10 Years Later: A Review of S1 of 'Breaking Bad'
How does it hold up after all these years?
The first time I watched Breaking Bad was back when it was still on air. I was younger then, perhaps a little more sensitive and less jaded than I am now. Six years after the series finale I have finally finished the first season of Breaking Bad and I’ve immortalized my thoughts for the internet.
I still struggled to watch it. While every moment is important for setting up who Walter is and who his family is, it’s still uncomfortable and moves into even worse territory with his cancer diagnosis. Walter is a high school chemistry teacher who moonlights as a gas station/car wash attendant on the side to make ends meet for his pregnant wife, Skylar and his disabled son, Walter Jr.
If Walter isn’t being emasculated or belittled by his students, boss, or immediate family, his DEA brother in law, Hank and kleptomaniac, temperamental sister in law Marie will gladly pick up the slack. The toxic masculinity is important to mention as the show goes on.
You can see where some of my discomfort comes from simply with the set of characters that we’re given.
Walter’s cancer diagnosis comes in the first episode and it’s not only a burden on his finances, but it is also the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Yet another thing to emasculate him. So he creates a fragile alliance with former student turned drug dealer, Jesse Pinkman.
That emasculation is what makes Walter turn to cooking meth. The cancer, his past mistakes, the money, he can’t handle any of it, and cooking meth gives him a power trip that he’s never had before in his life. From the very beginning it’s clear that Walter isn’t in this only for the money, but for the power trip that it’s giving him. And that already has led to problems with other big players in the drug trade, as he seems to have gotten in over his head.
In my opinion, the show’s weakest moments are when Walter’s cancer is on full display and it is at its strongest when Walter must struggle with his own toxic masculinity, morality, and the consequences of his choices. Jesse and Walter have better on screen chemistry than most CW TV show couples, watching them argue over who has to dispose of a body and who needs to kill the remaining man is a sick, twisted, thrill ride.
One of my favorite scenes in the first season is when Walter discovers the missing plate shard, which results in his first cold blooded murder. It’s horrific to watch, Walter doesn’t want to do it, the audience does not want to him to do it and his victim certainly doesn’t want him to do it. Just like that entire scene, this show is a train wreck that you can’t look away from. Even if you want to.
While it’s clear by the end of the season that Walter White is not a “good” man (but what is good?) but he certainly isn’t prepared to deal with people like Tucco, who literally leaves both Walt and the audience with their jaws on the floor in the season finale. I imagine that most viewers had that same exact facial expression when they saw the episode for the first time.
I still struggle to watch this show. It requires so much emotional energy to even watch, but the character dynamics, tension building and questions of morality make it clear why this show is viewed as a classic a little over a decade later. It certainly holds its own against other similar shows that were produced at the time. 10/10