Breaking Bad – The Themes

all bad things

I recently finished watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad.  Can we say “binge watching”?  Start to finish took about three weeks.  It took me a few episodes to get sucked in, but I noticed some very big themes that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.  I’ll avoid big spoilers, but if you watch it see if you notice these and other themes.

The first thing that everyone can see is the way substance abuse destroys your life .  Enough said about that.

Second was the exploration of the meaning of “manhood”, and how it can be used to manipulate people and eventually can twist thinking enough to allow actions that would have been incomprehensible in the past.  Gus appealed to Walt’s manhood and convinced him to carry out Gus’ agenda.  “A real man does this” is a powerful statement to many men who feel disempowered in today’s society.  “A real man doesn’t take charity”.  “A real man takes care of his family.”  These are beliefs that can easily be used to justify actions that others see as clearly wrong.

The third was an exploration of relative morality – does the end justify the means?  Is it ok to make meth for a “good reason”, knowing the effect it has on users?

Fourth, an indictment of the whole U.S. health care system.  If Walt, and later Hank, hadn’t needed unfunded and life saving health care, none of this would have been necessary.  Given Walt’s admission in the final episode about his motives for everything he did, he may have done something similar eventually anyway.  It was interesting that the writers made it happen to two of the main characters.  I found it pretty clear that they think the health care system needs reform.

Number five was the tremendous sacrifices people make for family.  Skyler discarded her moral objections when the money was needed for health care for someone other than Walt, and became involved with the whole operation in surprising ways.

Sixth, the way anger and rage can be carried through life and raise their ugly heads decades later to cause craziness.  Walt was clearly eaten alive by his resentment of Gretchen and Elliot and what he saw as their cutting him out of the success of Gray Matter.  This poisoned his relationship with them and was probably the starting point of his twisted thinking and his need to build an empire.

I really liked this show, even though the plot holes were numerous and sometimes laughable.  The acting was superb (kudos to Aaron Paul especially), sets were great, and lots of plot twists made binge watching very attractive.  I loved the way the setting of Albuquerque was used almost as a character in the show.  Shows that can happen anywhere and have no sense of place have something missing for me.

Saul got his own spin-off show, “Better Call Saul”.  This is a prequel, set six years prior to meeting Walter.  We’ll be able to watch that character develop into the shyster we meet early in “Breaking Bad”.  Fascinating stuff.

For those who miss Breaking Bad as much as I do, here is a little collection of the 11 most badass dialogues from the show.

I’d love to hear about themes others have noticed in this show.  Please comment to let me know your thoughts.