A Trip To Albuquerque Finally Convinced Me To Give 'Breaking Bad' A Chance

I love a juicy drug drama. Narcos, El Chapo, Peaky Blinders, Weeds — you name it. But for whatever reason, when Breaking Bad debuted on AMC, I was resistant. Maybe it was the slow pace or the mundane suburban setting, but I gave up on it after just a couple episodes. As it turns out, this contemporary crime series (set and and filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico) is right up my alley. It just took a trip to the Land of Enchantment for me to realize it.

While Breaking Bad was originally supposed to be filmed in California, production moved to New Mexico for budget reasons. That’s when Vince Gilligan, who created the show, realized it was the perfect place. Only in Albuquerque did he find miles and miles of uncharted land and residents willing to give up their homes for filming. “It felt like virgin territory for cinematography,” he told Charlie Rose in 2013. Unlike filming in California (where most movies are shot), New Mexico’s scenery would be fresh, authentic, and unfamiliar. After I visited, it hit me: the city is an integral character to the show. The storyline wouldn’t have been palpable had the series been filmed somewhere like Los Angeles. From beginning to end, it would’ve had an entirely different feel, and that makes the series something special.

You see, Albuquerque has a small town feel, and small towns are pretty weird (I know, I grew up in one). It isn’t even inconceivable that a chemistry teacher (Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston) would team up with a former student (Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul) to distribute crystal meth. Did I mention New Mexico has the sixth biggest drug problem in the nation?

As I explored the city, every discovery fed my imagination. The more I learned, the easier it was to conjure images of Walter popping out of a school building on his way to do mischief and Jesse jetting down the street to a clandestine lab. The town is a little slower than nearby Santa Fe, so it’s easy to hide in plain sight. People seem to mind their own business, which makes it an ideal community for anyone with something to hide. Spoiler alert: Walter is ultimately ended by cancer, not the cartel dudes who want his head, but with its deserted landscape and rough areas of town, his sudden disappearance would have been plausible. Ultimately, the sights and sounds of Albuquerque are what make Breaking Bad believable. The grit in the air, the mystery of the desert, and the unrelenting heat — it’s all real. And it’s perfectly fitting that, on the show’s 10-year anniversary, I finally get it.

Today, I’m prepping for a hardcore binge of all five seasons complete with New Mexican beers and nachos. Who’s ready to join me?

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