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Our Collective Breaking

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By Dan Hoyle on September 13, 2013

The urge always comes late at night.

The itchy eyes. The racing thoughts. I tell myself I don’t have to do this. I battle. But I’m in way too deep. Cursing under my breath, I flip up the sheets and stumble into the living room to fire up another hit.

Everyone has a different story. Some tried it once, were repulsed and never went back. For others, that first hit pulled them in deep and quick, and then it was just an agitated, diabolical blur. Communications curtailed to one-word texts, days late. Friends stop by and you feel interrupted. You have things to do, even though you know you really only have one thing to do: get your fix.

Maybe you occasionally get some fresh air. Crack open the window to survey the bright sunshine and happy people. But why are they walking around as if there’s not a care in the world? Who are these people? You slink back to your couch, draw the shades on your addict’s den, and prepare another batch.

Then it hits you, the darkest thought in the phantasmagoric carnival of your descent: everyone else but you is caught up on Breaking Bad, and that’s why they are living normal, well-adjusted lives.

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They had their binge in the spring. Or, wisely, during the short days of winter, when they could reel through three episodes in the graying late-afternoons before dinner. And two more while canceling dinner plans. And two more while laying in bed, disgusted, enthralled, cringing, riveted. And two more before dawn. Because it’s worst at night, the room bathed in digital clock radio light, the seedy, pulsing glow conjuring visions of Bryan Cranston’s pained scowl and Aaron Paul’s red-eyed, screechy desperation.

How did I let it get to this? I was an early devotee of The Wire, blasting through each season, though tempered, in that pre-streaming era, by the need to walk to the video store, mandating social interaction every third episode. I kept up with Mad Men, accelerating my interest in whisky and deepening my Jon Hamm jawline inferiority complex each season. The Sopranos I started watching a decade late and couldn’t get past the late ‘90s wardrobe of the chubby son, haunting in its early-teen-awkward likeness to me, so I got out early. For years Breaking Bad was just a punchline, something my brother and I muttered in apology as we cracked the window when we had bad gas. “Sorry man, I’m breakin’ bad over here.”

Rue the day that I took Vince Gilligan’s concoction so lightly. It probably wasn’t best to wait ‘til I moved to New York, where money is tight and the self-employed hustler has to confront less familiar terrain. Where the alternative to watching another episode late night is scanning old emails to find past acquaintances to re-introduce myself to on Facebook, or running the checking-account-mental-math that always equals panic, or listening to the troubled souls curse each other out on my block in the South Bronx.

So I pry open my laptop. Giddily, guiltily, I type in n-e-t… and the autofill takes over. And then there sits the man in the yellow suit, staring at me, daring me to deny him his power. How can you judge Walter White? For as a nation we have joined his grim descent every step of the way, our collective loss of self-control as real as his domino-chain of tragic decisions.

And I bow my head in devotion and resignation and click on him.

Follow actor/playwright Dan Hoyle on Twitter @DanHoyle.

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