Breaking Bad: How Good TV Goes Bad

‘Breaking Bad’ is ostensibly the story of how a good, indeed gifted, man goes bad. It is also, however, a cautionary tale about the way in which good TV goes bad.

In its first two seasons, ‘Breaking Bad’ was a gripping, blackly comic tale that skilfully led viewers down an excruciatingly entertaining story path in the company of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a family man and gifted chemistry teacher who turns to “cooking” crystal meth when he learns he has terminal cancer. Over time, we see Walter “break bad” from a weak, law-abiding citizen into a focused, dangerous criminal. We see a man unaccustomed to violence assimilate the ruthless tit-for-tat logic demanded by the criminal marketplace. Now, however, by the end of Season 4, the series has degenerated into a shrill mess complete with mastermind villains and wing-nut assassination schemes that would have felt ridiculous even as off-screen B-plots in a much less grounded show, like 24. In Seasons 3 and  4, ‘Breaking Bad’ has found itself in a kind of dead-end loop, mostly a consequence of its creators first falling in love with ice-cold drug kingpin Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), then struggling to make more of this character, and latterly spending many episodes trying to free the show from the subterranean sterile lab of Gus’s omniscience.

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