Saturday, November 2, 2013

Breaking Bad

I found myself sucked into the series Breaking Bad on Fox Life, which distributes a great number of American television series overseas.  It's too bad we don't get AMC.

Walter White is certainly a very compelling figure and the writers find ways to twist and turn his character over the long run.  It has to be very difficult to sustain a continuous narrative, but they've done so begun getting the former Chemistry teacher ever more deeply embedded in the drug world, with season four picking up on the vast Mexican cartel that now controls the production of Meth.

Meth is not new.  It was first developed in the early 20th century and used by WWII pilots to overcome drowsiness and fatigue. However, the debilitating nature of the drug was discovered and this practice was discontinued.  It reappeared as an anti-depressant and diet drug in the 50s.  In the 60s, it was used as an alternative for recovering heroin addicts.  It wasn't until the 1970s that it became more tightly regulated, although it was still widely available in the form of "speed."

It might have been best to set Breaking Bad in the 90s, as this is when it was rediscovered by drug dealers, and became a cheap alternative to cocaine.  A huge cottage industry spread quickly from the Southwest to the Midwest, making it more widely available than ever before. This has been chronicled in Methland. Eventually, the Mexican cartels took over, "cooking" meth in large labs and distributing it in the United States. By the 2000s, meth was well regulated again, only by drug dealers this time, who kept a tight control over their product, squeezing out rivals.

What makes the show compelling is that the writers carefully script Walter's involvement, from small time "cook" to a man who ultimately wants to be in charge of his own destiny.  He gets a lot of help along the way, and the road becomes ever darker.  As the premise becomes harder to swallow, the writers wisely shift to moral and ethical concerns.  Throughout, we see an ongoing DEA investigation, carried out by his brother-in-law.  Meth distribution is slippery, and the DEA has had a particularly difficult time reining in the devil's drug, but still you figure Hank would have caught on by now given Walter's erratic behavior.

Hank recommends a copy of The Last Narco for young Walter to read.  Walt's namesake is equally oblivious to what is going on.  The burden falls on Walt's wife to wrestle with the moral anguish of it all and I think Anna Gunn does a great job of projecting this.

Meth is a horribly destructive drug.   It can be consumed in a wide variety of ways and has infiltrated every segment of society, much like cocaine did in the 80s.  There are many first person accounts now available.  I think the show probably could do more to show these debilitating effects, but the writers are obviously more interested in the labyrinthine set of connections that allow for its widespread availability.


  1. Feel free to comment. I would enjoy feedback on Breaking Bad.

  2. My comment: that is one weird photo.

    I missed Breaking Bad. Not my cup of tea I'm afraid, although most everyone I know loved it.

  3. It's a great show, av. Went so far beyond the usual crime drugs genre and into the metaphysical. They even had a running thread on Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, although I think Moby-Dick would have been a better allusion, as Walter White was a lot like Ahab.

  4. And there's also the strength that it focuses on the problems of someone who doesn't have health insurance. Do you think anyone noticed?