Almost Spoiler-Free Analysis of Why “Breaking Bad” Is So Damn Good

How AMC's drama about a chemistry teacher turned meth dealer makes us feel things we haven't felt in ages

Four days later, I’m still freaked out.

By a TV show.

No small thing these days, being freaked out at all, let alone by a TV drama. Little remains that can pack the kind of oomph that can get you there.

We’ve watched bookstores go the way of Pez dispensers and Dick Cheney kept alive with an amped-up erector set. Just recently we sat through a hurricane and an earthquake and a baseball collapse we can still only talk about in the most funereal of tones. We’ve built immunity. Nothing knocks us out. Andy Reid still has a job, Arlene Ackerman can afford a Bentley and Herman Cain is the second most popular Republican in the nation.


There’s another freakazoid news story every day, so many you can barely process any single one. There was one this week, I bet you saw it, took place in Folsom, one of those ‘hoods off 95 that nobody can get to without a GPS: a 72-year-old man shot a neighbor—and the neighbor’s stepdaughter—because he grew sick of the loud music and construction noise that emanated from their property.

Crazy? Sure, but garden variety crazy; hardly freakazoid by today’s standards. The true freakazoid stuff came later when officers jailed the shooter at the township police building, and then, according to an admirably worded Inquirer account, the man “placed his hands in his pockets and barreled headfirst into the bars of his cell door, injuring his head.” He was rushed to the hospital where police hoped to arraign him when he regained consciousness.
Without that last bit of merriment, no real freakazoid.

Point is—belabored, I know—that we’re living in times when the once fantastic has become the norm.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that there’s a TV show with the nerve and imagination to dare to try and freak us out more than our daily reality.

I speak, of course, of Breaking Bad.

If you can’t bring yourself to watch Breaking Bad, I understand. There are people in my very household who gather up their things and flee the room the second they hear the opening notes of the show’s theme song.

Yes, Breaking Bad is violent and twisted. It is also the best-written drama on television.

For those who dare not watch: Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, a struggling high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. White turns to a life of crime by producing and selling methamphetamine with Jesse Pinkman, his former student, so he can assure his family’s financial future before he dies.

That’s the broad outline. But it hardly tells the story. For that you have to watch.

You learn a lot watching Breaking Bad—about the making of meth, about drug cartels, about the length people will go to for their family when they know their time is short.

You also learn that there are still writers working in television with extraordinary imaginations.

Last Sunday was the show’s season finale. If you watch Breaking Bad, you know there’s never been a better one. I turn now to my fellow watchers:

You believe what happened to Gus?

You believe he actually straightened his tie after his face was blown off?

You believe we have to wait for months for the next season to start?

You still as freaked out as I am?

Tim Whitaker is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.