Have you watched Breaking Bad? I am asking because I am done with 3 seasons and don't see where the great writing is supposed to be. It's full with pointless, repetitive scenes and the women are almost always window dressing with little to no impact or to cause man pain. So I am doubting my asessment of it because most people seem to think differently.
I have watched the entire series and think Breaking Bad is extremely well-written. It’s just not everybody’s cup of tea.
One of the first things to point out is that the show deals with themes of - well, I guess you could call it “brooding masculinity.” Walter White as a character is weak and emasculated at the very beginning, even pre-cancer diagnosis. He’s working two jobs, being walked over by everybody he comes into contact with, and all this while juxtaposed with his strong, powerful, assertive brother-in-law Hank (who serves as a major foil for WW throughout the series as he loses his own grip on traditional “masculinity.”)
One of the smart things the show DOESN’T do is romanticize his “rise to power” if you want to call it that. Throughout the series, everything he DOES gain is shown to be illusory - fleeting. He earns money and immediately loses it. He forces Skyler back by his side and loses her. They’re feeble attempts by a feeble man to hang on to something that was never his to begin with. The show is very aware of this.
You mention repetition, but that repetition is one of the things that makes the show great. WW, Jesse, and all the characters can try as hard as they might to escape the things that haunt them but in the end they’re still moving towards an inevitable conclusion. We know from the beginning of the series that WW is going to die. That’s a given. Repetition is not always a bad thing, and part of what’s interesting with Breaking Bad is the subtle changes that occur throughout the series sitting side-by-side with all the things that remain the same.
It’s difficult to talk about the women of the show. Bad things happen to them, yes, but bad things happen to everybody on Breaking Bad.
I do think it’s a disservice to call any of the women of the show “window-dressing.”
Perhaps the most problematic treatment was of Andrea. But bad things also happen to men, and to children, so I’m willing to accept her death as a natural progression of things that were happening in the show.
Jane may have died, but I’d hardly call her window-dressing or say she only died because “man-pain”. Her character was complex and the writers dealt with her pretty well, both before and after drug relapse. And her death served a huge purpose in the show as well, showing the ripple effects of drugs and the drug trade (in a literal as well as a symbolic sense). Her death also marks the point where WW transforms from sort-of antihero to definite villain.
Now, Skyler. You definitely cannot call her window dressing. She’s a strong, interesting character who is every bit as smart and who can be every bit as ruthless as WW. The show creators were incredibly smart in not crafting her as nothing more than a long-suffering housewife. They embraced her femininity and her womanhood while acknowledging that she could be shrewd. They gave her flaws. They gave her the same gray morality as the other characters on the show. They made her a hypocrite. But ultimately, they made her a character who you could empathize with. Honestly, she’s wonderfully written and doesn’t fall into any strict tropes for female characters. Anybody who thinks she’s a “bitch” can come fight me.
(Likewise with Marie, who at the beginning seems pretty unlikeable and more morally questionable than her sister but who ultimately turns out to be the more rigidly moral of the two.)
Also, a disabled character who A. Is played by an actor with the same disability B. Is treated like a “normal” character (not some magical, inspiring woobie) and C. Whose disability actually isn’t at the center of his character. Flynn/Walt Jr. isn’t portrayed as “the disabled kid” and he’s not there to gain extra sympathy points. He’s just a character who happens to be disabled.
At the end of the day, Breaking Bad is just not a show that can easily be broken down the way you can break down plenty of other TV shows. There is so much gray area between who’s good and who’s bad in the show and there’s so much subtlety in the way the plot is handled that you can’t easily define it as you can so many others.
I would definitely argue that the show creators were aware of many of these tropes (like “man-pain”) and were purposeful in the way that they used them in the show. Which is smart.
Not to mention the brilliant dialogue. And the classical literature references. Hell, even the titles carry a ton of meaning. Hoo boy. I’ve already written an essay so I won’t go into it.