In its first season, “Breaking Bad” seemed like the story of the nuttiest midlife crisis ever, told with elements that felt vaguely familiar. The structure — felonious dad copes with stress of work and family; complications ensue — owed an obvious debt to “The Sopranos,” and the collision of regular people and colorfully violent thugs nodded to Tarantino. The story and setting were an update of the spaghetti Western, minus the cowboys and set in the present.
But it was soon clear that “Breaking Bad” was something much more satisfying and complex: a revolutionary take on the serial drama. What sets the show apart from its small-screen peers is a subtle metaphysical layer all its own. As Walter inches toward damnation, Gilligan and his writers have posed some large questions about good and evil, questions with implications for every kind of malefactor you can imagine, from Ponzi schemers to terrorists. Questions like: Do we live in a world where terrible people go unpunished for their misdeeds? Or do the wicked ultimately suffer for their sins?