Casting the First Stone, by Travis Fishburn

31 Aug


It’s rough to watch this season of Breaking Bad, at least that’s what I hear a lot of people saying. It’s either “too heartbreaking” or “unrelentingly tense”. However, I can’t name a single person who would deny that the show is entirely captivating. This isn’t something that our fascination should be drawn to, yet we can’t turn our eyes away from each enthralling episode. Reed’s comparison of the show to Greek Tragedy couldn’t be more correct. Things continue to spiral out of control for each of the characters, and as an avid viewer I couldn’t be more interested.

I feel like a lot of people are expecting to see a train wreck go down by the end, and while nobody would ever say they want to see a train wreck happen, it’s hard to deny that when one happens, it draws a crowd. What the majority of people will admit is that Walter White needs to get what’s coming to him in one way or another. In every corner in which he’s compromised his morals to get out of, we become ever more justified in our desire to see him fall.

There was a scene last week which featured Walter lying on the bathroom floor, next to Skyler, pleading to her not to give up the money for which he’s sacrificed his soul over for the past year. “Please don’t let me have done all this for nothing” he says. In that moment, I began to feel a sympathy for Walt that I haven’t had since season 4, and I hated that the show was making me feel pangs of decent human emotion toward him.

Why would I not want to feel sympathy for Walt? Wasn’t he originally our protagonist? The last few seasons have shown us just how selfish and manipulative Walt has become, and right now my views and expectations of him are that he is nothing short of monstrous. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think my mind naturally wants to view things in absolutes. Its much simpler and less confusing that way. Seeing an “evil” character show altruistic qualities produces the same sense of denial within me as when a “good” character does something horrific.

Apparently, I want to be able to judge someone, and characters in shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire make it hard for me to do that. While the majority of content produced in nearly every form of consumer media these days makes it easy for us to do so, Breaking Bad along with shows like the ones listed above, challenge us. While the individual actions of any particular character might be easy to judge, their motivations and intentions get a little more tricky (if not impossible) to decipher.

However, It is fun to try deciphering those intentions, and series creator, Vince Gilligan seems to love doing it, himself. From all of  the interviews I’ve seen him do, as well as all of the episodes I’ve heard on the official Breaking Bad Insider podcast, Gilligan is tight-lipped when it comes to plot developments, but loves discussing character motivations with everyone. There is no wrong answer for him, and he seems to find another person’s take on things very intriguing and eye-opening. I don’t want to say he understands people, because he wouldn’t make that claim, but I do think he knows that the show is about people. The interpretations and theories that come out of each episode seem as interesting to him as the show itself is to us as viewers.

The characters in Breaking Bad aren’t simple, because real people are not simple. We are all full of complexities, guided by internal motivations and external situations. If we could view our lives based off of the actions viewed through a camera lens, I know we would each be horrified to see how we would appear. Luckily, our judgement isn’t based off of our actions, and the audience in front of the TV isn’t our jury.

Breaking Bad is an incredibly well-plotted show, but developments in the plot are indebted to the decisions and the consistency of its characters. The show’s ultimate question that it prompts us to ask each week is “what are we capable of, if pushed into this corner?” Right now, each of the characters are each forced into a different corner of the room, and the walls are ever-increasingly closing in on each other.

“If God is wiser that we His judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Problem with Pain

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