Will Walt make good at Emmys?

By Edward Helmore

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad. Below, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad. Below, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones.

From the soaring rush to the twitchy comedown ... hit drug drama Breaking Bad will take a final bow of appreciation at the US Emmy Awards tomorrow with seven nominations.

Revered for adding a layer of metaphysical questions about karma and destiny to the grim reality of the methamphetamine drug trade - in this case, a suburban chemistry professor's journey to damnation through the narco-underworld of Albuquerque, New Mexico - Breaking Bad will also be celebrated as a real-world rebuke to the fantasy series Game of Thrones.

Emilia Clarke as Daeners Targaryen in Game of Thrones

The show has a fight on its hands to secure the outstanding drama award for the second year running. Its main rival is HBO's True Detective, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. But only one season of True Detective has aired and it fits the Emmy's definition of a miniseries (as well as a drama), so, should Breaking Bad not go out on a high, fans of the show's departed characters Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) will feel hard done by.

Series creator Vince Gilligan, who is working on a spinoff entitled Better Call Saul - starring Bob Odenkirk, better-known as Walter White's ethically challenged attorney Saul Goodman, and his "fixer" Mike Ehrmantraut, played by Jonathan Banks - said: "The odds of winning the lottery two weeks in a row are pretty infinitesimal."

The central trio - Gilligan, Cranston and Paul - have no plans to resurrect the series that ended last year. For a drama so concerned with exacting a moral price for immoral behaviour, some critics argued that White, who lost nearly everything, didn't pay enough for his sins. "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it," White said, finally explaining his reasons for becoming a drug lord. "And I was really ... I was alive." That celebration of realism may in part explain why Breaking Bad has become one of the most binge-watched TV shows in history - often compared with its conceptual predecessor, The Sopranos, although the latter's finale was watched by 11.9 million people in the US against Breaking Bad's 10.3 million.

"Think of Walter White as everyman, because he succumbs. He falls hard, and he takes a lot of people down with him," Dr David Koepsell, editor of Breaking Bad and Philosophy: Badder Living Through Chemistry, told the Observer last week. "It ends up as a morality play. We can't help cheering him on, and that dissonance sometimes makes it hard to watch. We love him, and we love watching him even if, at times, we despise him." And that, observed Koepsell, is existentialism brought into our living rooms. Other series tried, but none succeeded as well.

"We're trapped into cheering in a dark way for the antihero who is us. Walt may not be a great person, but he's an authentic person. He becomes the person he's meant to be."

Cranston recently announced he is writing a memoir about the "very, very colourful things" that happened in his life - not just his experiences on Breaking Bad. The series challenged the easy moral relativism of typical crime dramas - even surprising Cranston. "Truth is, pretty much everything surprised me as much as it did the audience until it happened," he said. "That was the genius of this show."

Gilligan, 59, is identified as TV's first true red-state auteur. His characters, noted the New York Times, "lead middle-American lives in a middle-American place, and they are beset with middle-American problems". But Jerry Stahl, whose addiction memoir, Permanent Midnight, was published in 2005, complains that, riveting and cool as Breaking Bad was, it didn't deal much with the reality of meth addiction.

"This is a drug that has ripped a hole in the so-called heartland of America, because the only jobs left are for shit, with no benefits, no sick leave and no insurance, and meth - whatever its other horrors - can keep you going. Until it kills you."

New Mexico almost missed out after then governor Bill Richardson passed on the opportunity for the state to invest in the series because of concerns about its subject material. But Breaking Bad still proved to be a cash cow for New Mexico - and specifically Albuquerque, where much of the show was filmed. It brought in US$1 million ($1.19 million) in direct spending per episode and sparked spinoff businesses from location tours to doughnuts, beer and bath salts.

If that seems to trivialise the toll methamphetamine has taken on communities in the south-west and the brutal underbelly of the drug culture, Breaking Bad itself did not. Last October, as the series finale aired, fan David Layman placed an obituary of Walter White in the Albuquerque Journal. He echoes Koepsell's identification of White as an American everyman.

"Here's a guy that was living paycheck to paycheck," said Layman. "He ends up with cancer, has a son who is disabled, a wife who is going to have a baby and he finds some way to work it all out. He becomes unstoppable, he thinks. He's a little man who kind of made it, even if he didn't make it the right way."

The nominees

Lead Actress In a Drama Series
Michelle Dockery - Downton Abbey
Claire Danes - Homeland
Robin Wright - House of Cards
Lizzy Caplan - Masters Of Sex
Kerry Washington - Scandal
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Kevin Spacey - House of Cards
Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Jeff Daniels - The Newsroom
Woody Harrelson - True Detective
Matthew McConaughey - True Detective

Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Ricky Gervais - Derek
Matt LeBlanc - Episodes
Don Cheadle - House of Lies
Louis C.K. - Louie
William H. Macy - Shameless
Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham - Girls
Melissa McCarthy - Mike & Molly
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie
Taylor Schilling - Orange is the New Black
Amy Poehler - Parks and Recreation
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Veep

Comedy Series
Modern Family
Orange is the New Black
Silicon Valley
The Big Bang Theory

American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
The White Queen

- Observer

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