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Maddy Lederman Headshot

Ye Olde Breaking Bad: Confessions of a Binge Watcher

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Breaking Bad is ancient, TV history by now, and at the same time I need to say, "spoiler alert." Weird...

I'm toward the end of a Breaking Bad binge, so to me there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have seen Breaking Bad, and those who haven't. I can't talk to either of them. People who've already seen the show are spoiler mines waiting to explode. People who haven't, well they just haven't gotten around to it yet. Forget about reading anything online. I thought I was being careful, then found out a favorite character was going to die. I'm trapped on a commentary-free island. Other than a few spoofs I saw months ago, I'm watching Breaking Bad in a cultural vacuum. And like, at three episodes at a time, b#tch! (That's a Breaking Bad reference, people...)

I still get a kick out of going into the next episode right after a cliffhanger. It's worth being in the vacuum -- in fact, I prefer it. Does seeing Breaking Bad or any TV series this way, as opposed to following the course of a regular broadcast schedule, change the show?
Now in the binge, I can't imagine watching this one episode per week over several years, reading reviews, jamming my brain with people's opinions and taking them to the next episode with me. I'm watching the series like a good book, something I look forward to getting back to every evening and that I don't have a desire to deviate from. I'm not likely to be reading several books at a time, why not watch one series to the end, especially if it's this one?

But seeing the show this way, which in my case will take about six weeks, must change the way I absorb the story. For example, if Walter White puts a gun in a diaper box, on a broadcast schedule, the next time I see that box might be a week or two later. There's been hours of other television, work, and living life in the interim. If I just saw that diaper box an hour ago, or only yesterday, isn't it going to be more pronounced in my mind?

So much of Breaking Bad is told through the settings and props: the colors, the furniture, the innocent places dangerous things are hid. I think watching the show frequently in a concentrated period, the viewer is well-grounded in the plot and can better process the surroundings for visual metaphors, hints and clues which makes for a more layered experience. The cluttered, humble White residence tells us so much about the family that's not said. At Jesse's, we see a young man who obviously never bought furniture before, and his concept of home is cold and limited. There is the purpleness of anything to do with Marie, and she switches to wearing black after learning the truth about Walt. I don't think I would notice these things watching weekly. I feel like I have more time to look around.

Or consider when there's violence, a murder. The distance of a week's time could change a viewer's reaction from serious ("OMG, he just killed that guy!") to something lighter ("Oh right, he killed that guy last week."). I can see how the weekly-aired Breaking Bad might come off as more darkly comic and the binged Breaking Bad more tragic and intense. I'm finding the show positively Shakespearean: Walter White makes mistakes with the same combination of hubris and stupidity as King Lear or MacBeth, with consequences just as dire.

But I can't help but wonder, if I watched one episode weekly, if I would feel the same way.
Is binge watching good for a show and it's audience? Does it change the viewer's experience? And should writers consider this trend in the future? Please share your thoughts.

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