My son Omar commented that the TV show Breaking Bad–which he and I have been watching together–has given currency to references to the meth trade/usage by average, upright citizens, which of course includes us. As we watched the last episode together, we speculated, during the extremely frequent commercials on AMC, how many other Americans (or Californians, because of Pacific time), were watching with us. We also debated what elements drew people to the show. Breaking Bad has been recognized both in the industry and in commentary as one of the most fascinating shows of the decade. (Please stop reading if you haven’t seen the last season and intend to!)
I recall saying to Omar at the close of the last season, when Hank took that book off the back of the toilet, that I was no longer feeling terribly invested in Walter White. He had gotten so hard, so monster-ish, that I felt myself caring more about Hank than Walter. And like so many others, I did not feel terribly invested in Skyler although she has strength. (Poor Anna Gunn! As a side note, I had begun watching the masterpiece series Deadwood–quite the Shakespearean western–while waiting for the last season of Breaking Bad, and it struck me that despite the prairie costumes, she plays a similarly strong, unsympathetic character in that show.)
Despite Walt’s typical and passionately in-denial responses manifested throughout the last episodes of Breaking Bad, I felt myself re-investing in him. I know part of it has to do with feeling sympathy. I felt sorry for him being backed into a corner. Why? Because Walter always was a super intelligent man. Hank said so–Walt was the smartest man Hank ever knew, despite his emotional blindside. He thought he could negotiate everything.
Pity helped me re-invest, as did my admiration for his brains. I wanted Walt to come out victorious–not as a monster, but as a brilliant man who, sadly, did not find opportunity to become “great” until he went bad. (Whose fault is that? Is it anyone’s?) Like so many other viewers, I could relate from the beginning to his sense of being let down by society in general and individuals in particular, among those Gretchen and Elliott. (Anyone who has ever gotten a degree and failed to get a job in the field knows that feeling.)
The one young viewer who “got” Walter’s modus operandi may be the reason I re-invested in Walter. He is a young man named Kevin Cordasco, who has cancer of the brain. Follow the link to read the whole story of how this viewer, plagued by cancer like the dying Walter, has touched all of us: http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/breaking-bad-walter-whites-real-life-counterpart/.
Thanks to brilliant Kevin, the writers redid the ending of Breaking Bad so that the character “Walter” dies with some reparations made to society, confident that he is so good at what he does he can bring the structure down with him and give Jessie another chance at redemption at the same time. The finale of BB demonstrates that brilliance yearns to make itself manifest.
I have read a great deal of how Walter is an example of what happens to people who make the wrong choice, but I feel he is also an example of what happens to society when it chooses to neglect or take for granted those brilliant, passed-over individuals who are not heads of billion-dollar companies. Thanks, Kevin, for your involvement. Without you, I don’t know if I would feel so good about Breaking Bad.