Welcome to the debut edition of the TVE Periodic Table. What is the Periodic Table you ask? Well for one it is a (hopefully not too lame) pun to do a spinoff column on one of my favorite chemistry related TV shows, but it will also be a (again, hopefully) recurring collaborative effort here at TVE where we will periodically (hence, the name) table together some of our own best writers as well as writer’s from other blogs and just do an easy going group discussion of various issues, either movie related, video game related, or as is the case tonight, television related.
One year ago right now the entire world was buzzing over the finale of one of the finest television shows to ever grace our collective airwaves. Seeing as many of the writers and community members here at Vortex Effect were huge fans of the show we decided to pool our resources and write a special one-year anniversary Breaking Bad retrospective. This column will be done in panel fashion with each of our writers answering the same set of questions. Now to introduce you to our panelists/table members.
First, we have The Sandman, author of the Backlog gaming review column. He is also an infrequent movie and former pro-wrestling columnist and general purveyor of all things that do not suck. Next there is Jules. That’s me. I write movie reviews mainly, but have also dabbled in the same aforementioned. Next there is Bryan. Known on our forums as “Current Big Thing”, he is a stand-up comedian by trade as well as a TVE feature writer on occasion. Finally, last but not least, there is Gary ‘Stinger’ Smith, the chief editor, owner, operator, C.O.O, C.E.O and general Big Kahuna of this blog. Now, onto the panel!
What episode “hooked you” into becoming a Breaking Bad fan, and how did you find out about the show? Binge-watcher, or watching since the beginning?
Sandman: I was a bit of a binge watcher. Had seen a few previews on TV and heard people talking about it, but I never even watched the first season until the final one was airing. The first thing that jumped out at me when I first watched it was the main character being named Walter White, as that was my grandfather’s name.
As far as when I got hooked, it’s hard to say really. The first time I watched season one(I borrowed the DVD set from a former co-worker), I thought it was pretty good, but it didn’t really draw me in. It definitely had it’s interesting points, such as how the show kicks off with Walt standing out in the desert in his underwear. That’s certainly enough to hold your attention for a bit. But if I had to pick one episode, one my second time through the first season, the next to last episode, “Crazy Handful of Nothin'” where we meet Tuco and Walt blows up his office.
Jules: I am both a binge-watcher and an original fan of the show. Explanation for that is that I watched the entire first season, and really dug it, (although I wasn’t really hooked at this point) but then in between then and when Season 2 started my satellite provider dropped AMC. So after letting the show slip off my radar for a while, sometime in the early parts of Season 3 I binge watched all the episodes I had missed and was a constant viewer after that. The episode that really turned the tide for me from being a Breaking Bad fan to a Breaking Bad fanatic was “One Minute”. The tension that built up with Hank’s epic showdown with the Cousins, and the previous episode that had another great ending with Walter and Jesse in the RV with Hank just outside ready to pounce… (The infamous – “This is my own private domicile, and I will not be harassed… bitch” episode) After “One Minute” was over I immediately told everyone I could think to come and watch this episode. This was the first episode my wife watched, and it totally hooked her as well.
Gary: I’ll have to say the first episode. I didn’t watch a single episode while the series was still on air, but had heard nothing but great things. Binged watched all five seasons on Netflix fairly quickly. Wouldn’t have done that had I not liked the first episode (the opening alone made me want to continue watching that episode).
Bryan: The episode after which I’m pretty sure I was hooked I’m pretty sure was the “This is not meth” episode wherein Walt blows up that small-time-but-mobbed-up dealer’s office. I think that was like the fourth or fifth episode of the first season. When the credits rolled after that one, I was in. As far as whether I binge-watched the show or caught it in real time? It was a combination of the two. I’d heard tons of good about the show, and wound up bingeing during the show’s hiatus to catch up. At that point I think that entailed everything up through Season 3, and then I watched Seasons 4 and 5 in mostly real time.
How did your relationship with the character of Walter White evolve over the course of the show? Were you always able to identify with him as the sympathetic protagonist, even till the end, or if not, at what point did he pass the point of no return for you?
Sandman: Almost. I kept hearing/reading about how he became an asshole by the end, but for the longest time, I was able to stick with him, as I viewed it as he was doing what he felt he had to do to protect himself and his family. Not to say that there wasn’t some messed-up stuff. The thing that pushed me over the limit was his “confession” video. I know that was pretty late, but damn– that was pretty bad.
Jules: My ride with Walter White was truly a roller coaster. Of course at the start he had my full sympathy– even though he was making a horrible decision to cook meth, the fact that he is a character on a TV show allows me to more easily justify that extremely insane initial decision, which in hindsight is the worst decision he ever made and the cause of so much hell for his family and entire community. I was really pissed off at him after he allowed Jane to die, but I could see why he did it, and while I was very angry with him, I did not fully divorce myself from his character emotionally speaking. That turning point occurred more during Season 3 when Walter started more obviously (and unsuccessfully) manipulating Jesse(which later drives Jesse into forming a closer bond with Mike and Gus, who shoot straight with him) into becoming his partner again, because he was fearful of being replaced by Gale, who he of course, then had murdered by Jesse in that unforgettable Season 3 cliffhanger. For me it was more those less flashy, but more deliberate intellectual manipulations that turned him from a man “protecting his family” into a truly selfish, evil piece of shit.
Gary: It happened very early for me. I could sympathize with him as it was a quick way to make money. The first guy he killed (or I guess technically the second) I was was still sympathetic because he was going to let him go. After that, he started making one bad decision after another. Every bad thing that happened in the show to anyone was because Walter was an idiot. From the second season on I thought he was an ass. I did find him somewhat sympathetic at the very end (but not much).
Bryan: I get the impression I’m in the minority here, but I may be wrong. For me, there was really only one short run of episodes during which I was ready to kind of “wash my hands” of Walt, and that was the couple of episodes between when he takes the Schwartzes hostage in their own home and the episode in which Walt finally really, truly levels with Skylar. Also, I was pretty upset with him when he just watched Jane asphyxiate on her vomit when he could very easily have saved her. Apart from those four or five episodes, over the course of the series I went from completely wanting him to succeed to just wanting him to hang up the goggles, having made more than enough money than he or his first several generations of descendants could possibly spend. See, even then, I was wanting him to take the path that would keep him out of jail, which means I didn’t want him to go to jail, which means I still thought he was salvageable, which means I can’t say I ever grew to completely hate Walt as I understand many other viewers had.
Aside from Walter or Jesse, who was your favorite character on the show and why?
Sandman: I liked Mike. Seemed like a real no nonsense kind of guy, but at the same time, I bet he could have had some fun when not at “work”.
Jules: This is such a difficult question because there are at least half a dozen characters on Breaking Bad who could have had really great shows centered on them. Mike as the uber-methodical badass enforcer was a delight. Gus as the emotionally reserved, but likewise very methodical and outwardly polite businessman/kingpin was also a favorite of mine. And then there’s Saul Goodman, who is just instant hilarity as soon as he pops up on screen. I guess out of those three Mike is the one I grew to connect with the most. Mike was like the conscience of the show, even though he, by Johnathon Banks admission had “sold his soul” a long time ago, that level headed approach of his, and his take no chances attitude, while tending to his outside family affairs like a true man ought to, just resonated with me a great deal. And of course he more badass scenes of assorted gunplay and just intimidating people than probably anyone else in the show. In the final season you can really see Walter emulating Mike a lot more than Gus I would say. So yeah, I can’t wait to see Mike return on the Better Caul Sall prequel.
Gary: I liked Saul a lot because he was funny. His explaining money laundering to Jesse was actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole series. I also really liked Mike. He seemed like a decent guy (and not an outright psycho like Walter).
Bryan: Apart from those two and also the obvious Mike, my favorite character was Jane. Jesse’s girl before he met Andrea. I love Krysten Ritter, the actress who played Jane, to pieces. She’s borderline typecast these days, but whenever she does show up I find myself thinking whoever she’s playing would be a lot of fun to go out with, and if you take away the heroin addiction, the “Jane” character was no different. I thought she was Jesse’s last shot at real, lasting happiness
Who was your least favorite character?
Sandman: Skylar. Hated her from the very first episode. Never liked the way she looked, the way she sounded, the way she acted. Just always seemed like a worrisome bitch. Marie runs a close second, but there was an episode late in the series where she bitch slapped Skyler, and that scored her major points with me.
Jules: The popular answer on this one is probably going to be Skylar, and to be sure there were times I found her just as shrill and annoying as everybody, however, I was able to sympathize with her for most of the series. I think a lot of people overlook the fact that she was oblivious to all of what was going on until about Season 3, whereas we had all had time to adjust accordingly, so imagine you find out today that your significant other is a major player in the local meth manufacturing empire, and had been for quite some time, I assume we would all probably react in the same way of kicking said spouse out of the house and just generally freaking the hell out.
Now to answer the question, my least favorite character throughout the series was Marie. That being said, she had some strong moments and was generally still a well-built character. However, the whole side bit about her being a kleptomaniac never really went anywhere after Season 1, except for being picked up briefly in Season 4. It seemed like her character’s purpose generally was to suffer abuse at the hands of Hank and to conveniently freak out and cause disturbances at opportune moments in the plot. Out of the whole series, I thought her subplots were the weakest and farthest-removed from the important stuff. I loved the intense emotional scenes she had with Hank, such as right before his shoot out in “One Minute” but the bit where we follow her around house hunting was just too tedious for me to tolerate. Also, she wore a lot of purple. Obviously a big Barney fan growing up.
Gary: Todd. What a dick he was. Also at the end of the day, Walter and Walt Jr. Walter because every bad thing that happened could be attributed to him and his dumb selfish ways, and Walt Jr. because I just found him to be increasingly annoying throughout Season 5, particularly towards the end.
Bryan: For a while it was Skylar, then it was Gus, and then after Gus got blown up it was Skylar again. Nothing was ever good enough for Skylar. Sure, some of that initial feeling was borne out of situational irony (which, for those who don’t know, is when the reader or viewer is aware of essential plot information of which the concerned character is not) but then she learns every reason why Walt did what he did as well as a lot of what he did and she’s still awful. First, she’s on her way out the door because she “can’t take the lies anymore”. Of course, Walt’s lying because he believes it’s best for all concerned if she knows as little as possible, and the second he finally lets her in, she’s out the door because of the truth. And, to make matters worse, she lied to Walt too, over and over, and Walt almost always let it go, if not sooner, then certainly later.
Gus drew my ire because it was he who prevented Walt from getting out of the game during the one time period when he had both the financial cushion he’d set out to procure in the first place and a seemingly genuine desire to hang up the goggles and coveralls. I think his forcibly keeping Walt under his thumb directly led to Walt’s crossing lines from which there was no turning back. I think that it was largely the actions taken to carry him beyond those lines that really hardened Walt more than anything else would. I think Gus Fring’s sociopathy led to just about every one of the character changes in Walter White that turned him from a cancer-stricken family man breaking the law out of necessity into a sociopath in his own right.
Once Gus was gone, Skylar wasted no time in reminding me how awful she was on her way to reclaiming her spot atop my list. That last season, Todd really gave her a run for her money. Todd wasn’t only awful– he was also an idiot. He wasn’t a loveable kind of idiot in the sense of Badger or Skinny Pete. Todd was the kind of idiot who, for me, was just infuriating because his perpetual incompetence constantly endangered everybody around him, not the least of which was turning an essentially victimless train robbery into a murder of a child for which everybody involved in the heist could have been held criminally responsible since many states have laws which escalate penalties for felonies perpetrated during the commission of another felony. And that was before he turned just evil.
Which season was the overall strongest and why?
Sandman: Season 4. The show was really moving along at this point with the whole Walt/Jesse/Gus dynamic, we had side stories with Gus and the Cartel and Hank still overcoming his injuries. Jesse finding love and a life outside of cooking again. Lots of good stuff going on. You’ve got Walt really embracing his asshole/Heisenberg side more and more. Plus, the way the season concluded, if they had wanted, the show probably could have ended right there.
Jules: The final season for me, meaning Season 5 Part 2 (as I take Season 5 part 1 to be a separate season, and by itself, the weakest season of the series) was by far the most gut wrenching, traumatizing, and finally satisfying of all the seasons for me. “Ozymandias” may be the best hour of television produced by any show ever. I also loved the bleakness of “Granite State”, whose starkness and hopelessness perfectly set up the tour de’ force finale in which “Heisenberg” makes his famous last stand at the Nazi compound.
Gary: I’ll have to say Season 4. I liked the Gus character. Kinda hard to separate Season 4 from Season 3 though. Further proof of how much of an idiot and selfish person Walter was throughout these two seasons.
Bryan: I really liked Season 2. I went through how much I liked the “Jane” character a little while ago, and that’s certainly part of it. The rest of it is the way the writers structured that season within itself. The bookends made by the flash-forward of the plane crash in the opener and the revelation that Walt kind of indirectly caused that plane crash by allowing Jane to die rather than save her since Jane turned out to be the daughter of an air traffic controller who returned to work too quickly after her passing. In a moment of grief-induced confusion, he used the wrong name while giving directions to a plane which caused his intended recipent to crash into another plane in mid-air. I think the second season of Breaking Bad can almost stand completely alone. I think the narrative is that strong, and that combined with the fact that Season 2 has a rarely-seen-in-television-these-days clearly-defined beginning and end (as opposed to the much-more-common-almost-to-the-point-of-being-obligatory “cliffhanger”) set it apart. Even the final season, with its brilliant ending, doesn’t have a proper self-contained beginning as it picks up from just about the very second at which Season 4 leaves off.
What was your favorite episode from the series?
Sandman: Season finale of Season 4. Gus goes to visit Hector one last time. Simply glorious.
Jules: “Ozymandias” was the best, but my favorite would have to be the episode where Gus Fring gets his revenge on Don Eladio and wipes out his entire cartel with the poisoned whiskey. The way that whole backstory was brought out and executed was a thing of beauty. It would have been interesting to see an alternative universe of Breaking Bad where Walter was taken out of the picture somehow, and the trio of Mike, Jesse, and Gus stayed together as the focal point of the show.
Gary: Favorite episode is hard to say. I binged watched them, it all kinda ran together. I must say that I really enjoyed Season 5’s “Confessions.” That confession tape was something else. I’m going to go with Season 5’s “To’hajiilee” though. Amazing episode in every possible way.
Bryan: My favorite episode, for sentimental reasons the “sentiment” of which will soon become clear, was the episode in which viewers first meet Kuby as a fake health inspector who helps accellerate the sale of the car wash to the Whites. Kuby was played by real-life Breaking Bad fan and one of my longtime very favorite comedians going back to about 1995, Bill Burr. It was already cool for me when Bob Oedenkirk (another favorite comic of mine) showed up as Saul Goodman, and it got even better when Lavell Crawford (yet another comic I’ve been watching for over a decade) showed up as Saul’s bodyguard Huell. When Bill Burr showed up out of nowhere, it just made my night. Bill Burr was known as a “comic’s comic” for the first probably 15 years of his career. That’s a dubious title to have in comedy, because it generally means that other comics along with comedy nerds like me adore you, but almost nobody outside of those two groups even knows your name. So to see ol’ Billy Redface pop up in something as big and as mainstream as Breaking Bad undeniably was by the time Season 4 came around was like seeing an athlete you’ve watched since he was a rookie finally win a championship. So that episode is special to me.
Whose was the most satisfying death on BB and why?
Sandman: I’m not sure I can name one. The most spectacular was Gus Fring. It wasn’t really satisfying in the sense that I was happy that he was dead, but it was such a “Holy Shit” type of moment. As far as being the most glad they were dead, that was Todd’s uncle and his crew. Those guys were all scum bags and Todd was a damn sociopath.
Jules: Todd because he was such an evil piece of shit. If he would have lived on after the finale I think it would’ve left permanent scarring on my psyche and I might have hunted down the actor who played him and forced him at gunpoint to go back into character so I could “pretend” kill him. Man I needed that guy dead, and the fact that Jesse got to do it was just the icing on the cake. I will always be curious as to what Todd was about to say at the window though when he surveys the damage from the machine gun and goes “Jesus, Mr. White…” cut to strangulation and the most satisfying neck-breaking sound effect ever
Also, Walter’s death was satisfying in an entirely different sense of the word. Seeing him alone at the end with “his precious” while the Badfinger song started up was just a perfect little moment for those who were still invested in the character.
Gary: Again, Todd. What a dick he was. He should have never left the desert after killing that kid.
Bryan: Easily Jesse choking Todd all the way out with the chain connecting the very shackles Todd had himself placed upon Jesse’s wrists. Easily. That dude had to get got, and for Jesse to be the one to do it made it all the better.
Whose death was the most tragic/hardest to watch and why?
Sandman: Andrea. If there was anyone on the show that was innocent, it was Andrea. The kid in the desert that Todd also shot is a very close second (and was also completely innocent), but we have some investment in Andrea. She has a young son. She’s been on multiple episodes. We’ve heard her speak. We actually see her get shot and see the pink mist.
Jules: For me, it’s got to be Mike. Hank came in as a close second, but that was the final season so you knew it was a possibility. I just did not want to see Mike go at all, as he had became one of my favorite characters on the show and I was so damn pissed at Walter when he shot him in the gut. He did have some of the most badass last words ever though– “Shut the f**k up and let me die and peace.”
Gary: It’s a toss up between Jesse’s two love interests. Jane’s was hard to watch, even though she’d gone from being a likable character to an idiot. Even if she did go back to being a druggie, watching Walt let her die by choking on her vomit was tough. At the same time, Andrea’s death was tough too. I guess I’ll go with Andrea since hers was entirely pointless and happened after Jane; Jesse deserved some happiness dammit.
Bryan: Both of Jesse’s girlfriends. Jane and Andrea. I’ve covered Jane reasonably thoroughly already for what’s supposed to be kind of a short-form deal here, but the one thing I don’t think I’ve expressly mentioned is the fact that Jane’s death was at least half her fault. She overdosed and choked on her own vomit. Yes, Walt could have– and arguably should have– saved her, but if she doesn’t do that extra speedball before bed, she doesn’t vomit in her sleep to begin with. Andrea, on the other hand, was completely, 100% innocent. It was absolutely gut-wrenching for me when Todd did what he did to her, and her innocence, her dying through absolutely no fault of her own, put her death on the level with Jane’s. If I’m really honest with myself, I think it’s probably fair to say my attachment to the “Jane” character is probably the thing that keeps her death on the level with Andrea’s.
Where would you rank Breaking Bad among the top TV shows of all time?
Sandman: Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other show that I like better so far, and that is Game of Thrones. There have been plenty of other shows that I liked better at the start, but those shows peaked quickly and then fell off. Breaking Bad did a great job of starting off good, building to great, and tying everything up at the end before it all became stale and tired. It really is a blueprint for how a TV show should go. It’s hard to say where I’d rank it specifically down to one spot, but I’d say it’s definitely in my Top 3 all time.
Jules: Breaking Bad comes in at number one for me. I was a big Sopranos fan, and I enjoyed The Wire, and The Shield as well, but for me no other show ever combined the artistic greatness with the general enjoyable nature of Breaking Bad. It was like a Coen Brothers movie, but without the jaded nihilism. I’ve never been more entertained by a television show in my life, and probably never will be.
Gary: I completely dislike a lot of widely considered “greats”, but I’d put it a solid number three on my list. Right behind Stargate SG-1 and Spartacus (in that order). From a pure storytelling, growth episode to episode perspective, it’s gotta be tops.
Bryan: I think at the very least it’s a shoe-in for anybody’s all-time top 25. I’m not sure where I’d specifically list it, but I am pretty sure I can’t think of 25 shows I absolutely liked better. I think the chances are pretty good it even makes my top 15 if not my top 10.
Speaking for everyone involved in this discussion, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Feel free to leave any of your thoughts and remembrances of the show below in our comment section. Disagree with any of our panelists? Take them to task right here, or on our forums or @VortexEffect on the Twitter Machine.