There’s something wrong with my TV.
I mean, it’s working OK and everything, but is has a problem: like millions of TVs across the country, it no longer carries new episodes of Breaking Bad, the most thrilling, gripping, exhilarating, suspenseful, jump-out-of-your-chair-and-scream-holy crap! television series ever broadcast, and quite possibly the best piece of drama committed to film that I’ve ever seen.
Walter White is long gone. Ditto Jesse Pinkman, whose elated shout of, “YEAH, B*TCH! MAGNETS!” remains one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in television history.
Mike Ehrmantraut is off to Belize. Skyler is a mere memory, although her desperate cries of “Shut up! Shut Up! SHUT UP!” still ring in my ears.
And Saul Goodman’s highly-anticipated spinoff show, Better Call Saul, doesn’t premiere until February.
So if, like me, you respect the chemistry, what do you do until then? You might try reading a few of the following books, all of which will put you in that ABQ state of mind, and remind you, as Walt said, “We’re done when I say we’re done”.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
At its core, Breaking Bad was about morality, crime, and the mental anguish of its main character. All three of these elements are on full display in Dostoyevsky’s timeless novel, in which Rodion Raskolnikov, a down-on-his-luck ex-student, comes up with a plan to rob and murder a crooked pawnbroker. Like Walter White, Raskolnikov sees a greater good to his crime: he could put the money to good use, while at the same time, ridding society of a perpetrator of evil (shades of Walt telling Tuco Salamanca, “You’re an insane, degenerate piece of filth, and you deserve to die!”).
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
In much of Breaking Bad, the characters (like the viewers) were trapped in a world of extreme, explosive, shocking violence. Such is the case in Burgess’s landmark A Clockwork Orange. Set in a dystopian near future, the novel follows the exploits of the English teenage sociopath Alex and his band of “droogs” as they embark on a night of “ultra-violence.” The book then shows Alex’s capture by the authorities and their attempts to rehabilitate him. New editions of the novel include a 21st chapter that was originally omitted in earlier versions; in this chapter, Burgess ended the novel on a much darker note than what readers previously saw.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (1969)
“Yeah, Mr. White!” Jesse Pinkman once told his meth-cooking partner in crime. “Yeah, science!” The dramatic power of science is on full display in one of Michael Chrichton’s early techno-thrillers (he would go on to pen Congo, Sphere and Jurassic Park). In a novel with all of the nail-biting suspense of Breaking Bad, a team of scientists work deep in an underground complex frantically searching for a way to counter the effects of an extraterrestrial micro-organism that brings insanity and death to its human victims. While the frustrated, milquetoast Walter White failed to interest his high-school students in the world of science, perhaps, with The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton would have succeeded.
Clockers by Richard Price (1992)
In this novel, the stories of Ronald “Strike” Dunham, a low-level cocaine dealer, and homicide detective Rocco Klein intertwine in a story of murder and intrigue reminiscent of DEA Agent Hank Schrader’s pursuit of the brilliant and elusive meth dealer Heisenberg. And as Breaking Bad took us on a dark tour of the drug trade of the southwestern United States and Mexico, Clockers delves deep into the coke industry in and around the fictional New Jersey city of Dempsey (a stand-in for Jersey City) where we get plenty of up-close details of how the local drug business works.
Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly (1999)
Looking for existential, angsty-drama with the occasional tension-breaking, laugh-out-loud moment of release? You could go back and binge-watch Breaking Bad’s entire run. Or you could read Connelly’s Bringing Out the Dead, which follows EMS medic Frank Pierce through two days and nights of ambulance runs in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. Pierce is exhausted, depressed, and as addicted to the thrill of emergency medical work as Walt was to the power of building a drug empire. Pierce is also adrift in grief and guilt and haunted by the ghosts of those whose lives he couldn’t save. If he were in Walt’s world, I wonder what he could have done for Jane?