Breaking Bad and the Burden of Greatness

No matter what profession or industry you find yourself working in, there are always people that are defined as “great.” Such a vague word can mean different things to different people, but one of the main components of all types of greatness is expectations. When you are great, not only do people expect you to be at your absolute peak every time, but a lot of times they expect you to raise it. The people in Olympic Stadium Sunday night didn’t just expect Usain Bolt to win the gold medal, but they expected him to break the world record… that he set. Bolt met those expectations head on and became immortal. We’ll talk about him forever. While the burden of greatness falls primarily on athletes, TV shows can also carry this burden.

Such is the case with the first half of the final season of Breaking Bad. After pressing the reset button (and ringing the bell) with the activities of last season’s finale, Breaking Bad started the season in a position to do some world building. It was never going to match the tension of the final few episodes of last season. Vince Gilligan wasn’t going to just throw our guys into the next big thing. With the imminent threat gone, time had to be taken to create a new one. Still, many people insisted that the show should continue to barrel down the dark, insane, scary path that we tumbled down for the last half of season four. It seems that people came for the face-removals, but were greeted only with another hot breakfast on the White family table. While I am no stranger to blood/action lust when watching one of my favorite shows, I know that if I watch Breaking Bad for only those reasons, I am missing the best parts of the show. The greatness, and genius, is in the moments beyond the pulse pounding action.

In many ways, Breaking Bad is a victim of how television is consumed these days. Thanks to the advent of social media outlets and instant streaming websites, television shows are no longer consumed on a once-a-week basis. The offseason of our favorite television shows can be dissected almost as carefully as the NFL offseason. People will binge watch an entire season of television in a couple of days. When a show takes the time to raise stakes at the end of a season (as Breaking Bad did last year), the hype machine gets cranked up to 11 until the show’s return. No show is capable of matching the level of hype that surrounded Bryan Cranston and company this summer. Various teaser trailers, a much ballyhooed Comic-Con appearance, and Cranston’s 1478 interviews (numbers are approximate) all contributed to the hype. Is hype a bad thing? Absolutely not. TV shows live and die off of the buzz they can create in the fan community. The hype is part of the hustle. It’s not the job of the show to manage the hype, and fans are allowed to get carried away with it. However, once the season begins, it’s important to remember why the hype was warranted in the first place. We not have blown anyone’s face off yet, but Gilligan, Cranston, and Aaron Paul have more than earned our trust. It’s important to remember that. Don’t let Breaking Bad‘s greatness become a burden. Allow it shine through your television. By embracing greatness, you just may be witnessing television immortality.