ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 23, 2017) — I may be the only New Mexican that hasn’t watched the monumental TV series Breaking Bad. It’s not that I’m opposed to it. I just haven’t taken the time to watch the five seasons; that’s a lot of viewing. And for a series that’s regarded as the “Greatest television series of all time,” it’s odd that I haven’t, particularly since Breaking Bad is all around us who live in New Mexico, and specifically, Albuquerque, where the series was based.
As Burquenos we find Breaking Bad memorabilia in most stores: shirts, posters, and hats abound; there’s Breaking Bad bus tours; there’s even Breaking Badcandy; the Albuquerque Museum of Art’s new exhibit, Hollywood Southwest, has a Breaking Bad section. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Walter White (the lead character in the series played by Bryan Cranston) was alive and well in Albuquerque .
But Breaking Bad is not only popular in New Mexico; it’s a global phenomenon. People from around the world come to Albuquerque to touch the city that took television by storm. I remember when the Irish traditional group Lunasa came to town for a concert. In between a couple of songs, members of the group asked the audience if someone could take them to a couple of Breaking Bad sights before they headed off to their next show.
Yep. It’s that big.
And the awards prove it. Breaking Bad won sixteen Emmy Awards, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two Peabody Awards, two Critics’ Choice Awards, and four Television Critics Awards. If my math is correct, that’s around 34 awards. And then when you add in all the awards for best actor, actress, and the like, one can conclude that Breaking Bad was highly regarded.
For those not familiar with the plot, Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, follows a chemistry teacher whose been diagnosed with cancer. To help support his family, he turns to making methamphetamine — with the help of a former student—to plan for his family’s future. In short, Breaking Bad follows a good guy who becomes the bad guy.
When our family moved back to New Mexico in 2008 Breaking Bad was just getting started. But already there was a buzz around town. We’d see the yellow signs spread throughout the city pointing out the filming locations. Then all craziness broke out when it began to win awards, people started showing up to find the set locations, and some even started to mimic scenes, like throwing pizza on a roof . But still I didn’t watch the series.
To help rectify my lack of Breaking Bad viewership, I attended the Albuquerque Museum of Art’s reading of the pilot show. Performed by actors from Fusion Theater, I went to see the production to get a sense of the cultural power Breaking Bad has had on our region. The reading took place in the amphitheater at the Albuquerque Museum, with several hundred people in attendance.
Before the reading, Producer Dennis Gromelski came out and told the sold-out audience that the production we’re about to hear was the original script used by Gilligan to garner interest at AMC, including all production notes. He asked if any in the audience had been an extra in the series. A few hands were raised.
Gromelski then took a video of the crowd to send to Vince Gilligan. The audience thanked Vince with a shout and wild handclap.
The narration of the broadcast was well executed. With three narrators and roughly eleven actors — including former Albuquerque Poet Laureate, Jessica Helen Lopez, the almost two-hour presentation gave a unique look at Breaking Bad, highlighting Vince Gilligan’s production concepts without the help of visuals (no set design, though there were cutouts of the main characters in the museum). I must admit that I was taken in by the storyline; it was both humorous and deadly serious. And other than some risqué and violent elements found throughout, the production was a unique look at Gilligan’s fine writing skills.
As a Christian, I couldn’t help but notice whispers of Biblical themes, of people who went from doing good to doing bad. Sampson comes to mind. And I’m not the only one who sees a comparison to the Bible. Ann Coulter writes that Breaking Bad can be seen as “A Christian parable” . And David Zahl sees a kind of “Frightening — but Biblical — moral logic” in the series . Even Vince Gilligan links the series to something deeper. Gilligan told a reporter from the New York Times, “If there’s a larger lesson to Breaking Bad, it’s that actions have consequences…If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished.” Gilligan continues, “I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something.” .
Whether I continue watching the series, I’m not sure. I’m interested, but maybe the mystery of the series is more alluring than actually taking the time to watch it. But what I do know is that for all the cultural impact Breaking Bad has had on the world, there’s got to be something inherently true-to-life about it, something that highlights our humanity — for good or for ill. Maybe that alone is the reason I should continue watching Breaking Bad: to see what happens when human beings lose control of their humanity, giving way to unchecked desires.
It’s like what Thomas Aquinas states, “Non-natural concupiscence is altogether infinite.” That is strong desire for things — be it money, murder, sex, or greed—has infinite consequences. This type of unchecked desire is ultimately supernatural (beyond the physical) and competitive (among people and God), seeking power to fulfill its own pleasure; it has no limits. But unnatural desires have consequences — as Breaking Bad demonstrates, a reminder set to film. And even with a wonderfully written script, fine actors, and beautifully filmed footage, there is something deeper to the darkness portrayed in Breaking Bad, something that only Christ can conquer. The darkness around us may be deep, but Christ’s love is deeper still. Breaking Bad may show the darkness of humanity, but Christ alone demonstrates that the “Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5).
Photo captions: 1) Walter White (as played by Bryan Cranston), 2) Posing with the Breaking Bad RV. 3) RV as part of the Breaking Bad reading at the ABQ Museum of Art. 4) The Pilot Episode reading of Breaking Bad. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon