14 years ago, a writer on the show “X-Files,” Vince Gilligan, wrote and directed a pilot for a series on AMC called “Breaking Bad.” Upon receiving positive reviews from critics, more and more episodes were then made, to even higher praise. After the finale in 2013, the series had evolved into an entire universe. Breaking Bad has spawned numerous web series, podcasts and fan work, but most notably a prequel series called “Better Call Saul” and a film titled “El Camino.” Upon running on the air for 14 years, the Breaking Bad franchise has received universal acclaim and is widely considered one of the most influential franchises in history.
In “Breaking Bad,” a 50 year old high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico named Walter White is diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. Upon realizing his life is now coming closer to the end, Walter attempts to financially provide for his wife Skylar and his son Walter Jr. and his newborn daughter Holly, before passing away from cancer. Partnering up with his old student, Jesse Pinkman, the two of them form an unlikely successful partnership cooking and distributing methamphetamine while overcoming obstacles, such as Walter’s brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, a high-ranking officer in the Drug Enforcement Administration, psychotic methamphetamine dealers and calculating drug lords, not to mention dealing with Skykar’s emotional state upon learning about his line of work. The thing that makes “Breaking Bad” so phenomenal is its impressive characterization. At the start of the show, Walter White was just an ordinary, average, middle aged man who lived very modestly and only prioritized his family’s well being. However, as the show goes on, Walter slowly turns into an unhinged drug kingpin, obsessed with making unfathomable amounts of money and obtaining absolute power, regardless of the consequences to those he previously cared for. We harrowingly see Walter’s actions continually hurt the people around him, most notably his partner Jesse, who has a huge heart and whose actions are orchestrated and pressured by Walter, and his wife Skylar, who grows to become terrified of her husband and what he has brought upon their family. Thanks to outstanding writing that leaves almost nothing unexplained and keeps you invested all throughout, creative directing, and amazing acting, “Breaking Bad’s” legacy and reputation will never be forgotten.
Better Call Saul:
A memorable character on “Breaking Bad,” and the funniest by far, is Walter White’s “criminal” lawyer, Saul Goodman. Saul is the one responsible for helping Walter and Jesse advance their meth distribution as he helps them escape police custody and connects them up with huge meth distributors. Saul Goodman is clearly a devious and crooked lawyer, but he wasn’t always this way. “Breaking Bad’s” prequel series, “Better Call Saul,” which came out in 2016 tells the story of Saul before he was “Saul”. Saul used to be Jimmy McGill, a non-recognizable amateur lawyer in the shadow of several other successful lawyers, notably his older brother Chuck. Throughout the series, we see how “Slippin’ Jimmy’ slowly grows to become more cunning and deceitful than he already was, while balancing a relationship with his lover and eventual wife, Kim Wexler, attempting to reconcile a complicated relationship with his brilliant but increasingly mentally incapacitated brother Chuck McGill, and a criminal enforcer named Mike Ehurmantraut, who works for the drug lord, Gus Fring, both of whom also appear on “Breaking Bad.” While most prequel and/or sequel series and spin-offs almost never hit hard, “Better Call Saul” is the perfect example of how to add to the legacy of the original. The series features all the action, exciting writing and extraordinary performances as its predecessor and tells a very emotional story of how family neglect and the criminal underworld have a permanent and devastating impact on individual’s lives. That fact that the series hasn’t won a single Emmy is nothing short of an insult and an ongoing travesty.
The movie “El Camino” came out 6 years after the series finale of Breaking Bad, however, the story picks up right after the events of the show’s finale (a.k.a. Felina). “El Camino” tells the story of Jesse’s escape from the drug underworld and into a new life as he reconnects with old friends and recalls old memories, none of which are happy. Even though the film can be frustratingly slow, “El Camino” is a worthy conclusion to the character of Jesse Pinkman. We now see Jesse move on with his life, no longer being under Walter’s control or anyone else’s.
It can easily be said that Vince Gilligan is a brilliant writer and genius showrunner. With help of several other collaborators and friends, like Peter Gould, Thomas Shnauz and Michelle McLaren, he masterfully created a mindblowing franchise. Though it does not exactly end off with a happy ending, that is the whole point. Such horrible and horrific behavior cannot be left inconsequential, and Gilligan accomplishes this perfectly throughout the “Breaking Bad” universe’s 14 year run.
Bravo, Vince. Bravo.
This article originally appeared in the Hitching Post and Kaleidoscope