The answer for the Breaking Bad addiction -- a show that follows a chemistry teacher’s conversion from boring middle-aged nobody to crystal meth-cooking kingpin -- is simple.
Transformation. We love watching characters transform in front of our very eyes.
It’s an interesting paradox, because far too often, we enjoy television shows due to the lack of change in its characters.
On sitcoms, we want to see the same sets, the familiar character archetypes, and in the case of multi-camera shows, the usual canned laughter.
For dramas, we’re used to seeing tried and true characters solve intricate murder cases in 45 minutes. Even semi-complex characters like Jack Bauer find their moral compass by season’s end.
Breaking Bad is a different animal entirely.
Unlike any other show on television, characters like Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman are ever-changing due to their circumstances.
At the start of Breaking Bad, Walter was a relatable poor schlub, stricken with cancer. Jesse was the no good burnout hellbent on finding the easiest (and often most dangerous) way to make a buck.
What a difference a few years (and some near-death experiences) make.
What makes Breaking Bad impossible to turn away from are the constant moral choices - both for the characters and the viewing audience. It’s easy to look at a character such as Walter and see his fixation with money and power - his inability to walk away from the drug game despite having secured his family’s future in the event of his death.
But for the audience, it’s a different story. How long will we watch Walter manipulate Jesse and further descend into the world drugs and crime?
How long will we support Walter’s commitment to his family, despite his willingness to engage in criminal activity that threatens to tear his family apart?
And like Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey, how long will we as an audience stand idle and watch Walter (and now Jesse) kill for the sake of his own survival, despite knowing that somewhere deep down, he’s satisfying a dark urge that’s forever been repressed?
The answers given are as easy as the questions posed. Like Walter White and his newfound business relationship with Gus Fring, we as an audience are in too deep.
We can’t stop.