I scare my friends with my knowledge of Breaking Bad. I'm always on the lookout for different takes on the series. To this end, I recently sat down with Blake Atwood, author of The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. Here are some excerpts.
PS: Breaking Bad and the Christian gospel seem diametrically opposed to each other. One features a monomaniacal drug-dealer hell-bent on expanding his empire while the other offers the world a humble teacher willing to sacrifice his life. Where's the crossover?
BA: Allow me to default to a Christian cliché by quoting C.S. Lewis: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." Everything I experience I do so through a lens of Christian belief.
I began watching Breaking Bad from the very beginning. I was spellbound by the storytelling. Sure, it could be gory and gritty, but the underlining narrative always had a hint of redemption about it. Well before showrunner Vince Gilligan stated that Walter most assuredly would not experience redemption, using his now infamous "Mr. Chips to Scarface" description, I wondered what arc Walter would follow. Would he be redeemed, or would he go out in a blaze of self-importance?
But even then, seeing how Breaking Bad broke the mold for contemporary television, I could hazard a guess that ultimately nothing was going to turn out right for Mr. White. To me, his arc was a morality play, a highly descriptive lesson in what happens when a man begins to believe his own ego. One of the foundational notions of Christian belief is that our pride separates us from God, and if Breaking Bad was about nothing else (and it was about much, much else), it was about Walter's pride.
Plus, one of my favorite quotes from Gilligan that he poached from his girlfriend is, "I want to believe there's a heaven. But I can't not believe there's a hell." Breaking Bad also focuses on the counterbalance of unchecked pride: justice. You can't get more biblical than that.
PS: Who should read The Gospel According to Breaking Bad?
BA: Any fan of the show. While I know that some of the Christianese might be off-putting to some fans, I tried as best I could to split the book evenly between engaging trivia and thoughtful analysis. My ultimate goal was to lead people to consider the deeper meanings and subtext of what occurs on the show. But, if you read it just to learn about the characters' color coding and other trivia, you'll still receive value out of the book.
I've also had many readers tell me that watching Breaking Bad for a second time after having read my book has made the series that much more fun and engaging. Their eyes have been opened to the meticulous work that Gilligan and his talented team put into every episode.
For a glimpse into the kinds of trivia I share--and this information isn't in the book--check out "80 Moments You Might Have Missed in the Last Season of Breaking Bad."
PS: What was your take on the ending of Breaking Bad?
BA: In July of 2014, my wife and I took a vacation to Albuquerque. Of course, I made her go on the ABQ Trolley Company's Bad 2.0 Tour with me. While on the fantastic tour, they'd ask us various questions. One that they had everyone answer was, "What was your least favorite scene?" I answered, "The closing credits," because it meant that Breaking Bad was really over.
I didn't want the show to end . . . even though I somewhat disagreed with how it ended.
Though I write about the finale extensively in the last chapter of The Gospel According to Breaking Bad, I'll summarize my take: I don't think Walter received full justice for his actions. Strangely enough, author Joyce Carol Oates and comedian Norm MacDonald gave voice to my opinion on the finale, and their insightful takes are provided in the book.
PS: What do you think about the forthcoming Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul?
BA: I'm very cautiously optimistic. I mostly think they should have left well enough alone and not made the prequel, but we could be surprised. Breaking Bad got better with every season, and since I assume talent from Bad will work on Saul, they'll definitely benefit from that experience. I just hope the viewers benefit as well.
And for what it's worth, I don't envision writing The Gospel According to Better Call Saul. Then again, Saul's world revolves around what's just and right and what's just right enough, issues we all deal with and could merit another book. Here's to hoping then, that we're still calling Saul for at least three seasons.