The Frightening—But Biblical—Moral Logic of 'Breaking Bad'
Image: Frank Ockenfels / AMC

You might not expect an Emmy-nominated tastemaker to tell The New York Times, "I want to believe there's a heaven. But I can't not believe there's a hell." Yet that's exactly how Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, summed up his personal philosophy in 2011. The quote should not surprise anyone familiar with the show, which makes its final, infernal push Sunday night.

For four and a half seasons, Gilligan has told the story of Walter White, a docile chemistry teacher who, after receiving a terminal diagnosis, turns to cooking methamphetamine (crystal meth) to provide for his family. As he develops a taste for the trade, Walt discovers a gift for deception—and self-deception—taking him down a path that turns "Mr. Chips into Scarface," as Gilligan's original pitch put it. Filter that premise through the severity of Cormac McCarthy and the dry humor of the Coen Brothers, and you're in for a compelling ride.

AMC debuted Breaking Bad when the cable network was fresh off the success of their first foray into original programming, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad appeared to be cast from the same mold. These were television series as serialized novels, exploring both grand visions and intimate corners of characters' inner and outer lives.

It's no coincidence that the revitalized format features antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Don Draper. The extended run time lends itself to complicated protagonists, whose humanity is never in question but whose behavior keeps viewers guessing. As both perpetrators and victims, they can be reprehensible one moment, vulnerable the next, capable of premeditated malice and violence as well as tenderness and charity.

Breaking Bad ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this IssueWhy We Call God 'Father'
Why We Call God 'Father' Subscriber Access Only
Christians have good reasons to resist gender-neutral alternatives.
RecommendedPete Holmes: Believing in God Gave Me Hope as Comic
Pete Holmes: Believing in God Gave Me Hope as Comic
In his new HBO show 'Crashing,' the former evangelical winks to Christian fans.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickThe March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
The March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
How evangelical scientists square their place in the global movement.
Breaking Bad: Season 05 (Episode 1-8)
Breaking Bad: Season 05 (Episode 1-8)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
2015-08-18
3 pp., $11.75
Buy Breaking Bad: Season 05 (Episode 1-8) from Amazon
Christianity Today
The Frightening—But Biblical—Moral Logic of 'Breaking Bad'
hide thisJuly/August July/August

In the Magazine

July/August 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.