Hello hello!Welcome back to my loose analysis and reaction to Breaking Bad. I'm just going to add the warning and get straight to the good stuff.
Last week, I mentioned SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, so prepare for those. Now, with the warning over with, get ready for some thinky bits as I explain why the show was ultimately worth the journey, at least for me.
The ultimate villain's journey
Even the ending, which shows the only Walter White plan that ever goes properly, is beautifully symmetrical with the first episode. Walter's character path leaves him somewhere between the kind-hearted and hapless schoolteacher of the first season and the ruthless bastard we see in the final season. The journey to get there--through evil and worsening deeds, rising greed and ruthlessness--costs him everything, including his jobs, his friends, his family, and finally, his life. However, Walter dies as a complete man. If most shows follow a hero's journey, this is surely a villain's journey--through loss and through the rising price of ambition, hubris and strengths that become faults exacting their toll. Walter was a mechanically adept man and a fine chemist, and his own reliance on his ingenious mind over the good advice or intentions of others was shown clearly throughout.
Another thing that's really interesting about Walter is that there is no Mephistopheles to lead him astray. He gets the idea of cooking meth on his own, and the series consistent, even ham-fisted, about showing that everything bad that happens is basically his fault. He involves himself with criminals. He sanctions the death of children. There's no dark angel talking him into it. At the end, the character confesses to Skyler that he did it all for himself, not his family. As a viewer, one is left with disturbing reflections on how often a noble intent is rationalized to be for someone else's sake when it's really selfish at the core. Hold on, folks; I need to make a note for future works...
There isn't much I can say about this character's path and portrayal--it really is close to perfect, and certainly gave me a lot to think about as it regards a simultaneously sympathetic and despicable villain. There were many times that I wanted to reach through my computer and strangle Walter White, especially when he was abusive towards Skyler. And speaking of strangling...
Source. You can practically see the devil behind the desk.
Holy crap, violence
I wasn't prepared for all the violence, I have to admit. The thing that really got me stewing was that the crimes perpetrated by Walter White and the people he hurt. There is a lot of collateral damage in this series. I have to say, it's probably one of the most effective anti-drug advertisements I've ever seen. The drug users get off lightly compared to the meth cookers. At best, a conviction and a bad drug habit; at worst, various forms of death could be expected.
And when it comes to death, there was a certain glee in the perpetration. Counting the jet, almost three hundred people die over the five seasons. And oh, what deaths--explosions, shoot-outs, a crashed plane, death by bike lock, ricin poisoning, ATM-head-crushing, death by turtle-severed-head bomb, being strangled with a chain, and, of course, death by jury-rigged machine gun in the trunk of a car. That's not counting all the cases of people being slapped, punched, turned into organ slurry with acid after death, or brutal beatings. I do love a black comedy, and I'm not scared of death or violence in general, but I really prefer reading about it to watching it. The unflinching brutality was very disturbing, even if it was somewhat realistic.
It was dropped in the last couple of seasons, but I also really enjoyed the biting commentary on racial profiling with Hispanics. It was most prominent in the first season, but Hank's racist comments, the arrest of the janitor while two middle-class white guys got off scott free, and the looks Hank's partner Gomez gave him from time to time spoke volumes. It was a real shame that all the class stuff really fell by the wayside in later seasons; I missed the incisive commentary on insurance companies and the healthcare system, too. The dynamics of his family and the brilliant depictions of addiction in the first and second season really fell by the wayside after about the third; while Jesse's travails still show the progression, the show sort of lost interest in its earlier topics to focus on how badass Walter becomes. I disapproved.