As an English teacher, I have taught that film is a form of literature for a long time. From the beginning, but especially after movies like Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, film has been artistic with depth and beauty that is the hallmark of great literature.
Move over, film. You have a new partner. Television. That’s what Breaking Bad did. It elevated television to an art form. Yes, The Sopranos was good story telling, and even in all its weirdness, Twin Peaks explored the arts in a way similar to Picasso’s eye.
But Breaking Bad brought a hero to life who was as much an anti-hero as he was a hero. Who made us feel, feel deeply, feel to the absolute depths of our bones, and it will be over too soon. I’m sitting here an hour before the season finale with butterflies. I have rarely been so excited to see what happens next and never been filled with such dread to see it end.
It has touched me like Harper Lee did with Scout when she said, “and thus began our longest journey.” This journey with Walt and Jesse, watching their deep love and respect turn to hate and revenge, has been one of my favorite journeys in all of literature. The characters are complex and the conflicts are heart wrenching.
And the string of coincidences is Dickensian to say the least. I think Vince Gilligan saw the entire story from the beginning and placed the foreshadowing in front of our very eyes, but like Dickens did in Great Expectations, he unfolds the answers a little at a time. But they are never cheap. Or lazy. Or contrived. They were there all along, so they feel like the natural evolution of real life.
I hope that Jesse lives. I hope that Walt goes out in a way that is noble. In a way that saves Jesse.
I hope that some day another show will come along like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Game of Thrones. That will capture me and pull at me all over again. Because that’s what Breaking Bad did. It elevated television to literature.
So now when I teach my college freshmen, I have something new to add to the study of genres. Something they can understand. Something they know.
But here’s the thing about Breaking Bad . . . I wish I had never watched it. Just so I could see it again for the very first time.