“Walter’s a shithead!”
I had just walked in the door to the family home in Forestville, California. My dad had just finished the second season of Breaking Bad, specifically the episode “Phoenix,” in which Walter (Bryan Cranston) passively allows Jesse’s heroin-addicted blackmailing girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) to choke to death on her own vomit. “I mean, he just stood there and let her die. He cried at the end, but still,” my dad recounted, disgusted and amazed at the same time. Now, understand that my father is a pacifist hippie who would rather laugh than cry and much prefers Californication over Mad Men (which I give him slack for every minute I can—including while I’m writing this), but I’m sure other viewers have had a similar reaction to Walt’s progression from a bumbling schoolteacher who doesn’t know where the safety tab on a gun is located to a meth kingpin, and the collateral damage in between.
Personally, I had an opposite reaction to my father’s: I feel that the show is at its strongest when it exposes the moral gray matter of Walt’s decisions. Like AMC’s other headliner show Mad Men, Breaking Bad doesn’t excuse its protagonist’s behavior like so many other shows do ad nauseum, as it reinforces and even underlines his vulnerabilities, and it boldly forgoes the safety net of having a sex symbol as a leading man. Gone are the excuses that he needs money for chemotherapy and his family. Walt has worked his way up, from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Vince Gilligan likes to say, but now more than ever, there’s nowhere to go but down. All we can do is look at him with some amount of disgust at his actions—and with amazement at how far the show has come.
Serena Bramble is a rookie film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. Serena is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Teledramatic Arts and Technology from Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.