Sunday, 29 September 2013

Breaking Bad comes to an end

If you haven't seen it, you must, and when you do, you are in for a treat! The final episode of the US TV Drama, Breaking Bad, went out on sunday night in the USA and is available in the UK via Netflix on monday evening. The deal to get it on Netflix so quickly was done to stop piracy, but according to reports, more than half a million torrents of each episode are downloaded every week, within 12 hours of the US broadcast- which is pretty remarkable!  The programme is also available as an ever growing box set, which is of course one of the main ways in which people now consume TV series, enabling them to watch as many episodes as they like at whatever pace they want.

So there are many ways to watch, and, if you are on twitter, many ways for the latest twist in the story to be revealed before you get the chance to see it. My advice- don't follow any of the actors on twitter and don't click on the trending hashtag- that way you won't hear anything you don't want to hear.

I won't give away anything here, but suffice to say that I think it is one more in a line of very inventive, well-written American TV shows that play around with our expectations and with genre in interesting ways. It is also extremely gripping, with some shocking moments and some dark humour. No wonder it swept the board at the Emmys last week. In this way, it is in the tradition of The Sopranos, Mad Men and The Wire, though in terms of content, its not really like any of them.

The basic story is that middle-aged chemistry teacher, Walter White, discovers that he has cancer and is given only a few months to live. When his brother-in-law, wise-cracking drug enforcement cop, Hank, takes him out to watch a drugs bust, he accidentally bumps into one of his former pupils, Jesse, escaping the scene. This leads to Walter checking out the crystal meth recipe and deciding that he could do far better. He quickly leaves the straight life behind and plunges into a secret double life which leads to all manner of complications and mayhem. The programme is set in Albuqurque, New Mexico, a town in the desert, which looks like the setting for a Western. Indeed, in many episodes there are scenes reminiscent of classic Western confrontations. But the structure is like that of a Gangster film, with circumstance plunging our central characters into a criminal world, which escalates beyond their control and ultimately leads to their downfall.

But it is much more than this- there is some social commentary on the USA today: the absurd costs of medical care, which is Walter's reason for taking up the drug trade, immigration- poor central Americans crossing the border to be exploited as illegal immigrants and the crystal meth trade itself almost a parallel for Capitalism's ruthless legal forms of money making. But it's not like The Wire, where American society is the focus; here, a small group of characters are the focus and it is clear that every little thing that they do will have consequences, even when those consequences don't come up for several weeks (or even sometimes not till a later series). It is also a programme which does some interesting things with form and structure of storytelling. Episodes often begin with flashbacks or flash forwards, so that the audience is piecing together both a backstory and what they think will happen. But it is rarely predictable. As I wait for the final episode, I have no idea what will happen, even though I have seen a flash forward to it. I can guess, but I'm usually wrong!

If you haven't seen it, start catching up now!

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