November 18, 2017

Lent with Walter White

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In case you suspect that I’ve been distracted lately, it’s because I have been living in the Old Testament. Old Testament Albuquerque, that is.

I just finished binge-watching Breaking Bad, an act of self-flagellation worthy of the most rigorous Lenten discipline. I’ve known about the show, and had heard about its magnificent writing and performances and its labyrinthine plot line, but hadn’t committed to watching it all the way through. A co-worker highly recommended it, despite her misgivings about subjecting herself to scenes that were deeply troubling to watch. If you haven’t seen it and are thinking about giving it a try, I must warn you that its physical and emotional brutality can take a toll. But it is a remarkable program.

Back to my original point — Breaking Bad captures a story worthy of an Old Testament narrative. A steady drumbeat of retributive justice pervades each twist and turn. In every episode, someone pays for his or her sins or for someone else’s. God, or the universe in this case, will be satisfied. No adult is pure, everyone finds it necessary to lie, deceive, and cover up at times, and you can be sure they’ll pay for it. Only the children are innocent, and too often they suffer for the sins of their fathers and mothers.

Breaking Bad does contain its share of tender, touching scenes, and its characters are full human beings. Therefore, we do root for them at times, long for the triumph of the better angels in their natures, and hope against hope that one or another of them will take a way of escape from the madness, but most of the time the paths they choose just create more chaos. And rain down more judgment.

Walter White is the main character. A genius chemist, he nevertheless finds himself teaching high school chemistry when he receives bad news: he has terminal lung cancer. With a pregnant 40-year-old wife and a 15-year-old son with cerebral palsy, he realizes he will have little to leave them to secure their future when he dies. So he hooks up with a former student named Jesse and begins cooking and distributing the purest methamphetamine (crystal meth) that has ever hit the market. This decision, this choice to “break bad,” leads Walt, his family, Jesse, and a host of others on a downward spiral that both exhilarating and excruciating to watch. Walt’s first intention is to help his family, but it’s not long before demons long suppressed within him arise and take over. Over the course of time he constructs a mental world in which his choices are always justified and the best course of action because he’s making them “for the family” and all else be damned. Few are safe in that world.

In a commentary in CT, Mockingbird’s David Zahl describes the “moral logic” of the show:

[T]he show runs on a frightening moral logic: No one gets away with anything. Breaking Bad revolves around the least fashionable concept imaginable: wrath. It offers something quite different from the fatalism of The Wire, where things start off ugly and pretty much stay that way. In Breaking Bad, things get steadily worse.

The further Walt “advances” in his new career, the more obstacles he overcomes, the more he believes himself to be invincible, and the deeper he descends into a hell of his own making. When he tries to manage his crimes, he begets worse crimes. Intoxicated on the fumes of self-righteousness, Walt consistently mistakes atrocities for victories. And each time, we come to detest his rationalizations a little bit more—especially how he relegates right and wrong to the realm of less evolved, less scientific minds.

As I’ve said, Walter White is not the only sinner in this Sodom, just the most prominent and powerful. His wife Skyler reflects another way sin gains advantage: through confusing us and putting us in the midst of moral dilemmas so thick we can’t see our way clear. Skyler’s sister Marie is well-intentioned but weak, a secret shoplifter who somehow has the answers to everyone else’s problems. Uncle Hank, Marie’s husband, is a DEA agent (setting up some delicious storylines) who covers his little boy moral idealism and fear with a tough exterior and potty mouth that keeps everyone at a distance. Jesse, Walt’s companion in crime, is sin’s punching bag. Every time he thinks life might be smiling on him, it all comes crashing down. He’s an addict with a heart of gold, a loser we can’t quite seem to give up on, the frustrating anchor that at one moment drags everyone down and the next moment rights the ship.

These characters reveal the genius of Breaking Bad — it is a study of human brokenness and pride in all its fractured forms. Unfortunately, the show is a closed universe operating strictly in terms of retributive justice. It’s a universe without mercy, without reconciliation, without forgiveness or redemption. In this regard, the series is clearly unlike the Old Testament or any other part of the Bible. No Spirit of God hovers anywhere near these waters of chaos. There is no outside intervention. No rescue. No salvation. It’s strictly survival of the fittest, the strongest, the most determined, the smartest.

Walter White insists that he must be that person. In season 4, he gives a lecture to another man waiting to get tests in the cancer ward. This speech captures Walt’s spirit as well as any words from Breaking Bad:

4274-9967367-largeOther Patient: One minute I’m starting a new business; my wife and I are thinking about kids. Walk into a doctor’s office and suddenly . . . phhht . . . I mean, life as I know it — Anyway, so for me, that’s been the biggest wake-up call. Letting go, giving up control. You know, it’s like they say, “Man plans and God laughs.”

Walt: That is such bullshit.

Other Patient: Excuse me?

Walt: Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.

Other Patient: Yeah, no. I get what you’re saying. But cancer is cancer, so . . .

Walt: To hell with your cancer. I’ve been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start, it’s a death sentence. That’s what they keep telling me. Well, guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence. So every few months, I come in here for my regular scan, knowing full well that one of these times — hell, maybe even today — I’m gonna hear some bad news. But until then, who’s in charge? Me. That’s how I live my life.

Without spoiling any of the details, in the end Walter White is able to remain in charge, accomplish some of his goals, and go out on his own terms. Is the cost worth it? What future does he actually gain for his family?

As I watched the final episode last night, I suddenly heard the words of Eleanor Rigby running through my head:

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands
As he walks from the grave
No one was saved

In Lent I have looked in the face of Walter White, and have learned to fear a world in which there is only judgment.

Unless mercy triumphs, there is no hope.

Comments

  1. “Unless mercy triumphs, there is no hope.”

    So absolutely true.

  2. We still have Netflix DVD ( yeah, we’re old fashioned), and that’s how we get caught up on series we’ve missed on TV. Last year, we set out to watch Breakinq Bad. Not binge watching, but rather a Netflix rhythm: One episode a night for a couple nights. Then a break while the old DVD gets mailed back and we wait for the new one. We packed the queue with Breaking Bad– just like we had done earlier with Mad Men. But after only the second episode, we couldn’t deal with the grim underlying tone of the series. For our own sanity, we had to stop…. I salute you, Mike, for being able to plow through the whole series– and to be able to write about it so lucidly…. And you did that on top of dealing with death and dying….

    • Even though I love this series, it is always hard to get through the first few episodes. It is definitely dark throughout, but in the first few episodes I think they feel the need to show you just how stark a difference there is from the world that he was previously living in (and the one that we live in ourselves). Walter does worse things, and less justifiable things as the series moves on, but they go to painstaking details to show us the kind of decisions that he is forced to make now that he had “broken bad” and stepped into this different world.

      The darkness remains, but it is far less visceral as things go along. In a way I think that it is partially because in the very begining we can identify Walter White, and what we might be faced with in a similar situation, but he quickly departs from much of anything that resembles our own life. It actually gets to the point where it is more painful to hear him try to lie to his wife, than it is to see him do all the manipulations, and even violence, that are required in his other life.

      • First few episodes are dark? Oh Lord, those are the lightest ones. The first feels a bit like a black comedy. For anyone who is considering watching the show, let me advise you: if you find the first few episodes too dark, you won’t make it. It gets darrrrk towards the end.

        • first *season*. My kingdom for an edit button!

        • As far as the first episode goes, I defnitely adgree with you but the follow up to that… the bathtub and the basement… I think those were the parts that I have the hardest time getting through in the series. Not that the actions don’t get worse, but it feels a little less gritty grimy and real.

          • We have watched about ten episodes, but like Fred S we’ve diverted ourselves to Mad Men.

            You’re right about the bathtub and basement scenes. But it is a kind of black comedy, something like the movie Fargo. We’ll get back to Breaking Bad soon though. It really is a good series.

          • Watched another one last night. Gotta respect Walt’s commitment to quality.

        • End of first season justifies it so much though. I was hesitant through the first season as well, not sure if I liked it…but man, that ending got me and I was hooked.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, but there’s this one still from it I saw that sticks with me. It’s the inside of Walter White’s storage unit; all that’s in it is a wooden shipping pallet with a chest-high stack of packs of $100 bills on it. It’s Walter’s profit from his meth lab business, literally a chest-high pile of Benjamins.

          And Walter doesn’t dare touch it; if he started spending it, he’d arouse suspicion, first from the IRS, then from the other cops — since when does a high school teacher suddenly have million$ in $pending money? So all he can do is just sit there and look at it as the pile of Benjamins gets bigger and higher.

  3. Robert F says:

    It sounds like a dramatic expression of what it means to say that the law cannot save. What the New Testament calls principalities and powers and authorities probably refers to this spiritual tendency of insistence on strict “justice” and close adherence to “law” to go demonic, to go rogue, and to attempt to shut out the workings of grace and forgiveness. It troubles me that our NT canon seems to close with a book that includes a sweeping, cosmic judgement, an exercise in sweeping vengeance, before it proceeds to its resolution with the descent of the heavenly city.

  4. I, too, just recently finished binge watching this show. Shakespearean… is how I would describe it; or maybe Nietzschean. Walt thinks he is the ubermensch… without God it is all about the will to power… impose your will or have your will imposed upon, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. It was like Screwtape’s world brought to life on the small screen. The logic of hell. “Unless mercy triumphs, there is no hope.” Indeed. This is why I have come to believe that God’s mercy in Jesus triumphs over his justice. Justice was satisfied at the cross, He took His own wrath on Himself willingly, and now mercy flows to all who would have it. Kyrie eleison.

  5. For me, Breaking Bad was like watching the full arc of the act of practicing sin. First, the initial adrenaline rush of it. It’s exciting, you actually can’t believe that you really did it. As in the series, it is almost as if it is a dark comedy, and you enjoy it.

    Then comes the justification in your mind: I did it because…always good intent, or the promise that it is only for a little while, or until this, or that, has been accomplished. After a while the reasons themselves are forgotten, you are just caught up in the process, it becomes internalized, a part of you. In the series this is where the comedy ends, and only darkness dominates, even so, there are still glimmers of hope, and you actually begin to hope that Walter can pull it off and “ride into the sunset”, so to speak.

    But, after a while, when you see sin’s effect on others, you “blame the victim” rather than yourself, as does Walter, ANYTHING other than looking in the mirror. Finally, comes total depravity, where it is the darkness you really crave, and the “aha” experience where you just admit to yourself the REAL reason that you are engaged in the enterprise, as Walter did when he told his wife, ” I didn’t really do it for the family, I did it because I LIKED it!”

    In Walter’s case the end is a catharsis for the viewer as Walter makes one final attempt at putting thing aright, but it is misguided. No one “wins”, no one escapes the effects of sin, and the end is only death.

    I don’t know the creator, Vince Gilligan, or if he has any intimate knowledge of Christianity or the Christian story, but he has some great insight on the subject of “The wages of sin are death…”, but there is no final promise of “…but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

    • Except…Walt succeeded. I won’t spoil the ending, but he accomplished his goal that he set out to do. It just cost him everything.

      Wages of sin…is eternal life.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Well, “success” as defined in Breaking Bad isn’t really success. At best, Walt goes back to his initial goal of providing money for his family. But his family is still irreparably ruined, several hundred people (from the innocent to the evil) are killed, and his relationship with Jesse, his surrogate son, is destroyed.

        He won and he lost. And that’s why I loved Breaking Bad; there are no easy answers or labels or fixes. It was never a story about what’s right or what’s wrong. It was a story about who we really are (I know how corny that sounds, but if someone can dress that up for me, feel free).

  6. Am I the only human being on this planet that doesn’t believe this show is one of the best ever created by mankind? I’m being 100% serious…I am completely flabbergasted as to the rampant infatuation with this show. It has nothing to do with being graphic (I don’t mind violence), and clearly it is not superficial (since it contains some deep philosophical underpinnings). But that aside, as a show, I could hardly find it less intriguing to watch.

    • I’m sure you aren’t the only one, but I’m curious about your opinions. I somehow manage to come across a lot of cynics and contrarians, but have heard very few that share your view. Even the few people that I have met who didn’t like the series were turned off by either the violence or the “anti-hero” concept itself.

      • Okay, perhaps I was being a bit dramatic 😛

        I didn’t even mind the anti-hero aspect of it. For example, I enjoy the show House (used to watch it, don’t anymore), who kind of has a similar anti-hero role in that he is normally, above all else, selfish and non-empathetic. I guess it’s simply personal preference, simply watching a show about a guy making and selling drugs just wasn’t that appealing to me as a plot-line. I am just surprised as to how this particular show has captivated so wide an audience; seemed after watching it that it was more of a niche show.

        (In regards to the violence/gore, I don’t find that a turn-off either, I enjoy ’24’ for instance)

        • You have this man who, Walter White, who has chosen to be responsible and leads this incredibly mundane life where his talents and apparent genius are being wasted. Pretty much every aspect of his life serves to emasculate him, the overbearing wife, the disabled son who carries his name (until he doesn’t want to anymore), the job that is beneath him, the second job that is even futher beneath him.

          How many of us don’t feel (at times) just as disempowered and trapped in our lives as Walter White does?

          At the risk of trying to make this too relevant, I think that is an attitude that we are called to combat within the church. We live in a community where each and every one of us is gifted, but I think that we often fall short in empowering people to express and work in those gifts.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            How many of us don’t feel (at times) just as disempowered and trapped in our lives as Walter White does?

            As in “His Meth Lab and secret Life of Crime actually ’empowers’ him, lifts him out of the mundane life trap?”

        • watching a show about a guy making and selling drugs just wasn’t that appealing to me as a plot-line

          For me, it was never about this at all. That’s just the set dressing. It was about everything else around that. It was about his relationship with Jesse, with Skylar, with Hank…overcoming obstacles and the impact that had on him…turtles…magnets…

          It was about so much more.

          • Right…and I’m not denying that it doesn’t contain all these profound relationships/messages/themes as you stated, I’m simply saying I don’t particularly care for the “set dressing” that was chosen as the vehicle through which all of that was conveyed.

            As an analogy: take the sport of baseball. It might be a great competition of athletic strength/finesse, but that doesn’t mean everyone finds it exciting or enjoys watching it on TV. Or music…a song might be harmonious, wonderfully-written (even Jesus-centered), doesn’t mean everyone appreciates listening to that particular genre.

    • A PBS guy, eh?

      • I’m sure if you really looked at it with eyes to see, Downton Abbey is a far, far worse show than Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.

        But we really get hung up on the surface gnats, don’t we.

        • But…but…the dowager countess!

        • PBS? Hah…I don’t even know what they play on there (perhaps that’s a good thing?). Probably 90% of the time the channel on my TV is set to either ESPN or Food Network…(except when watching something on Netflix)

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’m sure if you really looked at it with eyes to see, Downton Abbey is a far, far worse show than Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.

          How so?
          Can you elaborate?

      • Well…the British Baking Show is pretty amazing.

  7. “…who’s in charge? Me. That’s how I live my life.”

    Truth be told…that’s how we all live our lives (for the most part).

    We are all ‘practical atheists’.

    • Sincerely want to push back on that a little.

      Are we all practical atheists or are we actually living the life God designed/gave us?

      I’ve heard a lot about a controlling Spirit or rules based walk, rather than a walk by faith. God created us, equipped us, told us to rule and conquer this world. It seems he’s taken off the training wheels, removed his hand from our back, and let us go.

      Doing what he designed us to…does that make us practical atheists?

      • “In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path.”

        Sermons could be written here. Acknowledge = passing glance? Brief mention? Daily communion? Checking in once in a while?

        How does he direct your path? Through a string of verses in the Bible (see the recent Michael Spencer reposts)? Through a still small voice? Through a vibrant life of praying in tongues? Through a Man of Gawd standing behind a pulpit?

        etc

      • None of us really trust and are obedient to God.

        We have another way…our way.

        That’s why we worry and fret about the present..and the future.

        Show me someone who never worries, lives on a thin margin of income (giving the rest to the needy) …and who trust in Christ for everything…and I’ll show you a truly faithful truster.

        The rest of us? Idolatry is our game. And we make idols out of just about everything.

    • Speak for yourself, sir.

  8. Binge watching is a strange phenomenon in itself. We did it with an equally violent Sopranos dvd set about three seasons in. About six to eight hours of that and I felt brainwashed, hung over and brutalized. The world was a different place for about three days after. Everyone had a mob connection. All was selfishness and retribution. Mentally I swung between being the victim and the perpetrator. I was sure when I grabbed the last box of Life cereal that the guy who seemed to be eyeing it was going to tell me to give it to him because he wanted it and I would surely understand who he was and do so if I valued my life and when I handed it to him he would smack me in the head anyway cuz what was I thinking or else I was ready to whack the old lady in front of me for taking too long with her coupons.

    • I tend to do that with each new Game of Thrones box set, just blast through them in 2-3 days. Brutal, but you almost have to to stay on top of all the political and character connections.

      What an amazing, fine show…

      • I was wondering if someone would bring up Game of Thrones. Haven’t watched Breaking Bad yet but it sounds like GoT has some things in common with it. I started the book series awhile back and they were some of the best fantasy by a living author I’ve found. Incredible story and characters. I stopped because I wanted to wait until they have all been published before I read, so i’m not waiting years between installments. And the show, from what I’ve seen, does great justice to them.

        • Haven’t touched the books yet, but the show is amazing, and I can’t convince any of my Christian friends to watch it. And they all get really mad when I start questioning their “watching is worse than reading” purity culture rhetoric…

          My dad got heavily into it though, so that’s a win, lol, but mom is a huge book fan so hates the show adaption.

          • “…I can’t convince any of my Christian friends to watch it.

            Yeah, good luck with that one!

    • There is only one show worth binge-watching. It starts with “Battlestar” and ends with “Galactica”.

  9. Christiane says:

    what we sow, we reap . . . our kindness to others reaches outward in ways that, if we are fortunate, we may come to learn about in time, as to the on-going force of what we set in motion . . . like when a former student comes up to me in a restaurant and shares that how I helped her with her journal writing in sixth grade made it possible for her to bear the break-up of her family . . . I wouldn’t have known that and by some grace, I was told

    and then there is the other . . . in the absence of humility, the bad that we do in this world, (which we think we can ‘control’) once done takes on a life of its own and we can neither foresee all of the consequences, nor control their intensity, direction, or the extent of the destruction . . .

    we are in very great need of mercy because it is very true that we know not what it is that we do when we take it upon ourselves to become an agent of evil in a broken world . . .

    “. We are sinners, but we do not know how great.
    He alone knows who died for our sins.”

    (John Henry Newman”

  10. For those who have finished the show…

    Have you heard about the alternate understanding of the last episode? Makes just as much sense as what was filmed.

  11. Just an idea here, but I wonder if the christian backlash I’ve seen against Breaking Bad has to do so much with it’s rather Old Testament portrayal of life? It’s too “icky”, sinful, heartbreaking, depraved, vile, disgusting, depressing…it’s too real. And that turns off your average fundygelical towards it.

    I kind of see that in a lot of places with art. The need for it to be superficially happy, not deep or depressing. Movies, books, music, art…all of them.

    Remembering my IFB childhood, they’d bring up that “whateverso things are pure” verses, and use that as THE filter for everything. If it doesn’t match in any way, why, I don’t know how you can call yourself a christian and watch American History X, or listen to Nine Inch Nails, or go to an establishment that serves alcohol! But really it was just a biblical justification for declaring something bad that they didn’t like; if they liked it, those rules didn’t apply, lol.

    Then there are those of us who relate to Ecclesiastes and Job far more than Psalms…

    • I think there are plenty who would say, “don’t you hear how many times Jesse says the b-word” and just leave it at that.

      • “whatsoever things are pure…”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Anyone remember a “Ted Bear” of a “Christian Movie Guide”?
        I do — he was a celeb on Christian AM Radio back in the Eighties; interviewed on all the talk shows about how awful and sinful Hollywood’s stuff was.

        That’s what his reviews are like — checklists of how many times each Sin happened in the movie and that’s it.
        Something like:
        * LORD’s name taken in vain 25 times
        * Cigarettes smoked 32 times
        * Cleavage seen 15 times
        * Alcohol use 5 times
        * Children not honoring parents 7 times
        * Sin A 17 times
        * Sin B 12 times
        * Sin C 8 times
        * Sin D 23 times…
        His “reviewers” must have a tally sheet of Sins they mark off.

        • HUG, that reminds me of a Tom Waits song, “Pasties and a G-String.”

          “CLEAVage, CLEAVage, thighs and hips!”

          Waits wasn’t exactly censoring it, though.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s just that Christian Movie Reviews sounds SO tunnel-visioned onto Sin Sniffing (especially SEXUAL Sin Sniffing) that (in the words of one Lost Genre Guild author) “they make us all look like sex-crazed ninnies with nothing else on our minds.”

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Just an idea here, but I wonder if the christian backlash I’ve seen against Breaking Bad has to do so much with it’s rather Old Testament portrayal of life? It’s too “icky”, sinful, heartbreaking, depraved, vile, disgusting, depressing…it’s too real.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. There is a tendency to privilege a Biblical narrative that excludes complexity or negativity, depression or unresolved injustice. I see that tendency in folks who prefer to read the second half of Psalm 22 and ignore the first half. I see it in the people who would rather assume that the book of Judges ended with the story of Samson. We tend to forget that the New Testament was borne out of the Old, and then wonder why more people can relate to the story of Walter White than the narrative mainstream Christianity tends to present. It’s not that the world is so evil; it’s just that there is a desperate desire for something real. Slicing out the depressing stuff from the Bible deprives folks of that.

    • Robert F says:

      Then there are those of us who relate to Ecclesiastes and Job far more than Psalms…

      What do you mean?

  12. I binged on Upstairs, Downstairs when I had my hip replacement, couldn’t stop! Also, another good binger was “All Creatures, Great and Small.” The Brits have these shows with authenticity down pat, realistic folk. BTW, ever heard of the Donner Party? Another 6-8 inches tonight on top of the melting 12 inches. My cat is hiding.

    • The original Upstairs Downstairs from the ’70s, or the recent one? I’ve only seen one of the recent ones, and then tried to catch up on some Downton Abbey. The original U.D. is still one of my favorite series ever.

      • Love me some BBC TV. I remember those two shows from when I was a kid. Nowadays I’m watching Foyle’s War, George Gently, and The Bletchley Circle.

  13. Unbelievably, no one has yet brought up the recently debuted pre-quel “Better Call Saul.” (Ack! I forgot to watch the latest episode last night, I just realized!) Though it’s too early to estimate the shape the full arc of the show will take, thus far it seems to do justice to BB and to flesh out a Saul Goodman (you’ll love where his name come from) who begins trying to hoe his own crooked path of redemption as things inevitably start to go sideways.

    (As a teaser for those who watched BB but haven’t yet watched “Better Call Saul,” can you guess where the initial post-BB flash-forward scene has Saul Goodman working? Extra points if you get his employer’s name!)

  14. OldProphet says:

    I only watched the last 5 episodes of Breaking Bad. Yeah, OK. Sometimes I think that some people will view anything and rhapsodize abot how deep it is and its valuable its lessons are and I think, no its just a show or movie. That’s all. As for BB, as a study in the sinfullnes of man, Walter is a good example of how far a man will go to provide for a family. That is something we see played out in the news almost every day. But my real worry (I’m old) is that this type of show and current movies like it are so readily now accepted by our society. So, what’s next, a show about a man who sells body parts to provide for his family? What? Finally, Downton Abbey rocks! Hey, Robert , do you remember Kung Fu? In college,we watched it religiously. We would spend hours afterward, discussing everything in the show and how DEEP it was! “you must learn grasshopper”.

    • Robert F says:

      I loved Kung Fu, OP; Kwai Chang Caine was my guy! Never has a pacifist kicked so much ass with such equanimity. I think the show jumped the shark when Caine stopped those bullets fired at him from point blank range with nothing but a cast iron frying pan in his hands.

  15. I happened to watch the movie “Noah” (the Russell Crowe one) on TV a week or two ago. It made me realize what the world would have been like when your God doesn’t provide grace. Or when your view of God doesn’t allow for it. I only mention it because it seems similar to how you describe Breaking Bad. I haven’t watched it because I wanted to remember the dad in “Malcolm in the Middle” the way he was.

  16. I watched all of Breaking Bad a while ago. One of the best, maybe the best, TV show ever.

    Just because the show doesn’t play out mercy or redemptive grace doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’d argue that it’s there for viewers by its very absence; what creates a lot of the dramatic tension is precisely the fact that viewers hope for this but Walter never quite goes there (there are any number of times he could have), and the plot line and characters and motives and relationships progressively degenerate as a result.

    We might admire Walter on some level, we might applaud his better motives, and there are certainly times we can empathize with him and other characters; but no one comes away from this show wanting to be Walter White, or for that matter anyone in his world.

    Breaking Bad is dark and scary and sometimes gruesome, but it’s fundamentally honest: It never commits the ultimate evil of redefining evil as good.

    • Danielle says:

      I agree, it is unusually masterful. I wanted to stop watching it at several points – for most of the same reasons I do not want to watch a train wreck complete with exploding bodies. However, the characters were so well conceived and written, I had to keep going.

      It is not clear what will happen to Jesse in the end, but there seems to be at least the potential for hope there. Unlike Walt, Jesse is your expected criminal. Unlike Walt, Jesse is almost painfully impulsive and dumb half the time. But, also unlike Walt, Jesse wants to live in a world with redemption more than anything.

  17. Also, whatever the “deep meaning” of Breaking Bad, don’t you think evil is almost always more interesting to us fallen humans than good is?

    Look at the literature, for instance: Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” is seen as one of the very best of his Canterbury Tales. As you may remember, it’s about three “rioters” who set out to find Death, find gold instead, and end up killing each other over it.

    Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, including Macbeth and Hamlet, all end up battling others to their deaths and leave the stage littered with corpses.

    Milton’s Satan is a far more effective and thrilling and fully-realized figure than either his God or Jesus.

    We just like our bad guys. Problem is, as Old Prophet suggested, we have to keep upping the ante. Now that we have the visuals, where do we stop? If a fil-maker wants to keep making money, he doesn’t stop (at least voluntarily).

    • Good is only interesting in response to evil.

    • turnsalso says:

      “One of the very best Canterbury Tales.”

      So long as they recognize the rightful place of the Miller’s Tale as the best of all, let them say what they will.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’ve got the Gil Shelton illustrated version of The Miller’s Tale, illustrated in the style/character designs from Fabulous Furry Freak Bros. As The Miller’s Tale IS a Medieval Slob Comedy, it’s very appropriate.

  18. Also, yes. Downton Abbey rocks! OK, the plots are kind of thin, but the individual scenes are lovely, and look at those clothes!