Fat Books & Thin Women

#Longreads : David Segal’s “The Dark Art of Breaking Bad
October 12, 2011, 6:02 pm
Filed under: Favorite Longreads | Tags: , , , , , ,

Check back every Wednesday for a link to a new longread. Your thoughts on this week’s read, and suggestions for future articles and essays, are always welcome!

Anyone who has had to speak to me in the last few months knows that I have fallen completely and irredeemably in love with Breaking Bad. In my ever-shifting list of Greatest TV Shows of All Time, which Friday Night Lights‘ soulful Tim Riggins has occasionally disrupted with his shaggy hair and love of beer, Breaking Bad has rudely pushed aside The Wire for the top position. This is the best TV show that’s ever been made. I find it impossible to believe that there will ever be a show that will take a closer or more daring look at the disintegration of the moral fiber of a man, or that will do a better job of exploring the power struggles behind the drug scene through the lens of that fallen character.

Maybe you noticed, though, that it’s only in the last few months that I’ve started watching the show. I’d only heard of Breaking Bad in passing until I went home over the summer for the Fulbright conference and took a copy of The New York Times Sunday Magazine to the gym with me.* As I wheezed away on the elliptical I started reading David Segal’s “The Dark Art of Breaking Bad,” which focuses on Vince Gilligan and some of the formative ideas behind the show. All I could think was: I need to watch this. Now.

Segal visits the Breaking Bad crew as they shoot for season four, but writes about the development of the show as a whole. It’s this description that got me interested in watching the series:

The story and setting [of the first season] were an update of the spaghetti Western, minus the cowboys and set in the present.

But it was soon clear that “Breaking Bad” was something much more satisfying and complex: a revolutionary take on the serial drama. What sets the show apart from its small-screen peers is a subtle metaphysical layer all its own. As Walter inches toward damnation, Gilligan and his writers have posed some large questions about good and evil, questions with implications for every kind of malefactor you can imagine, from Ponzi schemers to terrorists. Questions like: Do we live in a world where terrible people go unpunished for their misdeeds? Or do the wicked ultimately suffer for their sins?

Segal does a fantastic job pointing out those things that make Breaking Bad best, and so much more daring than its counterpats; namely, that “Walter White progresses from unassuming savant to opportunistic gangster — and as he does so, the show dares you to excuse him, or find a moral line that you deem a point of no return.” More and more with each season, Gilligan pushes the viewer to find a new moral line for Walter; is [ ] acceptable if he is protecting his partner? his family? his money?

“The Dark Art of Breaking Bad” is a better read once you’ve watched the show – but the Times includes a primer of main characters (including Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman!) that can only pique your interest in watching. And if you’re looking for more on Breaking Bad, Newsweek ran their own Breaking Bad article over the summer, “TV’s Most Dangerous Show.” It hits many of the same notes as Segal’s article, but may help to curb your withdrawal as you wait for season five.**

* Going to the gym having become an alluring activity now that I don’t have that option.


Read David Segal’s “The Dark Art of Breaking Bad


 Subscribe to the Fat Books & Thin Women feed


I would say this is on par with THE WIRE as the top show on television right now. It’s less difficult, but for every deliciously dark scene, there’s an awkward family scene afterward. I’m only to season 3 through. Maybe it’s gonna do like THE WIRE and crescendo into incredible intensity. Like writer-friend of mine David James Keaton, the only problem with BREAKING BAD is that the female characters are poorly written.

Comment by Benoît Lelièvre (@BenoitLelievre)

I think Skyler grows a lot as a character after pushing for the divorce. (That happens in season two, right?) She comes out as a much more independent and complex character than she appears in the first couple seasons. I hadn’t thought of it before you mentioned it, but you’re right – this is a show that really focuses on the male characters, and not many of the women get a chance to do anything other than stand by the men.

I share your opinion re: the awkward family scenes. But man, seasons 3 and 4 – they just blew me away. When I was about halfway through season 2 I faltered, maybe went a month without watching an episode, because it felt to me at times just unbearably bleak…you know, Walter & Jesse go cook some meth, get in some minor mess, sell some meth, get in a fight, Walter tells some lies to his family, his family fights, he fights with Jesse again, he gets his son drunk and then fights with his family AGAIN… I’m looking forward to what you think of season 3.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

You have excellent taste in journalism and TV.


David Segal

Comment by David Segal

Comments are closed.