In the Chilean rain forest lives a species of coniferous tree called Araucaria araucana, it is more commonly known as a Monkey Puzzle tree. It received this peculiar moniker due to its sharp scale like leaves and twisted limbs that would present a challenge for any fool who would attempt to climb it.
People and monkeys alike, are very attracted to all things puzzling, and in our enlightened electronic age we certainly have no shortage of fools who are willing to cut their hands on all manner of topics, including at this time the phenomenal puzzle that is Breaking Bad. As the show approaches its final two episodes, the internet is ablaze with theories, comments, praise and especially analysis and interpretations.
It seems that people are in shock, both from the events of the show and the finality of it coming to an end. We have become a TV nation of addicts and are already going through withdrawal as we see our supply dry up. We are already making alternative plans to fill the void; courting other eligible suitors to start a whole new love affair with. You hear people casually mention at parties, “Have you seen Broadchurch, House of Cards or Luther?” You’re always on the look out for the new fix, but you don’t want to get burned again. You’re still bitter from the fizzled passion of Dexter. “Dammit, how long until Game of Thrones is back?” American Horror Story season 3 may momentarily ease your shakes and you just found out that they are turning the final season of Mad Men into another two year long goodbye, but the affection you have for Walt and Jesse is special: tattoo special. You never thought you could love another show this much, not after the hole you were left with by the Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under. Breaking Bad restored our faith that it could be that good again and for some, even better.
(slight spoilers ahead)
The monkey cage that is the internet has already thrown out phrases like “Better than… or Best Show of All Time.” It is true Vince Gilligan has created a five part character study that has slowly sunk its hooks in and not let go from the first season onwards. It is really hard to find a single misstep. Everything works; from the cast, to the setting, to the premise to the intrigue. It is rare nowadays, to have a show that can genuinely create tension for a desensitized ‘seen it all before’ audience and constantly keep them guessing and surprised. A quick simple example of this would be; the shot in S5 ep. 14 where Skyler is looking at the kitchen counter and choosing between the phone and the knife. The beauty of this show is that it constantly lets the audience into the characters’ heads to weigh the decisions they are making. We get to watch as the problems arise, assess their possible options and more often then not be shocked at the outcomes. The ethical waters are constantly being muddied. The audience has to question its own belief system to reject or have empathy for the characters. We can be sickened by the actions but have to appreciate the logic surrounding their circumstances. We as an audience are encouraged to participate in the puzzle.
In order to solve any puzzle you must first be sure you have all the pieces. There have been a lot of busy monkeys out there combing through every show/scene/shot to assemble the most complete box they possibly can. Perhaps it’s the withdrawal symptoms surfacing, but in many cases people may have started to lose perspective on the whole thing. The monkeys are rattling their cages and flinging their sh*t at one another vying for monkey superiority. A recent article by a TV critic over at New York magazine’s Vulture really laid into other people’s analysis of our beloved show. Vulture generally does TV very well, their recaps are some of the best on the net, but this particular piece may have been a little too close to its subject.
Using a smart show to make yourself appear smart by association seems to be a negative side effect of our comment on everything society. ‘Look how smart I am, I figured out that Walt was trying to get Skyler off the hook with his tirade on the phone’ etc.. We definitely need thoughtful analysis of our art to help deepen its appreciation and revel in its nuances but this is neither a race nor a contest. How we watch TV is more telling than what we watch. We can only relate to anything by comparing it to our own experience. Not everybody is going to arrive at the same page and that’s a really good thing. Art should be liquid and be able to fill a thousand spaces in a thousand ways. Breaking Bad is one of the great shows because it allows you to spin your own moral compass and doesn’t present any one clear cut way to look at it.
In two weeks time I’ll definitely be a little sad that the opus of Walter White will have come to a close. The internet will be clogged with failed predictions, I told you so’s and analytical fallout that will continue well into the winter. Eventually the cleverest monkey will come forward to receive their Breaking Bad crown and the rest of the world will be lamenting that they are again back on the market.