Spolier Alert: If you haven't watched last night's episode of Breaking Bad, don't read this. If you haven't watched last night's episode and think it will be OK to read ahead anyway, you're no fan and I don't know how you've come this far. And, if you haven't ever watched Breaking Bad and think you never will, don't read this, because you will, one day, watch it. And then you'll hate yourself for knowing even the most overt plot twist from last night, that, well, Hank dies.
Last night's episode, we can all agree, was masterful. It was also, arguably, the best episode ever since the show began. And, in my opinion, last night's episode was the best storytelling on television, ever. Those who teach the craft of storytelling, especially of character construction, will hereafter hand out chapters on Walter White.
Let's just cut to that killer scene in which W.W. makes a phone call to Skyler. I dare you to tell me that you didn't say to yourself, a few seconds into that conversation, "That doesn't make sense. Walter would know that the police are listen..." Ah, yes. And then you sit bolt upright. And then you start to shake.
If this sounds like an exaggeration for you, it doesn't for me. I am putty in the hands of good writers. I especially let you mess with my head if you respect my intelligence. And Breaking Bad respected its audiences last night. There were no easy cues in that scene. You could walk away thinking of Walter as an abusive, misogynistic jerk. You could even walk away knowing he knew, that he was doing this for Skyler, giving her an 'out' with the police, for the sake of Holly and Walt Jr. (I dare you to tell me you didn't fall to your floor last night begging the adults to stop, reaching for your television so you could just hug Walt Jr. and take baby Holly away from it all. The best tweet on that whole business last night was from D. J. Qualls: "Really hate to say this, but I think that the people who write #BreakingBad should maybe have their kids taken away." Hilarious. Brilliant.)
But the best part about that scene was its sub-text. If you have ever walked away from someone knowing that it's the best thing for them, knowing that there's no going back from here, knowing, like a shaking Walter did, that you stand to lose everything and that you will now be on the run, that you are staring in the face the prospect that they will come for you (or, for those of us that aren't in trouble with the police for cooking meth, that IT - despair, abandonment, loneliness - will come for you), if you have ever been in the vicinity of this sort of experience, if, perhaps, you have lived any complexity in life, I dare you to tell me you didn't wake up this morning wanting to call your therapist and hope that their training required them to have watched last night's episode of Breaking Bad.
So, yes, the best storytelling ever. Complex, layered, unforgettable. When readers tell me that they finished the last page of my novel but couldn't leave that world of those characters for a couple of days thereafter, I feel a quiver of the deepest gratitude. And then, I recall my teenaged boy telling me a couple of years ago to drop everything I thought was important and just watch this show called "Breaking Bad." I smirked and asked him why he thought I would ever like a show about a chemistry teacher cooking meth in New Mexico. "Because," he said, "you are writing a novel."