I am the Danger: Thoughts about Breaking Bad (Spoiler-Free)

I am the Danger: Thoughts about Breaking Bad (Spoiler-Free)


It’s the morning after, and I’m still a touch raw, but I wanted to talk about some of what made Breaking Bad one of the best television shows I’ve ever watched. Because I’m me, I’ve thought a lot about how the principles of Breaking Bad relate to roleplaying games. This post-mortem is spoiler free, so no worries about that.

Character-Driven Dramatic Logic. Characters didn’t make the real world logical choice; instead each character mad the choice that drama dictates their character would make. Breaking Bad never wasted scenes or shots.  It showed you what it needed to, even when it took several episodes to come into play. There was a level of predictability to Breaking Bad in that you could understand the characters and that understanding lead to understanding what moves they were likely to make. Rather than being driven by surprise and “”gotcha” twists and turns, Breaking Bad’s season arced and swelled with inevitability. The show created tension by letting us see the horrible crash that is unavoidable, as dictated by the characters who do those things that they must do.

The Art of the Brutal Turn. I’m pretty good at predicting where a well-written story will go (hint: just follow the characters!), but Breaking Bad always surprised me at the conclusions of its arcs. Why? Because every time there was an opportunity to turn, the show took the most brutal turn imaginable.  I mean brutality not only in physical violence, but in emotional and psychological damage as well. Rather than incremental bumps and confrontations, Breaking Bad’s writers chose hard, character-defining turns at each step. Characters were put in extremely difficult situations and forced to make hard choices or be very clever to survive them. The violence of these confrontations created characters who changed in deep, meaningful ways before our eyes.

War of Integrity. Here’s something to think about:  Everyone who sticks to their ways and principles when dealing with Walter White loses in the end.  Walter White comes out on top repeatedly because he changes perpetually.  He is willing over and over to go where others won’t. Walter tells himself he has integrity and a code, but by agreeing under his breath to stop at nothing what he says is an illusion.  Only in the final episodes do we see the chemistry teacher view himself honestly.

What I like about this from a roleplaying point of view is that it is a great way to make a character. Pick a theme (integrity in this case) and constantly give the character choices that relate to it. Rinse, repeat, and see who the character is afterwards.  Put the character’s vision of himself up against what it is he truly values and see what survives; play that out and enjoy the moral dilemmas and quandaries that arise.  I’ve chewing on techniques for exploring characters for some time now, in part because of this show.

What were some of your favorite aspects of Breaking Bad?  Anything you’d use for your games?

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One Response

  1. That’s a great post! Interestingly, your last point made me think heavily of Luke Crane’s approach in Burning Wheel–give a character choices and obstacles that challenge their beliefs, and watch those beliefs change or be forged even stronger.