No, I haven’t yet watched last night’s Breaking Bad episode Ozymandias. I plan to do so as soon as I finish this post. However, I did find this article in Salon The Two Kinds Of People Who Watch Breaking Bad, that got me thinking.
Thomas Doherty, the post’s author, explains,
Yet as interesting as how “Breaking Bad” will end is how people want it to end. The sentiments of the two rival camps provide a reliable index to two persistent strains in American culture. The first camp — neo-Puritans in temperament — want retribution and punishment: to see justice done to a man they can no longer identify with…The second camp are frankly admiring of Walt’s break-out from a life of quiet desperation and his success in fulfilling his Nietzschean potential. They want him to escape or at least get a clean death of his own choosing…”
When I read the post, I realized that I had never really thought about what I wanted for Walter White. This surprised me. Normally, I would want the bad guy to get caught, to be punished. Why not here? Did I so wholeheartedly trust the writers to give a satisfying ending that the question never occurred to me, or is it perhaps due to the fact that Walt is seen walking around (with a full head of hair) in the flash forwards that I assumed that he was going to “get away with it”?
If the latter is indeed the case, how does it make me feel? Not too bad [ly], actually. Why not? These could be some of the reasons:
1. The world is not a black/white dichotomy: We are not all good or all bad. Walter White is a good man who turned bad, a bad man who can be good (we see this especially with his children). Even in the three cases that show how severely he has “broken bad,” there are gray areas. The first instance is when he watches Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, choke in her own vomit without intervening to prevent her death. Despicable. But, he didn’t kill her, she overdosed. The second instance is when the little boy on the bike is shot for witnessing the train heist. However, Walt didn’t shoot him, Todd did. Then, there’s Brock’s poisoning. Walt certainly did that. But we know that he wasn’t going to kill him.
Almost everything that Walt has done, no matter how horrible, has been for his family. I say “almost” because as he moves away from his moral center, his motivation is sometimes fueled more by his ego than by his family. But, then again, he’s flawed, otherwise known as human.
2. Hank vs. Walt: I have never wanted Hank to win, even less now when I have seen how quickly he has turned extreme. There is no doubt, especially after being reminded in point one above to what extremes Walt has gone. But Walt’s transformation has been a progressive journey, and it has clearly taken a toll on him. Hank’s anything-goes attitude in order to nail Walt is a big turn-off. Perhaps, I feel this way because he’s supposed to be the upstanding good guy, and we get a glimpse of how fast he could break bad. But didn’t I just write about the dichotomy stuff? Does this mean that I go easier on Walt than I do on Hank? Yes, and it’s probably because of the next reason.
3. Intelligence: I’m a sucker for it. I admire Walter’s mind, even when I’m repelled by its product. I felt the same way for Stringer Bell in The Wire. Breaking Bad has given me one of my all-time favorite TV characters: Gus Fring. Granted, it wasn’t only his intelligence that attracted me, it was also his consummate competence and his calmness. It’s a good thing all these men are characters in tv shows. Otherwise, I’d be worried about myself.
4. The hard work: Think what you will of Walter White, but he has worked hard for his money: physically, mentally, emotionally. I would hate to see all that work go to waste.
But, does all this mean that I’m on Walter’s side? Do I want him to go unpunished? No, it doesn’t. He deserves to be punished for his arrogance, his ego, his lies and his evil acts—direct and indirect—like the ones mentioned in point 1 above. However, I don’t want him to get caught. I don’t want him to die. You see, no external punishment will be as hard as the one that will come from inside himself. Inside all that evil, there’s a conscience, there’s recognition of how badly he has broken, and how badly broken he is. Walter White will pay because evil, sooner or later, destroys the host, and in order to achieve full retribution, he needs to be around while it’s happening.
Thomas Doherty is wrong. There are more than two kinds of people who watch Breaking Bad: those who want Walter to escape, those who want him to pay, and those who want both. What kind are you? Unsurprisingly, real life is as complex as this [outstanding] television show.