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Albuquerque’s grit makes ‘Breaking Bad’ shine

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Batches of “Breaking Bad” doughnuts flew off the shelves at Rebel Donuts locations in Albuquerque on Sunday, just in time for the premiere of the TV show’s last season. (COURTESY OF REBEL DONUTS)

Batches of “Breaking Bad” doughnuts flew off the shelves at Rebel Donuts locations in Albuquerque on Sunday, just in time for the premiere of the TV show’s last season. (COURTESY OF REBEL DONUTS)

The point of no return was Jane.

Sweet, substance-abusing Jane, comatose and choking on her own vomit, as only “Breaking Bad” could portray that, dying while Walter White, the show’s protagonist, watched.

And did nothing.

In that stunning, shocking moment, deep into the second season’s penultimate episode, Walter lurched from spineless chemistry teacher to bloodless drug lord – from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as series creator Vince Gilligan likes to say.

From Walter White to dark alter-ego Heisenberg.

It was that moment, that exquisitely televised demise of morality, that converted me from someone who had initially shrugged off the idea of a show about meth, the dad from “Malcolm in the Middle” and Albuquerque to a diehard Breaking Bad-dict who adores the show.

And Albuquerque.

We have this quirky hometown pride in “Breaking Bad,” filming here as it did for all five seasons – this, though ostensibly the show portrays Albuquerque as the grimy birthplace of the purest, bluest methamphetamine around.

“Breaking Bad” is arguably the first TV show of any quality to embrace the Albuquerque-ness of Albuquerque, cutting through the Southwest chic stereotype to find our gritty realness.

Albuquerque proudly wears its seamier side on its sleeve, honest and New Mexico true. It’s a city not of broomstick skirts and boots but of booty shorts and jeans. It’s a city that seeks no filter. It dares you to take it as it is because whatever it is comes with plenty of sunshine, green chile and heart.

The “Breaking Bad” folks get that. They celebrate our quirks, using real street names in scripts, real Albuquerque police uniforms, the real Journal logo. Our sunsets, our sagebrush-scapes, our people, our food are part of the show.

It is somehow thrilling to watch a Blake’s Lotaburger being devoured on national television, even if it is by a shriveled, tweaking hooker named Wendy in the parking lot of the Crossroads Motel at Central and I-25.

The show presents a panoramic postcard of Albuquerque, with, yes, some drugs and death thrown in. But if you look past the seediness, what you see is a city “Breaking Bad” seems to have fallen in love with.

And we in turn love “Breaking Bad.” Like the show’s billboards across town say, we have great chemistry.

We happily buy dime bags of blue rock candy, crafted to look like Walter White’s meth, from the Candy Lady in Old Town. We luxuriate in tubs fizzy with blue “meth” bath salts. We take $65 guided tours of otherwise banal sites we have known for years because they have been made famous by the show. We shoot photos of one another at Octopus Car Wash – one of those banal sites – and joke about having an “A-1 Day.”

My children’s school, Amy Biehl High, rented out its ballroom for the scene in which chicken/meth magnate Gustavo Fring is questioned about the murder of a mild-mannered meth maker.

On Sunday, Rebel Donuts posted record sales, quickly running out of both its Blue Sky doughnuts sprinkled with blue sugar crystals and its square green-frosted treats designed to look like the show’s periodic table logo.

At Marble Brewery, so many growlers of Heisenberg’s Dark and Walt’s White Lie beers were sold by Sunday’s season premiere that the bar was begging folks to sell back their pint jugs. (The Heisenberg, the most popular, sold out, though more is on the way, Marble folks promise.)

I know many folks who binge-watched hours of old “Breaking Bad” episodes in preparation for Sunday’s premiere. I don’t know anybody who thought afterward that devoting that much time to a TV show wasn’t worth it.

None of this is to suggest that we take drugs lightly. Meth has been responsible for some of the deadliest home invasions in Albuquerque, and a large share of the mailbox break-ins and check thefts are the handiwork of meth addicts seeking ways to pay for their habits.

Meth is a terrible thing, and “Breaking Bad” makes that clear, portraying addicts as vile and skeletal with oozing, open sores and decayed teeth whose heads on occasion are smashed under stolen ATMs.

And then there is Jane. In that scene that hooked me on the show, she is lying next to boyfriend Jesse Pinkman, both of them deep in a drug haze. Walter tries to shake awake Jesse, his young protégé, which causes Jane to roll onto her back and aspirate, dying with half-digested food and phlegm smeared on her face.

Where I come from, that’s not glamorizing drugs.

When people ask me what I especially love about “Breaking Bad,” I tell them it’s how this brilliantly crafted show breathes meaning into every detail. Nothing is gratuitous; everything is carefully pondered. The color of a shirt, the disembodied teddy bear eye, the bacon slices on a plate – all of it means something.

It’s deep, like a good novel, with so many twists and turns you can scarcely keep your jaw from dropping. It’s the kind of show you endlessly pick apart and turn over and over, marveling at every detail, every new discovery, the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

Kind of like Albuquerque.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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