This article was originally printed in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper.
This is hard for me to write as I am going through serious withdrawals (no drug pun intended) from Breaking Bad. What else am I supposed to do Sunday nights at nine? Like, my laundry? Sike. That will only remind me of money laundering, obviously, which will make me yearn for Saul Goodman, or bring back sweet memories of Gus Fring’s superlab underneath the Laundromat. I just want my Sunday nights free to contemplate morality and be unabashed in pondering the meaning of life. What else is a gal to do?
But let’s get to business. Is Walter White one of the most masochistic, narcissistic, insert other istics here, television antiheroes of all time? Yes. Follow up question: Is he worth watching? Yes. Yes. Yes. Why, you ask? Okay. Let’s talk.
For starters, let’s clarify why you’re watching TV. If you want to escape, be whisked away by a world with no real stakes or believability, that’s cool. Snuggle up with your Sig O/Life sized body pillow, read those Dove Chocolate whispers aloud (treat yo self) and watch some attractive cops almost land their jokes and totter deftly around blood spatter on five inch heels.
Don’t come home from a long day of work to Netflix-OD on Breaking Bad. Watching this show is work. This show is a mind fuck. As in, it will relentlessly fuck your mind.
To truly appreciate the genius and complexity of the show, you’ve got to know what you’re getting into. Just as you wouldn’t flip on Homeland to see Claire Danes’ winning smile, or turn on Game of Thrones to see some modest cleavage and G-rated violence, BB’s inherent convulsion of our moral compass is an inherent and crucial part of the Emmy-riddled phenomenon.
Walt is evil. Just because he can make a mean waffle and rock a button down sans pants does not mean he isn’t a treacherous asshole. But I’ll stick to him like white on rice (more like ricin, am I right guys?) because Walt is a fascinating example of how we can be conned into caring for people who we know are the worst.
And herein lies the brilliance of the show. It’s not easy to blatantly hate him, nor have I encountered anyone who loves him with no questions asked (I know you’re out there, you psychopath.) On the contrary, just as Walt so skillfully manages to convince his family and friends – but especially himself – that even his most atrocious behavior has firm roots in rationality, he cons us into feeling we shouldn’t abandon him just yet. That maybe somewhere in there he still is the nerdy, sweater-wearing, scientist that started cooking the blue just to make the green.
That at times we can overlook his blatant abuse of those around him is why the show can be so difficult. We must look at Walter in the context of all the shitty deeds he hath committed, and use these to try to grapple with the ever-present ethical rhetoric that is interwoven with the show.
His evilness and skilled manipulation shouldn’t deter you from reveling in this epic masterpiece if you have been living under a rock and not yet done so. His fucked up, multifaceted persona is a testament to how incredible the show is. In an hour of TV, everything we thought we knew about a character can be inverted. The show seeps into our very being, and haunts us for hours/days/weeks long after each episode, yet we come back to watch with equal anticipation and trepidation.
It’s a show that never presented us with the easy way out. It does not classify good and evil, but shows us the reality of how intricate these distinctions can be. So if you’re not ready to have your mind blown and be alternately frustrated, delighted, confused and excited (my DJ name is Dr. Suess, it’s cool) then don’t watch. But don’t miss out on a good thing because the characters are fucked up. We’re all fucked up!
In closing, I purposely avoided specifics and tried not to give away too much of the wonder that is Breaking Bad. As a catharsis to my own suffering, I place my faith in the next generation of watchers; those of you who still have your BB virginity intact. It’s a precious, precious thing, and it should be an extremely special moment when you lose it. So don’t rush anything.
But, what I will spoil from the series finale is an eerily relevant line Skinny Pete says to Walt. Summing up my argument far better than I could have, Skinny Pete says “the whole thing felt kinda shady. You know, morality-wise.” Preach, Skinny Pete, Preach.