Monday, August 20, 2012

This Evil Goes to Eleven: Thoughts on Breaking Bad

At the end of Season 4, we found out that Walter White was willing to sacrifice the life of a child to sustain his own meth business and come out on top in his lethal power struggle with Gus Fring. At that moment, his transformation from meek chemistry teacher to villainous drug kingpin was complete. 

It was positively chilling. 

I said at the time that the series could’ve ended with that episode. Frankly, nothing I’ve seen in Season 5 has convinced me otherwise.

Because what really do you do once your hero has become evil? If you’re Vince Gilligan, the brilliant visionary behind Breaking Bad, you make him evil-er.
The idea, of course, from the start was that Walter White was a meek man who was sick of being meek, who—once confronted with his own imminant death and freed from the shackles of polite society—was able to transform into a diabolical criminal. 

Gilligan isn’t necessarily suggesting that all men have the capacity for this kind of wickedness. But it’s key to the show’s worldview that Walt is an everyman—a good guy, who loves  his family, tries to do the right thing, but, like so many 21st century males, has had some long-simmering disappointments in his life and feels emasculated by circumstance. 

At first, the idea that Walt was perceived in drug circles as this folkloric boogeyman named Heisenberg was supposed to be a joke. Walt was a pussycat! He wouldn't hurt a fly! (Well, except for that one time. . . ) But it's no joke anymore. Walt is Heisenberg and Heisenberg is Walt.

But here's the thing: I’m beginning to find all of this tiresome. (There, I said it!) It’s almost like every episode now is devoted to illustrating just how badly Walt has broken. In one episode he essentially rapes  his wife (yes, Rep. Akin, a husband can rape a wife.) In another episode, he threatens longtime ally Saul Goodman. In another episode, he pretends to be a consoling father figure to his partner Jesse, while he's secretly covering his own nefarious wrongdoings.

And yet somehow, we’re supposed to be surprised, chilled to the very bone—holy shit, look at his cold, dead eyes!—every time Walt does something vicious and irredeemable. 

Last night’s episode, the whole Walter-White-is-evil thing really went into overdrive when he whistled merrily after being party to yet another cold-blooded murder of yet another child. 

Whistling after you murder a child isn’t just calculated. It’s psychopath stuff. So is Vince Gilligan saying that Walt is a psychopath, that there’s something instrinsic that makes him so bad? If so, Walt loses some of his Willy-Loman-as-druglord appeal—and the show loses much of its resonance.

1 comment:

Evelyn said...

After watching last night: NOOOOOO! I hate Vince Gilligan!