Breaking Bad was an amazing show. But just as amazing may be its meta show, a legacy of data visualizations it will leave behind. From analysis of its wardrobe colors, to Walt’s evolving facial hair, to straight-up counts and classifications of people killed, Breaking Bad has formed an entire subculture of data geeks analyzing its narrative mastery through quantifiable information.
And the latest geek in the Breaking Bad graphic mix is Andy Bergmann, who you may know for his incredible take on the NBA. “Yep, it's a character map,” he tells us over email, “but I wasn't really interested in documenting every meeting and conversation that ever took place on the show. A lot of network diagrams apply that level of detail and result in beautifully complex spiderwebs of line work, but they're frequently very difficult to follow.”
On the other hand, Bergmann’s map is deceptively simple. It’s a collection of circles, connected by dotted lines. There is neither a title up top nor legend at the bottom.
“I wanted it to be a bit abstract,” Bergmann explains. “If I stuck this up on the wall you wouldn't know exactly what it was from a distance.”
But as you come closer, you’ll recognize a few icons—a camper, chickens, and a suburban home. Then you’ll see the names—Walt, Jesse, Skyler. And within a few moments, you’ll realize, these are all of the characters of Breaking Bad, all those dotted lines represent their relationships, and the size of each circle represents how many episodes its character was in.
At that point, you can appreciate the nuance. Just by following the lines, you realize, say, how important Saul and Mike were in connecting Walt and Jesse to the underworld. But there’s an even more impressive visual scheme at play: Trace Walt to Hank, and then follow the path clockwise through Hank’s attempts to find Walt’s alter ego Heisenberg. Hank would deal with the Mexican cartel, Pollos Hermanos, and eventually a small army of ex-cons to find his way back to his own family, the simple science-teacher-gone-meth-god. In this sense, Bergmann’s layout really is deceptively simple. Because when you look closer, you’ll see it’s not just a chart, but a true data visualization: A navigable map through Breaking Bad’s epic blur of domestic and criminal life.