One of the more remarkable things about looking back on Breaking Bad is that it started in 2008 and finished its golden run in 2013! It seems like only yesterday that we found ourselves first beguiled by Ned Flanders’ first tentative steps into the world of meth and only about half an hour ago when adoring fans eagerly crowded around to take in the grand finale or ‘Felina’ should I say.
Retrospectively viewed, that fanfare of the final episode itself may well represent the last of its kind in terms of everyone tuning in at once, like the original TV zenith of ‘who shot JR’ back in the days of Dallas, to take in an episode live. It still happens with sports, of course, but in the age of streaming, the vitality of knowing neighbours is no doubt echoing your gasps and everyone chatting about it the next day at work is long gone.
In many ways, this represents the crowning achievement of Breaking Bad, it was so good that it rewound the clocks to a time when opinions were less divided and strangely brought about a surge of collectivism, if only for an hour each week. Now, almost ten years on from its farewell, it still resides amid the Mount Rushmore of great TV in such a way that subsequent shows that offered promise failed to sustain.
Helming the whole thing was the incomparable performance of Bryan Cranston. His unfurling character study is the only piece of lead TV acting to ever rival James Gandolfini in The Sopranos. And as we’ve all learnt, when Heisenberg talks, you listen. Thus, it made it all the more notable when Cranston documented the episodes that he holds dearest from the gilded series.
His first choice was the episode titled ‘Phoenix’. For those of you who can’t bring it to mind from the name alone, I will impart one single motif that will no doubt bring it rushing back into the psyche: Walt rushing into Jesse’s apartment, only to stand frozen as his girlfriend Jane starts to choke on her own vomit.
The episode apparently rendered Cranston a weeping mess during filming as he kept picturing his own daughter in the same awful fate. This emotional state obviously worked to the advantage of the series, however, as Cranston brought all of that emotional duality to the scene and helped to impart a message where his split persona was suddenly beginning to stack in one direction more than the other (even if Jane was rather loathsome, in fairness). As it happens, Cranston was so moved by this moment that he even opens his memoir by discussing it.
The second episode that he chose was not the highest-rated, ‘Ozymandias’, or any of my two favourites (‘Crawl Space’ where he laughs maniacally under the basement, or the scintillating and ingenious train heist on ‘Dead Freight’). Understandably, he opted for the aforementioned TV moment that will go down in the ages – the grand ‘Felina’. Not only was it the perfect ending, it was also a piece of TV history, and if you’ve been part of that, of course, you’re going to hold it close to the heart.