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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
September 29, 2023

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Television drama to end, leaves permanent iconic impact on viewers, fans

After five seasons and 61 episodes, one of the greatest television dramas will end Sunday at 10:15 p.m.

If last week’s audience levels are any indication, upwards of 6.4 million people will tune in for the series finale of “Breaking Bad.”

“Breaking Bad’s” brilliance cannot easily be overstated. The show is, in a word, iconic.

All the meticulous details— everything from the way characters dress and talk, to the way scenes are composed and shot, to the unusual choice in music, have made the show a pop culture phenomenon.

Think Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) Wallabees and chinos, or Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) colorful language. And of course the classic death of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), as he walks out of the room after an explosion and the camera pans to reveal, well, you know.

Then there’s the intricate attention to the plot, with numerous and subtle instances of foreshadowing, and the complex development of characters.

But after approximately 6 million people have invested nearly 3,000 minutes watching the series, what can the audience take away? In other words, in “Breaking Bad’s” morally dubious world, what is the moral of the story?

The show is primarily an exploration of morality and what it means to be “bad.”

Creator Vince Gilligan delves into this concept through the lens of imperfect and deeply flawed characters.

Every character, while hyperbolic, exemplifies a different notion of “goodness” and “badness.” Each operates under a different moral code and often as not, they serve as a foil for one another (Hank is a foil to Walt, is a foil to Jesse, is a foil to Todd, etc.)

For Walt the means have always justified the ends, and often, the means are other people, mainly Jesse. And Walt deceives himself into thinking that he’s a family man pretending to be a drug lord, when in reality it’s the other way around.

Hank Schroeder (Dean Norris) perhaps has the most moral aim in the series— getting meth, and the dangerous criminals involved in its trafficking, off the streets. But his methods are ethically questionable. He isn’t opposed to manipulation, intimidation and perhaps illegal uses of wiretapping to get what he wants.

Even Skyler (Anna Gunn) didn’t hesitate to ask Walt to kill.

So the moral center of the show, despite all his flaws, is Jesse. It’s Jesse alone who recognizes his badness and feels an immense guilt for it.

Unlike Walt, Jesse has a conscience, and the means, especially when the means are children, don’t always justify the ends. Jesse has also always had a soft spot for kids.

We first see this when he protects his younger brother by taking the blame for a joint his parents found. It is further evidenced by his affection for Brock and his fury with Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) for shooting a child.

So, the moral of the story is that there’s a difference between right and wrong, but what makes a person “bad” or “good” is harder to define— is it actions, motives or some blend of the two?

The show’s themes also touch on the notion of American individualism, and our fascination with the anti-hero who sticks it to society.

The rugged setting in Albuquerque, New Mexico is fitting for this modern day tale of the wild west outlaw.

In the roughly two years of Walt’s escapades, he has left a trail of devastation in his wake that includes a high body count, the poisoning of a child and the ruining of countless lives, yet despite this, the audience still roots for him.

It’s perhaps that people connect with the disempowered schoolteacher who takes on the role of an outlaw.

And perhaps we all see a little bit of ourselves in Walter White. Maybe not on the level of a meth-cooking, cold-blooded killer, but the desire to be “bad,” risk danger and do things we never thought capable, is there.

In the end, what we can take away, if nothing else, is that we’re all one step away from breaking bad.

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