Written by: Johnathan Kruis
With last Sunday’s airing of Breaking Bad’s season finale, online publications have been littered with articles about the shows worth. Many of these articles state that the show’s success comes from its breath-of-fresh-air approach to morality. This is being recognized by all sides of the spectrum from Christianity Today to Time Magazine.
Originally I was drawn into the show by its story. How can you help but be intrigued by a middle aged, white, American, chemistry teacher who resorts to cooking meth and thrives as a drug kingpim? Never before have I actually had trouble breathing while watching a TV show. Bryan Cranston delivers a riveting performance as the main character, Walter White.
But Breaking Bad isn’t just a good story; it is also a drama that is full of truth about human nature and the effects of our choices. All humans, ordinary and respectable citizens to drug addicts and mobsters, struggle with pride and selfishness that get in the way of our regard for human life.
Many TV shows present characters that are either purely bad or good, a simplicity that is unrealistic. For example, often in dramatic television shows, the main character is lazy and unmotivated until bad circumstances to motivate him/her to act in a hero-like way. As soon as the situation is under control again, the character returns to his/her old habits until the next inflicting incident occurs and the character springs back into action and the cycle goes on. This gives viewers the impression that only the big choices at the season finale matter. The rest of the series is about characters repeating a cycle of small entertaining choices that really hold no weight in the series but draw audiences in to a brainwashing, addict-feeding 40 minutes. We build these odd relationships with our favorite television characters and writers recognize we want to watch our “friends” grow. We get tricked into thinking there is growth by by the characters going in and out of cycles.
Breaking Bad emphasizes the domino effect of small choices in a way that no other TV show has. In Season One Walter tells his family that as a dying man he must make his own choices. In latter seasons we see small five minute glimpses into lives all over the world who have been affected by Walter White’s choices, unbeknownst to him. As the show progresses, Walter transforms from a reasonable, cool-headed businessman to a power hungry monster who is outraged by the thought of his right to choice being taken. When a fly buzzes around his workspace he must control it. Nature and man must bow to his very whim.
Walter White is a dying man who makes himself his own god, desiring absolute control over his life. The ordinary characters of the show mirror our own proud and selfish hearts. It’s the regular citizens, the pregnant mom, the shoplifting housewife, the murdering restaurant chain owner, the proud DEA office, and the most menacing of all, the high school chemistry teacher with lung cancer trying to provide for his family. There is no such thing as ordinary, good people.
Throughout the show, Walter White struggles to convince his wife that all the lies and murders were for the good of the family, to justify his actions. In the last season when you think that he is about initiate another pathetic attempt to convince her of his righteousness he finally admits his sin. He tenderly starts to explain, “All that I have done…” and she interrupts him, “if I have to hear you tell me you did all this for the family one more…” he finishes his sentence “All that I have done has been for me. I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it, and I was… I was alive.” With these lines you breath a sigh of relief as Walter White finally gets what you have been shouting at him since episode one, but then you realize, those words are my words, and even an ordinary reformed college student must confess those truths.
Christians know that all people possess a sinful nature. Unfortunately, often Christians try to look put-together on the outside and hide or ignore the evil inside. It is an AMC television show that points out and confesses to the world that no matter how normal we look, we are all capable of selfish and horrible acts and that our actions will always affect others whether we know it or not.