Walter White has been given a death sentence; all his life he has worked and struggled to find the American dream, and now it comes to this. Stage three lung cancer with a prognosis of two years to live. His insurance from his job as a high school chemistry teacher will help, but he has a wife and children to think of, as well.
His son is in high school and has Cerebral Palsy and his wife is pregnant. This leaves Walt to decide if he should attempt treatment and drain their life savings or just die quietly. He is a man that has played by the rules his whole life; he has done everything right and now society has told Walt, "too bad for you."
His friends from college formed a company and they all became multi-millionaires, but Walt was married and his wife was expecting so he took a job as a high school chemistry teacher. Now he suffers from burnout, working in a profession that he really loves that is going to leave his family destitute.
Hank Schrader is Walt’s brother-in-law; he’s an investigator for the DEA. He offers Walt a chance to go on a ride along and see a meth lab bust. Hank brags about how much money they took in cash from their last meth lab bust and the wheels begin to turn for Walt. As the cops break down the front door of the meth lab, a man jumps from a second story window. Walt recognizes this man as one of his former students, one Jesse Pinkman who spent more time asleep in Walt’s class than awake. Walt hunts him down with the intention of cooking up some methamphetamine. Walt’s wife arranges his first chemotherapy treatment as she tells him that he needs $5,000, and Walt answers, "I’ll get it."
Walt is ill suited for the drug world; he’s an apple pie, straight arrow, middle class American. But Walt is angry at his cancer and at his predicament and decides to fight back. He’s through with conventions and morality; he’s through with being middle class. He is going to live on his own terms because the world doesn’t give a damn about him and he’s going to return the favor.
When teenagers make fun of his son disability in a department store, Walt smashes the loudmouth kid in the knee. "What’s the matter," he asks. "Isn’t that funny anymore?" A guy in a fancy Mercedes steals Walt’s parking space at the bank and then makes loud, rude comments about the tellers on his cell phone. Later, Walt sees the Mercedes parked at the gas pump. He stops and calmly pops the hood on the car and places a soaking wet squeegee across the battery terminals and causes an electrical fire, leaving the car in flames as Walt walks away without showing any emotion.
Walt is overqualified as a chemistry teacher. With their first batch of meth, Jessie is amazed. "Man, I’ve never seen crystals this big before; its like glass." The meth is dynamite and the street is abuzz over Jesse’s product. But Jessie is more of a wannabe than a thug and on their second batch they are followed out to the desert by gang members looking to rip them off. At gunpoint Walt and Jesse begin to cook up a batch for the two gang members, but Walt and Jesse are wearing respirators and the gang members aren’t. Walt throws a chemical powder into boiling water which creates phosgene gas, killing one of the gang members and crippling the other. The surviving gang member is chained up in Jesse’s basement and they draw straws to see who will finish him off.
Not since "The Sopranos" has there been such a powerhouse of a program. This is full of real energy and raw intensity, with real questions of right and wrong and of morality. After Walt’s brother-in-law brings Walt a Cuban cigar for his birthday, they smoke them over whiskeys as Walt ponders on the legalities of what they are doing. "You know, this cigar is illegal, and at one time so was this whiskey, and that would have made us both criminals."
The only problem for "Breaking Bad" is that it is on a channel not known for original entertainment. American Movie Classics is best known for showing classic movies and if you’re not into those you probably never watch AMC. If this program were on HBO or Showtime it would already be a household name.
Bryan Cranston is best known for his role as the father on "Malcolm in the Middle." He quickly buries that memory as he gives a tour de force performance as Walt. You watch him go from healthy man to sick man, yet at the same time you see a new, darker, stronger Walt appear. A Walt that won’t put up with any crap from anyone, a Walt that will kill you if he has to.
Aaron Paul is phenomenal as Jesse; one minute you hate him, the next minute you love him. He’s mixed up and messed up and at times funny. He’s up three days smoking meth and when he sees Jehovah’s Witnesses coming up his sidewalk, he panics. To Jesse they appear to be bikers, armed with machetes. But at his parent's house he takes the rap for a marijuana cigarette that belongs to his little brother. The brother is the apple of his parent’s eye and his room filled with trophies and awards. Jesse is the bad one, the rotten kid, but not so rotten as they might imagine.
There is not a weak performance in the cast; they are all together in this crucible of right and wrong and of life in the real world. The real world without the moralizing. This is no "Law & Order," good guys, bad guys cop drama. What would you do if you found out that you were going to die soon? Die broke and leave your wife and children penniless, or cook meth and die leaving your family with a million dollars?
Bryan Cranston won an Emmy for best actor; Aaron Paul should have won one for best supporting actor. Lynne Willingham won an ACE award for writing the pilot episode of "Breaking Bad." She went on to win a Writers Guild of America award for best episodic drama of the year. "Time Magazine" has called it one of the best hours on television. We all complain about bad TV, let's support good TV. Breaking Bad is Breaking Ground, "It’s Chemistry, b*tch!" If you liked the every-man quality of Tony Soprano, you’ll love Walt the every man, fighting the world for his family.
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