Guest / Limited Access /
The Frightening—But Biblical—Moral Logic of 'Breaking Bad'
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.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueShould Churches Stop Sponsoring Boy Scout Troops?
Subscriber Access Only Should Churches Stop Sponsoring Boy Scout Troops?
Experts weigh in on whether or not churches should disassociate with the youth organization over its gay-members policy.
Recommended‘The Young Pope’ Takes an Anxious Look at the Danger of Doubt
‘The Young Pope’ Takes an Anxious Look at the Danger of Doubt
HBO's unsettling Vatican satire asks what happens when spiritual leaders shirk their own faith.
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
%%var.bookTitle%%
Breaking Bad: Season 05 (Episode 1-8)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
2015-08-18
3 pp., $16.49
Buy %%var.bookTitle%% 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.