Let’s make Breaking Bad crystal clear: USM professor to release collection of Breaking Bad essays

Posted on October 09, 2013 in Arts & Culture, Features
By Sam Hill

Author and Associate Professor of Media Studies David Pierson said his favorite character on Breaking Bad would have to be Walter White, although Mike Ehrmantraut would be a close runner-up.
Patrick Higgins
Author and Associate Professor of Media Studies David Pierson said his favorite character on Breaking Bad would have to be Walter White, although Mike Ehrmantraut would be a close runner-up.

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to spoil the ending for you.

Whether you were glued to your television screen for the series finale or are only reading the Free Press during a short break from your Netflix binge, chances are you’ve watched Breaking Bad recently. And that means you know that it’s over.

Some of you may be able to go on with your lives, returning to class, and sitting through lectures with dreams of cooking methamphetamine dancing in your heads, but some serious fans may be left wanting more. Associate Professor of Media Studies David Pierson has been busy compiling a collection of analytical essays on the critically-acclaimed television series for a while now to put them together in a book that will be released this Fall.

The story of Walter White, high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook and criminal entrepreneur by way of terminal lung cancer, came to a close recently. While the finale still left viewers with a lot of questions lingering, it seems fans, bloggers and critics alike have described the ending as ‘perfect for the story.’

“I wanted to put together a book for the serious fan and the scholar,” said Pierson.

Pierson’s book, Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Context, Politics, Style and Reception of the Television Series, published by Lexington Books, dives into the dark underworld of Breaking Bad examining the show from a variety of angles and perspectives.

The book approaches a lot of subjects, from a discussion of neo liberalism and the U.S.’s societal obsession with the economies of time, to the representation of Latinos and the complex issue of masculinity within the show.

“I wasn’t interested in doing a sole author book because at this point, usually when a series is fairly new in academia it needs a wide perspective and needs to be looked at from a variety of different angles,” said Pierson.

Pierson first considered publishing a book analyzing Breaking Bad after he received a lot of attention for a paper he presented to the Society of Cinema and Media Studies.

“There was really only one other book out about Breaking Bad at the time and that book mainly dealt with the philosophy of the series.” said Pierson. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a book that really dug in and approached the series from multiple analytical angles?”
Soon after Pierson converted his essay into a chapter of the book and began writing the introduction while he sent out a call for writing to multiple venues. The papers soon came rolling in and Pierson was able to select which works he thought would fit well together in a book.

“The response I received was tremendous and surprisingly international. I hadn’t expected it,” said Pierson.
In the final works selected, Pierson included works from university faculty and graduate students from Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as multiple American authors.

“It was interesting to see that a lot of publishers were not interested in doing a book on a single series,” said Pierson. “Most of them want a wider cannon, like a book on police dramas, or medical dramas or sitcoms. They seem to shy away from series for some reason.”
But Pierson finally found a fit with Lexington Books and has been waiting for the release since.

“It’ll be great timing with the end of the series and all,” said Pierson. “It will give those serious fans a little extra content.”

When selecting chapters, Pierson made sure that there was very little overlap in content covered so the collection would contain the most information and give readers a diverse range of writing.

“I think one of my favorite submissions would be the one that focuses on actual locations within the show,” said Pierson. “It’s a great piece. Something most people never would have thought about looking at in-depth.”

That chapter by Ensley F. Guffey titled “Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad” focused on the homes some of the main characters in the series move into over the course of five seasons and how it’s relevant to their character arc.

“Think about Jesse Pinkman and how he moves from his aunt’s house, to one apartment, and then buys his parents house, moving constantly as each location is affected by one traumatizing event or another, while Walter stays in his family’s home for the majority of the series,” said Pierson.

Another chapter focuses solely on the cold openings of each episode and how series creator and director Vince Gilligan chose to tease each episode. Pierson noted how Gilligan has been influenced by acclaimed Italian director Sergio Leone and the cinematic style of Spaghetti Western films.

“There are a lot of flash forwards in the teasers,” said Pierson, “and often extreme close-ups of prominent objects followed by wide location shots. Leone would try and disorientate viewers, and Gilligan has brought that to modern television very successfully.”

Pierson noted that one of his favorite episodes would have to be “Dead Freight,” an episode from the first half of the final season in which Walter, Jesse and an experienced burglar named Todd successfully steal the contents of a methylamine tank being transported by train through the desert of New Mexico.

“That episode to me, just really brought the whole western theme together. I love any scene that takes place in the desert, all of the meetings, and

I’m always thinking of Billy the Kid. And then Walter robs a train. It just fits,” said Pierson.

Pierson mentioned that a faculty member at another university has expressed interest in using the book as a required text in a future media studies course.

“I feel like it’s really a series you could spend a lot of time on,” said Pierson. “You’ve got the war on drugs, gender relations, minority representation, everything. It’s got a lot happening.”

Pierson’s book is set to be released in early November.

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