has lung cancer and an extremely slim chance of survival. To provide for his family’s financial future, he begins to cook crystal meth along with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Given his knowledge of chemistry, he cooks the best meth in the business. Word of the quality of their product soon spreads and the cash, as well as the potential danger, soon pours in. Walter must navigate not only the relationship with his wife and son, but his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), as well. His successful business also impinges on the the territory of other drug dealers as well, namely Tuco (Raymond Cruz), with whom a conflict dominates season 2. Also during the second season, Jesse falls in love with Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter), but both of them fall prey to his own product. When Walter visits Jesse’s house late one night to retrieve some money, he sees the two of them passed out in bed where Jane begins to choke on her own vomit and dies. This sends Jesse and Jane’s father, Donald (John de Lancie), into limitless depths of despair. Donald, an air traffic controller, returns to work but his mind stays on his deceased daughter, and, as a result, he allows two planes to crash into each other over Albequerque, resulting in just under 200 deaths. The season three opener finds Jesse in re-hab and Walter trying to rationalize the tragedy that he himself could have prevented. To make matters worse, two Mexican hit men are on the hunt for Walter. Oh…and the cancer? It looks like the treatment has bought Walt some time.
Breaking Bad succeeds, and is so effective, because it does not resort to any fantasy gimmicks. There are really no “what ifs” here as the series is grounded so solidly in the real world. Cranston is an everyman, forced to make a tough decision that any of us could face in a split second. One of the series’ greatest strengths is its cast, all of whom are both terrific actors who look like they could be our next door neighbors, not famous television or movie stars. The creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, doesn’t need an imaginary island to play out stories of sin, destruction, and redemption. He is well aware that the real world of drug dealing and addiction provides plenty of that. Jesse’s sense of “lostness” and remorse over his loss of Jane is more powerful than almost anything Lost has served up in six seasons. There’s absolutely no doubt that Gilligan and his crew know where Breaking Bad is going and how they’re going to get us there. Oh, and that series three opener? One of the best episodes in recent television history. It begins with almost 10 minutes of dialogue-less action. Mexican peasants crawl on their hands and knees to a shrine in the middle of the desert. Two well-dressed men pull up next to the peasants in a Mercedes, get out, and begin crawling as well. When they arrive, they place a hand-drawn picture of Walt on the shrine and begin to violently make their way into New Mexico. Skylar finally confronts Walt to let him know that she knows about his secret identity and to serve up some divorce papers, all without giving him a chance to explain himself. This opener sets up a perfect storm for Walt that will rage throughout the season. If there’s any series worth catching up on it’s certainly Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad airs on Sunday nights at 10 on AMC.