Does ‘Breaking Bad’ Offer Leadership Strategies?

Can Breaking Bad as put together by showrunner Vince Gilligan provide life lessons as the final two episodes of the acclaimed AMC series drama unfold?

Perhaps one lesson is just say no to methamphetamines. Hollywood at times has been accused of glorifying the world of drug trafficking, but the award-winning Breaking Bad — one hopes — puts that notion to rest with all the destructive consequences that have flowed in the past five seasons. On the other hand, a Texas prosecutor — a fan of the show — recently and ominously expressed concerns that the show has “normalized” meth use for the broader population.

For those who have tuned in late or not at all to Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston — the actor you might remember as the crazy dentist from Seinfeld and Hal from Malcolm in the Middle — portrays the lead role as a mercurial, cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, named Walter White who starts “cooking” meth to create a nest egg for his family after he’s gone. His partner in this escapade is former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

With one horrendous and dangerous escapade after another, the show has been intense, but it also contained — at least until recently – some very dark humor. The generally unpredictable Breaking Bad is part of AMC’s powerhouse Sunday night franchise which also includes The Walking Dead and Mad Men (the latter series is also coming to an end.)

White declared on a previous episode that he was in the “empire business” but last week’s episode depicted the so-called empire falling apart completely.

Viewers are likely still processing the shocking events of the gripping “Ozymandias” episode. Among other things [spoilers], Stalwart DEA agents Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez were murdered in a desert gunbattle, Walter White had a partially violent confrontation with his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and son before temporarily abducting his baby daughter and later fleeing to New Hampshire, and Jesse Pinkman was enslaved by Uncle Jack’s meth operation. In a flash-forward, White purchased an arsenal of weapons but whether an unpredictable show like Breaking Bad will go into the stereotypical revenge mode remains to be seen.

Breaking Bad is known for its continuity and tying up loose ends (unlike The Sopranos for instance). Of note, however, AMC viewers never saw a sequence in which Schrader finally told Gomez that his brother in law is actually drug kingpin Heisenberg. Perhaps that reveal will be included as a deleted scene in the eventual DVD. Schrader never included the DEA itself into his under-the-radar investigation, which sadly led to his demise at the hands of Uncle Jack.

Seven Gilligan-inspired Leadership Tips

Forbes columnist Allen St. John identified seven leadership tips that can be obtained from Breaking Bad, more particularly from easy-going showrunner Vince Gilligan, and that can perhaps applied to the broader life landscape.

      • Ignore your critics: Breaking Bad was initially rejected by entertainment moguls but Gilligan pushed forward anyhow and ultimately landed a deal with Sony and AMC.
      • Cast against type: Gilligan took a risk in casting the then-lesser-known actor Cranston in the White role. Casting Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring was also unconventional.
      • It’s okay to second guess yourself: The Jesse Pinkman character was only supposed to appear in season one, but Gilligan determined that Pinkman’s “chemistry” so to speak with White was an integral part of the show.
      • Find your Mike: In this context, it was Gilligan’s close collaborator, Michael Slovis, the show’s director of photography.
      • Go big or go home: Remember actor Danny Trejo’s severed head on a tortoise? ‘Nuff said.
      • Take advantage of the market: Veteran character actors Mark Margolis (who played Tuco’s disabled uncle) and Jonathan Banks (Fring enforcer Mike Erhmantraut) were willing to take key supporting roles on Breaking Bad.
      • Go out with a bang: Gilligan has previously vowed that fans will be satisfied with the show’s finale.

As one commenter summarized St. John’s Forbes article, “be willing to take chances… and surround yourself with good people.”

Tonight’s second-to-last episode, “Granite State,” episode 61 of 62, airs at 9 pm Eastern on AMC.

[image via s_bukley /]