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‘Breaking Bad’ vs. ‘Sopranos’ – Why Walter White Wins

Two modern classics offer epic antiheroes - but only one villain reigns supreme

“Breaking Bad” vs. “The Sopranos.” It’s the kind of grudge match suitable for our binge-viewing age. Only it’s not a fair fight.

The AMC meth drama wins, hands down, over the HBO powerhouse, both for obvious and technological reasons.

screen chemistry breaking bad
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul delivered on Breaking Bad, AMC’s iconic drug drama.

The final “Breaking Bad” episode aired Sep. 29, 2013. Since then, “Sopranos” creator David Chase revealed what he meant with that fade to black finale for his New Jersey clan.

Or did he?

The Sopranos | Critics Rave Trailer | HBO

Either way, anyone unfamiliar with both shows deserves to devour each drama season by season. The shows represent the pinnacle of our obsession with morally bankrupt souls. They showcase anti-heroes who deserve to rot in jail, not lead extraordinary lives teeming with heartache.

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So why did we root them all on as they stayed footsteps ahead of the law?

No matter. While both deserve a cacophony of praise, the AMC series earns the unofficial title of Greatest Drama of the Current TV Golden Age. Here are four reasons why:

It’s the Ending, Stupid

“The Sopranos” wrapped with the ultimate head scratcher. The show simply faded to black without a clue as to the fate of the Sopranos nuclear family. Brilliant? Maddening? Methinks a cop out. Murky resolutions can be both satisfying and pertinent to the storytelling style in question. Fans of the show have since come to peace with the resolution, but it took time.

Compare that to Walter White’s endgame. Show creator Vince Gilligan didn’t tie everything up in the kind of bows you see in your average rom-com. Even his post-“Breaking Bad” movie, “El Camino,” proved less than satisfying. Still, the final installment featured plenty of spilled, blood and beloved characters met their makers.

Still, you could watch that final episode and feel a sense of closure, that one man’s journey to darkness ended properly. We came away satisfied that the ending justified those five tremendous seasons. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld how difficult that can be.

The Trip to Evil

Walter White didn’t deserve cancer, but he sure deserved to die well before his final confrontation with those mercenaries at their clubhouse. That journey proved irresistible, the tale of an ordinary man who found his calling as well as a hunger for self-preservation. And he cared less and less who had to suffer along the way. 

Tony Soprano started off as a thug, a man who could make people disappear if it suited his needs. He always intrigued us, and his therapy sessions showed he wasn’t comfortable with every dark choice he made. He still entered our living rooms as a morally twisted soul, a far cry from the chemistry teacher desperate to keep his students engaged.

Streaming Serves Audiences Better

This advantage simply isn’t fair. “Breaking Bad” came of age during our binge-viewing mania, a time when we could consume a half dozen episodes in a row if we wished on a tablet, TV or laptop.

“The Sopranos” couldn’t offer that viewing option. HBO made the matter worse forcing audiences to wait well over a year for the latest season. Watching “Breaking Bad” episodes one after the next only enhanced the show’s narrative pull.

Who Can Relate to Mobsters?

Yes, we couldn’t get enough of Christofah, Paulie Walnuts and the rest of the HBO show’s dysfunctional killers. Audiences still never walked in their blood-splattered shoes. We knew folks like Walter White, Skyler and Uncle Hank. They’re our friends, neighbors and family members facing some of the same issues we face -- infidelity, job pressures and parenthood.

That connection drew us deeper into their lives as Walter’s new profession spun out of control.

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6 Comments

  1. Excellent point about Walter White being someone we know. His Everyman made the heartbreaking downward spiral a visceral affair. Often when watching the show, my husband and I would speculate that the whole thing was entirely believable. The acting was so natural and the actors so perfectly cast (I hated Sklar till the end) that the show often made me unable to sleep for hours afterward. When Hank was killed, I watched in horror, shouting at the television: “Oh no! No!!!”

    For a very long time I thought no show finale would be as sad and satisying and enaging than that of “Six Feet Under”, HBO’s masterpiece. I’d say it’s now been replaced by “Breaking Bad” – every episode nearly perfect and the finale unparalled.

    1. Walter was an evil person who blackmailed Jesse in the first episode and immediately wanted to cook meth. He was only a relatable character on the surface. The show was good, but Walter was not more relatable than Tony.

  2. We couldn’t relate to mobsters, but we can relate to family life. I think that was ultimately the point of the Sopranos and a clue as to why the final episode ended the way it did.

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