‘Breaking Bad’ Romanticizes Selfishness [Video]
(Photo of Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston/By Ursula Coyote/AMC.com)
A Chess Game
AMC’s “Breaking Bad” knows how to hit the brain’s anticipation and gratifications centers by inviting viewers to guess the characters’ moves in a big psychological chess match. Walter White squares off with Hank Schrader, in the second episode of the final series. Hank’s wife, Marie, steps up as a queen on her side of the board, dramatically declaring to Hank about Walt, “You have to get him.”
What other pawns and pieces are going to fall? Who can outguess the next person’s moves to ultimately say “Checkmate”?
The “Buried” Episode
In the most recent episode, “Buried,” Hank meets Skyler (his sister-in-law) at a diner, urging her to become a witness against Walt. Skyler responds that Hank’s telling her to not first speak with a lawyer does not sound like he has her best interests in mind.
Hank’s lawyer, Saul, warns him that Skyler may be cooperating with police. Marie confronts her sister, who with silent tears acknowledges conspiring with Walt in his drug dealing, murders and money laundering. Hank tells Marie he, alone, must solidly nail down the case against Walt, before his office finds out that the deadly drug lord, Heisenberg, was his brother-in-law and right under his nose, the entire time. This would spell the endgame of his career. Hank is about to question, Jesse, Walt’s top henchman. Jesse sits in police custody after dumping millions of dollars onto the street, in a stupor of guilt. Walt buries millions of dollars of drug money in the desert.
Selfishness and Crimes Romanticized
Although dramatically compelling, “Breaking Bad” reinforces an incredibly narrow and selfish premise. Walt’s values and morals are only about protecting himself and his own at any cost. Having cancer without money for medical care, and worrying about leaving your wife and disabled child destitute are intensely sympathetic circumstances. But Walt is not heroically breaking any shackles of middle-class fear by spreading the scourge of drug addiction and murdering for self-preservation–even when couched as loyalty.
In what’s supposed to be a poignant moment, Walt says to Skyler, “You keep the money. Don’t ever speak of it. Never give it up, and pass it on to our children. Give them everything. Would you do that? Please? Please don’t let me have done all of this for nothing.”
“Breaking Bad” romanticizes crime. And we enjoy it. But do Walt and Skyler’s love and their family, alone, rise above all else to merit suspension of all rules of decency? Wouldn’t a more dignified example of an honorable life be a more courageous legacy to leave your children, contrasted with money covered in dirt?
I’m guessing at the end of the chess match (“Seventh Seal” anyone?) creator Vince Gilligan plans for those blinded by hubris to tumble down to earth, from where all once began. And the long arm of the law will be there.
Compare Notes with a Criminal Defense Lawyer
In the video box above, Jim Keneally, a partner and criminal defense attorney at Harris, O’Brien, St. Laurent & Chaudhry, LLP, in New York City, shares his “Breaking Bad” predictions. Having 25 years experience in criminal law, including defense of drug dealers, Jim discusses what would happen if Walt and his cohorts were actual people. Would Skyler most likely have stood by her man? Stack up your assessments and predictions of “Breaking Bad” against Jim’s and mine. And share your comments below or on Twitter @Lawyerscom or @BetsyKim.