Dipping into AMC's "Breaking Bad" marathon offers harrowing reminders of the show's cruel brilliance. Happy endings are verboten in this rugged landscape.

The marathon resumes at 11 p.m. Saturday and runs straight into the series finale at 9 p.m. Sunday.

On the surface, "Breaking Bad" brilliantly echoes the Western and the gangster saga and their violent themes. But at its heart, the show is a family drama about a little man, Walt White (Bryan Cranston), trying to assert himself before his life is over. 

Teacher Walt has been given a terminal prognosis, and he's determined to raise quick money by making drugs. He's doing it for his family, he says, but he's soon swept up in the intoxicating, dangerous work.

Walt's metamorphosis into drug lord propels the series and Cranston's classic performance. Walt is somebody in the drug business and no longer a nobody.

To anyone who questions his approach, Walt has ready responses. "I am the danger," he tells his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn). I stand by my choices, he cryptically tells his son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte).

The show contrasts Walt's risky choices with those of his good-guy brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). Walt's story is more exciting; DEA agent Hank struggles in his job.

It's quite a study in masculinity. Hank may seem plodding and square, but isn't he the hero of the story? Hank is a loving man who remains committed to his family.

Walt's choices are bad news for nearly everyone in his path, especially his family and sidekick Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Poor Jesse is just a reed of a man, blowing in the wind. Though Walt's fans defend him, so much of what he does is simply indefensible.

The complex "Breaking Bad" is a breathtaking rejoinder to all those bombastic, supposedly masculine movies filling the multiplex.

"Breaking Bad" also makes room for a strong woman, something those movies rarely do. Skyler keeps calling Walt on his decisions, and many fans have come to detest Gunn's character for that reason.

AMC on Friday night replayed an episode that nicely sums up the series. Skyler tells Walt he has to return the expensive car he has bought for their son. 

Instead, Walt drives the car fast in a parking lot, damages it and torches it. Walt's attorney calls it a costly joy ride.

Sort of like the final days of Walt's life.

Walt had so little time, and this is how he used it. The time was more precious than any money he could make. And the time mattered more than his twisted view of how a man takes care of his family.

"Breaking Bad" is ultimately a tragedy, and Shakespeare taught us how those end. A dying man is going to die.

But there's something else beyond that for the viewer: When it comes to life choices, don't make them the Walt White way. Ruin awaits you.