Catch me at my 2014 blog.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
My priest once asked, "Are you doing what God wants you to do?"
'The term to "break bad" is American Southeast slang meaning to turn against one's previously lawful lifestyle for one of criminal acts, usually at the cost of someone else's life or well-being.' -- Wikiquote
What could go wrong?
I didn't want to watch Breaking Bad because we're conditioned to bond with the protagonist, and I did not want to bond with someone who purposely chooses evil. I didn't want to root for the dealer of death to avoid detection. I feared it might poison my soul. But my friend Aaron so wanted me to watch the show that he sent me the first season on DVD, and once I watched it I was committed. Cautious, but definitely committed.
Nobody is pure of character here. Certainly not Walter White who didn't even aspire to be good. Regardless of his reasons, he used his family as an excuse to cook meth and commit heinous crimes. In the end, as he stood before Skyler knowing he'd be dead before the day was through, he finally, finally!, admitted the truth.
"I did it for me. I was good at it. And I was really — I was alive."
I didn't like Skyler. I couldn't relate to her, not as a wife, not as a mother. True, Walt did set things in motion, and I did empathize with her predicament, up to a point. It's just that once she discovered the money, she crossed a boundary. Like Walt, she used her children to rationalize her actions and told lies as easily as he did. She should have packed up the kids and left for good when she learned the truth. Instead, she resorted to wine by the bottle while sliding into depression and praying for Walt to die. Yeah, that's how a parent loves and protects their children. And what was she thinking by attacking Walt with a knife in front of the children? Walt wasn't actively threatening anyone, so why slash their father in front of them?
One of my favorite scenes in The Sopranos was when Carmela Soprano sought a second opinion from a therapist about leaving Tony. She summoned the courage to tell the doctor about Tony's "organized crimes," but it was the therapist who actually said the word 'Mafia.' Like Skyler, the money mattered to Carmela.
Dr. Krakower: Take only the children - what's left of them - and go.
Carmela Soprano: I would have to get a lawyer, find an apartment, arrange for child support...
Dr. Krakower: You're not listening. I'm not charging you because I won't take blood money, and you can't, either. One thing you can never say is that you haven't been told.
Much to my surprise, Hank turned out to be a decent guy. In the beginning he was disgusting and obnoxious. But after having almost died, he eventually found purpose in his life and became a better man and husband. In the end, he was as devoted to Marie as she was to him. And he was a better father figure to Walt Jr. than Walt ever was, which is probably why Jr. was so utterly devastated and angry when he thought his own father had killed his beloved Uncle Hank. Speaking of Marie... I found her shallow, annoying and meddlesome at first. She irked me to no end. I was shouting right along with Skyler: SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! And yet, like Hank, she came through for everyone when needed. She protected Hank when he was recuperating and patiently nursed him back to health, and she opened their home to Skyler and the children. Even when Marie thought it was Skyler's husband who had made her a widow, she was still there for her sister and children.
I have ambiguous feelings for Jesse. He was as deep into the meth-death business as was Walt, his crimes just as heinous. And yet, Jesse was generous and engaging with endless compassion for children, whereas Walt had rigged his humanity with an on/off switch. Jesse opened his wallet and his heart to Andrea and Brock, and his heartfelt concern for the grubby Peek-a-boo toddler choked me up. Poor Jesse, he looked upon Mr. White as his mentor and just wanted Walt to appreciate him. If Walt had only shown a bit of the 'respect' to Jesse that he showed Todd... siiiigh ... Todd was everything Walt wanted Jesse to be: an attentive student who idolized Walt and didn't antagonize him. But Todd was also an "Opie-faced sociopath" who didn't think twice about shooting a kid point blank. Plus, Todd's Uncle Jack was the leader of the "psycho f--ks." So it's safe to say that Walt's respect towards Todd was more fear than approval.
My friend Aaron believes that "everything that went wrong was because of Jesse," that Walt had to "clean up after Jesse's mistakes" all too often. The latter may be true; I honestly can't recall. But I disagree that Jesse was to blame for everything. Let's face it; although Walt was genuinely protective of Jesse at times -- humanity switched ON -- he was more often a bastard towards him. I don't know why he told the Nazi psycho f--ks where Jesse was hiding, especially after pleading for Hank's life -- because "he's family" -- then viciously tell Jesse about Jane before they dragged him away to be their slave and punching bag while Walt was free to go. That was as vile as Walt had ever been to Jesse. Neither man can blame the other for their own bad choices.
The most memorable scene for me in the whole series featured "Crystal Blue Persuasion," the 1969 psychedelic drug-era song with Biblical origins. As Walt and Todd are efficiently cooking up big batches of blue death in the shiny new lab, and amassing mountains of money in the process, Tommy James and the Shondells are singing this gentle, upbeat song about "peace and good and brotherhood." Cooking meth is a job. They suit up and work a full day then go home and relax, only to repeat the process the next day. The feel-good melody renders an almost dream-like quality to the evil process, rather like watching WWII Nazis preparing gas to exterminate the Jews to the accompaniment of "The Blue Danube." Normalizing the unthinkable. Sadly, aside from Walt's praying the truck would start in his snow-bound New Hampshire hideaway, no one ever turns to God for help.
In the end, Walt finally tries to become a man and do what he could, with the limited time he had left, to right some wrongs in the only way he knew how. I looked at Walt and Skyler during their last minutes together and thought what a waste. Look at what they had wrought: They had everything and together they destroyed their lives and that of their children. It wasn't a happy ending because Walt and Skyler made certain a happy ending was never an option.
As much as I didn't want to watch this series (all within several weeks this fall), I'm very grateful Aaron sent that first season to me. No doubt about it, Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV dramas ever. Absolutely everything about it -- writing, acting, directing, you name it -- was the best. I was riveted right through to the end. If nothing else, Breaking Bad serves as a cautionary tale about allowing evil into your life.