“Breaking Bad is the first story to truly commit the full spectrum of New Mexico to film,” writes Rachel Syme in a New Yorker post on the critically acclaimed AMC series’ use of and effect on her home state. “The grandiose vistas, the soaring altitudes, the banal office complexes, the Kokopellis and Kachina dolls, the seamy warehouses, the marshmallow clouds. The show seems to root itself deeper in the landscape with every new montage. It has become our newest monument.” With the concluding season of the exploits of chemistry-teacher-turned-methamphetamine-dealer Walter White debuting this Sunday, Breaking Bad fans have no doubt steeled themselves for a televisual plunge back into its very own Albuquerque, which “still looks like the Wild West, a scorched, hazy, lawless place where rugged individualism might just tip over into criminal behavior at any moment,” an interpretation Syme deems “not wholly inaccurate.”
To assist you in your own re-entry into Breaking Bad’s thoroughly amoral but unstoppably compelling reality, we’ve rounded up a few audition tapes which let you witness the early formation of three of the show’s characters. Everyone talks about Bryan Cranston’s starring performance as Walter, and given his grounded execution of a near-novelistic arc of improbable transformation, rightly so. But what about his wife and eventual money launderer Skyler, as portrayed by Anna Gunn? Or her brother-in-law Hank, the gung-ho DEA agent played by Dean Norris? Or Aaron Paul as Jesse, Walter’s former student and current partner in crime? In a series so highly praised for the writing of its characters, you don’t want to think about just one. Or maybe your memories of them have grown dim, in which case you’ll want to spend eight minutes with this recap of the previous seasons before you settle down for the final one.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.