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Where Bad Should Have Broken Off

(Warning: the following post contains spoilers from the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, including who dies and content from the series finale. Proceed at your own risk.)

The ideal series finale for Breaking Bad (in my humble mind) would have been “Ozymandias”, the third-to-last episode of the series. Let me be clear: I don’t think the actual series finale “Felina” was a bad episode, but there was a lot of standing around and staring. And by now, Walt going Scarface on Uncle Jack and his gang was a foregone conclusion. We all knew why he had to get his keys back.

This season was supposed to be a payoff for Bad‘s long-hanging plot of what would happen if/when Hank found out Walt cooked meth. Once that plot was wrapped up, there was not any story that could top that, other than Walt’s family being in danger. Jesse joining with Hank forced Walt’s fall, and Hank’s death was when Walt lost his family as the cumulative payment for his lies and pride. We didn’t need to hear Walt tell Skylar “I did it for me” because it had already been spelled out.

Instead, Walt annihilated a faceless gang we barely knew, and in the last two episodes, Skylar was in some vague “legal trouble” because Hank was missing and presumed dead. They were  consistent with what the series has been throughout. Yes, it’s great that Walt rescued Jesse, and the final scene in the lab was priceless and summed Walt up completely. But the scene where Walt gets in the van to disappear into the sunrise, the dog walking across the road after the van passes? That’s the last scene of Chuck. That’s The Office characters reflecting on being part of the documentary. It sums the series completely, and it’s a shame that it could not have been the last scene of Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad and the Human Flaw

Two week, I started watching Breaking Bad on Netflix (hey, my subscription’s just sitting there.. I had only had a perfunctory interest in Malcolm in the Meth Lab because it was on the same network as The Walking Dead. The 8 minute episode recap I saw drained me; I could only imagine how much moral weight a full episode, much less a 13-episode season contained. But the show’s blending of a liberal and a conservative understandings of evil intrigued me. 

BB is partially typical liberal satire on middle America, and a liberal understanding that evil is created by one’s circumstances. The conservative dopes in the sticks want to judge us, says Hollywood? A mega-villain can just pop out of the cul-de-sac in average-joe-New Mexico if he gets cacer. But what makes the show great is a conservative understanding evil. Creator Vince Gilligan admitted that one of best decisions he and his writers made early in the series was to make Walt driven by blinding pride, so much so that he cannot accept help from others to pay for his cancer treatments (see the video below). Otherwise, according to Gilligan, it would have just been clumsy Dr. Tim Whately, bumbling to hold on to his drug money. In spite of this, BB was in fact fifteenth on a 2010 list of favorite shows of democrats, mainly because its most dominant theme is perversity-in-the-suburbs. (No doubt, many democrats also watched BB because of AMC’s other hit show, Mad Men, which was democrats second favorite show and their top scripted show.)

It is fascinating to consider the corruption of a man who says to his partner in crime, “Do you believe that there’s a hell? We’re pretty much going there.” The way Walt charges toward the blackness in front of him just shows how much nihilism has taken over American culture. We run toward judgment and indulge in pain, even if we admit what the consequences will be.

Breaking Bad and the Search for True Manhood

I had been watching various clips of Breaking Bad online for quite some time. It’s not one of my favorite shows, mainly because of its Fargo-ish humor, but I appreciate the show because it gets one of the most under-appreciated aspects of American society dead-on: the dilemma of the trapped and constantly marginalized American family man.

Die Hard was the first incarnation of this struggle, but that film’s 80’s camp suppressed the realism that bleeds through Walter White: a schoolteacher who’s been the gracious provider who starts to do heinous things when faced with the reality that his loved ones will go on without him. While I don’t think Vince Gilligan is reacting directly to feminism, it’s hard not to note Bad‘s reaction to it: an ordinary man who starts pursuing dangerous things in the face of a wife who starts loosing interest.

That is the dilemma for men today, isn’t it? Women demand to be treated as equals in marriage but below the surface, they only give respect to a man who can take care of them. Women expect their men to share with their feelings (even if this isn’t what they do naturally) and aren’t content with a man’s physical provision. But some men, maybe most men, can only express their love for their women through the act of physical provision, and when push comes to shove, they throw themselves into work. After all, hard work is the only way to guarantee a woman’s respect.

It is also through this work that Walt gains the platform to put himself above his wife. Consider the scene where Skylar confronts her husband about the death of a rival meth cook. She urges him to go to the police, fearing he’s in danger. Walter responds by putting himself on a higher plane. He tells her that she doesn’t know how important his business is, and reveals to her (by inference) that he ordered the hit she’s referring to. (Like all uber-successful people, Walter White doesn’t take it well when others question his authority.) It is through this act of defying his wife that Walt, in a twisted way, somehow gains a piece of his manhood back. If only he could have gained it back through love, respect, and good will, not cooking meth.

It is a sad dilemma that faces not just Walter White, but the American man. Our society has become so much more fragmented when it comes to childbearing (out of wedlock, single women having babies via sperm donation and adoption, parenthood redefined) and “equal” marriage, the world of Walter White seems strangely fair. That’s what makes it really sad.


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