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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

because i just finished breaking bad

I was once asked what story  I had read that I wished I had written, back then I gave my favourite~at the time~ piece of writing the Kite Runner by Khaleed Hosseini. This is still one of the best books I have ever read, a movingly poignant story about the relationships between fathers and sons, between boys who would be men and those who can't. It tackles regret and sadness, weakness and the strength that is found in all of us if we can just forgive our flaws. In addition it does all this against the background of Afghanistan both pre and post taliban, pre and post nine~eleven and closes with a sentence that in its simplicity holds all the themes of redemption and the complexities of a  love that can never be repaid brought to the forefront of the book. Here's the thing though if I had written that then I would never have read it not in the way I did, with a sense of curiosity and wonder, finding a world in every page and being so moved by the end that I didn't want to come back to ours.

Then I read Ethan Brand by Nathaniel Hawthorne~don't you just love the end of copyright limitations?~. {this paragraph contains some spoilers for the aforementioned and linked story}This is a story about a guy who goes out in search of the unforgivable sin. His quest is a good one when it begins,pure and maybe even holy. He leaves town for a few years and travels the world in search of this sin. The story then begins to chronicle his descent into darkness as he looks everywhere for this perfect sin finding it in the place he would last look, on the inside. I had never read this story before and I realized while I was reading it that I had once written a rudimentary version of it. This story blew me away, it explored the conflict in the soul of the main character, plumbing the depths of his heart and the path he was on as well as  the battle that he had to fight within himself to come out completely different. I love this kind of story, and maybe that's why I love Breaking Bad so much.

The series creator has said that this a story that tracks the transformation of the main character from Mr. Chips to Scarface. I have no idea who Mr. Chips is, probably the best neighbour to have, a guy who won't sniff a mountain of cocaine as a coffee break, Scarface is. You don't want him as an enemy but even more you don't want him as a friend, because at a party he might just ask you to say hello to his little friend [one of the only statements that's more benign if your mind is in the gutter.]

I just finished watching the fourth season of this amazing tv drama and it was flawless. At the beginning one of the characters is lost to the world, he has gone through something that changes him and the way he looks at the world. He begins to question his humanity and responds with apathy. One of the best portrayals of apathy I have ever seen in my life. You see him spiral out of control and he doesn't care. He looks for every escape he can find from the harsh reality of what he has done and what it means for what he's become and through this all there's a blank stare in his eye, nothing brings him pleasure and all the things that should bring him pain instead.

The concept of this show is a high school teacher who's diagnosed with cancer and begins to sell crystal meth in order to leave something behind for his family when he goes. As can be expected a lifestyle choice like this changes your life, a heightened state of danger and being is expected when dealing with hard drugs,law enforcement, other criminals, your own family. This is basically a triad that you have to keep monumental secrets from. The potential for drama arising from all this is huge.

However the best pieces of literature usually portray life in all its minutiae. It's a good writer who can keep you hooked when writing about a fast paced plot where explosions are occurring at every turn you can imagine but its the greats who can keep you hooked even when they delve into the minutiae of every day life, when they write about the mundane and make it seem magical. Breaking Bad does this stretching the tension in one of the few business transactions that doesn't involve drugs or criminals to a point where I nearly fell off the seat. The portrayals of home life in the show are also particularly touching. All the characters are flawed and when flawed characters interact with each other flawed relationships ensue. Before our eyes relationships break down, slowly and gradually then everything gradual adds up and builds till it feels like the conclusion given is the only one that could be expected. These are people trying to do what we all have to do in life simply deal with whatever the world throws at them and they fail as we all do but you can't help supporting all of them or at least respecting and admiring them.

Admiring them and looking forward to their interactions. I once watched a movie, Before Sunrise, where one of the main characters told the other, "I believe god exists in the space between people." Maybe he does because there is something there. in a few moments in life there is such power in that space that its all that matters. It is rare in tv but in this show the power of silence was brought to the forefront as characters would  have quiet conversations, those moments where silence would speak volumes, it would well between them like the cancer that started the show off growing and taking over everything else till it became a suffocating presence. It would become another person in the room, an all consuming entity. in those moments of silence, whether it was two people looking at each other with fear, trepidation, awareness or just one going about their daily lives with an intensity we all should, in those silent moments the beauty of the show and of life sprung forth.

There was also plenty of action, a plot that was dependent on the characters and grew organically from who they were while at the same time, since this is essentially a story of transformation, the characters had to grow organically from what the plot was. The effects they had on each other was clear as the fourth season built up to one of the most satisfying climaxes I have ever seen a climax in which silence was once again used eloquently. In a moment without words a hanging plot thread was plucked out while a light was shined into the soul of one of the characters and as the screen faded to black i felt i was watching literature. 

So in short, go watch Breaking Bad.


  1. Another breaking bad fan, YAY! Seriously though,it's a brilliantly written show isn't it? For equally brilliant (and currently on-going shows) I also recommend Good wife, sons of anarchy, mad men, boardwalk empire, community and yes,vampire diaries...

    For the gone but not forgotten, I recommend The wire,Friday night lights,Terriers and The Shield...

  2. vampire diaries? isn't that about vampires? who are all sucky nowadays, but i like the rest on the list i have watched, the wire is amazing and you forgot deadwood, sopranos and the west wing, game of thrones, there's a lot of good tv out there

  3. My dear, Vampire diaries is not just any other 'vampire' show (the only other cool in a nutty mathare kind of way is true blood which is not for the faint hearted). If you like shows with tight dialogue, fluid action scenes, suspense (the cliff hangers are to-die-for) and characters (good or bad) you unwittingly root for, then you should def watch it...Game of thrones & Deadwood are simply out of this world...I missed huge chunks of westwing, so I'll have to get back to you on that

  4. interesting article

  5. It is like a vampire soap opera, there is no horror now in the latest vampire movies.