I've written before about the AMC television series, Breaking Bad. As the third season winds to a close I find myself fascinated by the traps that lead character Walt, his wife Skyler, and Walt's co-conspirators, Jesse and shyster lawyer Saul Goodman, have found themselves in.
In season two Jesse had taken up with a girl who has been sober after a heroin addiction. Due to Jesse's influence she went back into addiction. She and Jesse were unconscious in bed after shooting up, and without lifting a finger to help, Walt came in the room and watched her die of an overdose. When her father, who is an air traffic controller, found out she was dead he went into a profound depression. Because of his grief, he screwed up and two planes collided in the skies over Walt's neighborhood. Walt, by inaction, is responsible for more deaths, a side effect from his illegal drug manufacturing business.
If you haven't seen it, the premise of the show is that Walt White (Bryan Cranston), is a high school science teacher with a wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), and a son with cerebral palsy, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). Walt finds out that despite being a non-smoker, he has lung cancer. In order to provide for his family after his demise he teams up with a stoner former student, Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, to make meth. Walt's meth is so good that it's much in demand, and he goes by a pseudonym, Heisenberg. The DEA is looking for Heisenberg, because they've recognized the quality of his product as something different.
Another coincidence--a bit hard to swallow, but trust me, because in context it works--is that Walt's brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), works for the DEA, and is the one looking for Heisenberg. In season three Hank is attacked by two Mexican drug cartel assassins who had been originally sent to kill Walt, but were diverted to Hank instead by the distributor Walt is working for.
I don't to go into it much more because I want you to rent the DVDs, or watch it in reruns to see how it all plays out. I would be groaning at some of the plot twists if I wasn't so into the idea of the show, which is that even the most decent people can be twisted into believing they are doing the right thing, if they believe it's for the greater good.
In this instance, just as he was responsible for the deaths of the people in the airplanes, so is Walt responsible for the attack on his brother-in-law. Hank is in the hospital, unable to walk. Skyler, who has tumbled to Walt's criminal activities, has her own moral code twisted when she decides to spend Walt's drug earnings to pay for Hank's care. It puts her fully into the criminal conspiracy.
Breaking Bad takes the audience through a moral maze. We're cheering for guys who make meth. We want Walt and Jesse to get away with the smarmiest and most dangerous criminal activities of all. Each episode asks another question about morality. Skyler is a new mom, with a brand new baby girl to go with her 16-year-old son. Because of her anger with Walt, she has an affair with her boss. Somehow the characters in Breaking Bad manage to break every rule that civilized people are supposed to obey, and yet remain sympathetic to the audience.
The closest show I can compare Breaking Bad to is The Sopranos, where we rooted for stone cold Mafia killers. The difference is that Tony Soprano was born to be a made guy, and the criminality of his family is part of the lifestyle. Unlike Breaking Bad, no one in The Sopranos had any moral dilemmas whatsoever. It was bad enough being in a Mafia guy's corner, but even moreso with Walt White, because at the beginning of the series he was a decent family man in a horrible situation.
There are two more episodes to go in the current season. I don't know how Breaking Bad will end this season, but I know I'll be there next year when season four gets under way. I will follow this series, as I did The Sopranos, right down to the last episode. I'll be hoping that somehow, unlike the title, in the end it doesn't break bad for Walt and his family.