Breaking Bad Part II: "I Am the One Who Knocks"

Wow! Wow! Ummmm.... wow! I've watched many television series over the years, but I have to say Breaking Bad was my favorite of all time. Vince Gilligan did a profound job of creating a story with multi-layered characters and interwoven plots that impacted viewers on so many levels. It was simultaneously entertaining, exciting, and disturbing. The messiness of humanity was masterfully portrayed, as was the reality that the line between good and evil may not be as distant or foreign as we may think. As Walter White sank deeper into the nefarious world he created, and manifested Heisenberg (his dark side alter-ego) more and more, I often couldn't help but think of the old saying, "there, but for the grace of God, goes (any of us)." 

In my earlier post, I mentioned how I related to Walt at the start of the series. Before I go any further, let me state that I don't think my story is special or unique in any way. There's probably many who feel this way and have experienced what I have, which is probably one of the numerous reasons Breaking Bad was so popular. Maybe you'll recognize what I'm talking about. For those who have seen the series, you'll definitely understand the title of this post. 

Growing up, I fantasized about being the rebel... about being the cool kid who, with a whimsical smile, broke the rules but yet was loved by all. However, in reality, as I described in my previous Breaking Bad post, I was the "goody-two-shoes" who played by the book and was often scared of his own shadow. When I became an adolescent and young adult, I still struggled with this to a certain degree. My desire to be liked and accepted often caused naivety and disappointment in all manner of relationships. While I watched the "bad boys" have their fun, get the girls, and enjoy admiration everywhere they went, my fear of getting in trouble, making a scene, creating or feeling discomfort, or causing someone to dislike me often caused a backing down on my part, even when I felt I was justified. While I wanted to be one of those alluring "bad boys," I was anything but that. On those occasions when I finally managed to break some of those rules and partake in some things and behave in ways that might have surprised or shocked others in my life (especially the "church people" who, interestingly, I came to look at as the "goody-two-shoes"), I felt a sense of excitement and aliveness, as well as a passive aggressive feeling of payback to all who I had previously felt powerless around, and all who had ever taught me in the first place that I needed to be the nice guy who played by the rules.

While my life and experiences never got anywhere remotely as extreme as Walt's did, from the beginning of the series I felt an affinity to him. For many years, I had also swallowed anger, fear, disappointment, and frustration. Therefore, whenever I broke free of that persona, the accompanying feeling could be a rush. Many reviews and assessments of Breaking Bad point out that on numerous occasions throughout the series, Walt says he's doing the illegal activities for the benefit of his family, when in fact he's really doing it for himself. For the first time in his life, he feels powerful and in control. That's something I, and I'm sure many others, can empathize with.

At the same time, I also get where Jessie Pinkman, Walt's associate in crime, is coming from. As the story unfolds, we come to see Jessie as kind of a big kid at heart, with childlike wonder and an ability to maintain a moral compass amidst the seedy world that surrounds him, and despite his partner's descent into darkness. While he's no altar boy and definitely commits his share of bad deeds, he also struggles with the guilt that comes along with it. He has a conscience, along with compassion for those he sees as weak and vulnerable, particularly children. 

But, like a child or teenager, Jessie is seeking affirmation and a strong figure in his life to approve of him. He comes from what appears to be a wholesome, middle-class family, but they have given up hope that he will ever get his act together and have thus dismissed him from their lives. Jessie genuinely admires Walt, who becomes a sort of father figure to him. In return, Walt seems to genuinely care about Jessie almost like a son, and even as Walt's evil side grows, he still manages to have a connection to Jessie.

At different times in my life, I found myself enjoying the company of people I admired and saw as "cool," carefree, and rebellious. While it certainly happened outside of the music realm, often these people were fellow musicians and bandmates. Because of my musical skills, I'd often find myself accepted into circles and around people who outside of that would probably not have a lot in common with me. It was the stuff of sitcoms and movies, where the dorky kid gets to hang out with the popular kids because of some particular skill or extenuating factor. For many years in my musical collaborations, I was also usually the youngest member of the group (sadly, those days are long gone). One particular band was a scenario similar to those worksheets they give to kindergartners where they pick out what doesn't fit in the picture. In that case, there were five rough looking guys in leather jackets, bandanas, torn jeans, etc., and Barry the keyboard player looking like he just stepped out of Express or one of those type stores. And I loved it. Getting that approval was indeed like the nerdy kid in high school who suddenly gets accepted into the popular crowd. In various seasons of my journey, I had my own versions of Walt, or more precisely, Heisenberg.

Whether literature, movies, poetry, music, or any type of art, the ability to make an audience see themselves in the art and relate to it on a deeply personal level is a sign of mastery and excellence. Vince Gilligan certainly achieved this with Breaking Bad. Now that Christina and I have finished the series, I've been reading and watching some reviews and analyses. I have seen where, as I expected, there were critics who felt the show glorified methamphetamine and brought it out of the shadows and into the mainstream. This sentiment was particularly common in law enforcement circles, who deal with this epidemic on a daily basis. There was also the criticism that it wasn't realistic. These critics pointed out there's no way in real life Walt or Jessie would be as lucky as they were in avoiding death or arrest. Some also claim there's no way an operation producing that much of the drug could operate within the United States. 

Some of these criticisms could be warranted. But then again, what television series or movie is ever 100% accurate? Of course the main characters are going to usually avoid death and find their way out of impossible scenarios. For example, as an ICU nurse, Christina can easily point out technical inaccuracies in shows like Chicago Med and Chicago Fire. Braveheart certainly took artistic liberties with the story of William Wallace, as did Amadeus years earlier in its portrayal of Mozart. The list here of shows and movies that took certain liberties could be endless.

Overall, Breaking Bad clearly paints the fine line between good and bad, and shows how the perfect storm of circumstances could cause anyone to go to places they, nor anyone else who knows them, ever imagined. The characterizations portrayed clearly show the rawness and realness of being human. I highly recommend Breaking Bad for this reason, along with the entertainment value. In my opinion, it doesn't glorify drugs. It shows what can happen when an otherwise good person falls into any kind of addiction, whether that be the addiction of using drugs, manufacturing drugs, the addiction to power, or anything else for that matter.

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