Sign up FAST! Login

Breaking Bad's Chemical Brothers Are the Obsessive-Compulsive Soul of the Most Twisted Show on Television | Rolling Stone

Stashed in: Breaking Bad, Rolling Stone!

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

This pretty much captures it:

Breaking Bad is, at its core, a story of transformation – unlike nearly every character in the history of television, Walter White is changing beyond recognition over the show's 62 episodes. It's less a character arc than a plunge down a moral elevator shaft. As show creator Vince Gilligan routinely puts it, Walt is going from Mr. Chips to Scarface – from a meek, defeated high school chemistry teacher to a vicious criminal: Last season, he went so far as to poison a child. "Bryan can pull off anything," says Aaron Paul, who plays White's unlikely partner, the wounded-eyed hip-hop-damaged slacker Jesse Pinkman (the show is also an extended, bizarre buddy-movie riff). "I mean, he does so many horrible things and yet the fans are still like, Yeah, Walt! Fucking poison that kid! You're dying of cancer. I understand!'"

Adds Gilligan, "You can have a main character like Walter White or Tony Soprano or Don Draper, someone who does questionable things, but since they are the protagonist you can't help but see the world of the show more or less through their eyes. Sometimes I liken it almost to a Stockholm syndrome, where you as the viewer start to see things as they do, which is a danger when you're talking about a guy as warped as Walter White."

After Cranston accepted the role, he started asking people if there was a prior example of such a radical TV-character change – and one friend came up with the only known example: "Fonzie started out as a badass," says Cranston. "And he became, like, 'Hey, Mrs. C.' So this is the reverse Fonzie."

With its endless paranoia, Breaking Bad is like the frantic final minutes of GoodFellas stretched over six seasons of television. It's a desert fever dream about a doomed America – though few nightmares have such clockworklike plot construction. Its tone is distinctly less naturalistic and its situations less plausible than other greatest-show-ever contenders (The Sopranos, Mad Men, The Wire). "We're obsessed with coming up with moments that people won't soon forget," says Gilligan, who spent seven years as a writer for The X-Files. "And sometimes they border on the operatic or perhaps on the hyperreal, if not surreal. It's all about showmanship."

He's referring, presumably, to the image of Walt's nemesis Gus Fring calmly adjusting his tie with half of his face blown off, or a purple, one-eyed stuffed animal diving into Walt's swimming pool from a crashed plane, or a decapitated head strapped to a tortoise and rigged with explosives. It's the show's pulpy DNA – and Gilligan's twisted sense of humor – that makesBreaking Bad so much deranged fun. "The two shows share something," says X-Files creator Chris Carter, who had Gilligan write some of that show's funniest and weirdest episodes. "They both start with outrageous concepts: an FBI agent chasing aliens and a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a meth dealer? Both outrageous." The meth is out there.

You May Also Like: