Quick note: This post is going to contain spoilers for some of the “Final Season” episodes of Breaking Bad. I’ve generally tried to keep my analysis a season behind, but something came up that was so juicy, I had to work it into my analysis. What will follow is part of the discussion for “Buried” the second episode of the Final Season. Or the 10th episode of the 5th Season. I’m really fuzzy on the math of this. But if you haven’t watched it live, through DVR, old school videotape, had your friends re-enact the episode for you, or downloaded it legally or illegally, then I strongly suggest that you’re probably a time traveler from the 18th century. and you’re not sure what Breaking Bad is and why we choose to stare and glowing rectangles for so much of our lives. In which case, I have some other spoilers for you, and we can talk later. Onto Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday!
Shakespeare loved the tragic flaw. In fact, when studying Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, or Macbeth (the big four tragedies), chances are pretty good that your teacher (albeit not as handsome as me) probably started out the discussion with a brief overview of each of the main character’s tragic flaws. (Inevitably screwing up Macbeth’s tragic flaw and mixing it up with Lady Macbeth’s but that’s another post.) But what a lot of people don’t cover is the fact that the “tragic flaw” is available in all flavors, and affects so many of the other characters. In Othello, the argument could be made that as much as Othello is jealous and easily manipulated, so are Desdemona (she let’s her husband kill her) and Iago (who throws everything into motion because he’s jealous of this dude who’s skin color is not the right color for him and has everything he wants). Most of Hamlet could have been avoided had they had a sitdown at the start of the play rather than taking advantage of all the madness, corruption, and paranoia. The play may have been shorter. And Macbeth is about a dude who’s kind of happy until he gets the idea to be ambitious, then his wife got all ambitious, too. Then Macduff gets all revengy and ambitious. Then they all die. As Bruce Willis might say, “Macbeth won’t be attending that hat convention in July.” (He gets beheaded, so the line is hilarious.)
My point being that the same with Breaking Bad: everyone has spent a long time analyzing Water White’s tragic flaw, which is a combination of pride and ambition. He’s too proud to accept help, so he has to go on and cook meth to pay for his treatments. (At the point in the series that he’s offered financial assistance by his former business partners, he’s already had one major failure as a drug overlord and had to murder two people. One of them he strangled with his bare hands.) Pride and ambition have long been associated with people on this show. Jesse throws out several batches of meth because he can “do better.” Gus Fring... oooooh, we’ve talked about good ol’ Gus, but when Walter crossed paths with him and hurt his pride, how long did it take him to go all boxcutter on people?
But there’s one line that sums everything up, for me at least. Last week on “Buried” we get the conclusion to the long awaited showdown between Heisenberg and Hank. This is the moment that Hank has been waiting on for a year, and we’ve been waiting on for five. Then the moment is over as the two men run to their respective wives, and eventually Hank ran to Skyler. While confronting her, he let of this gem of a line: ““He looks me in the eye and says ‘If what you think you know is true.' IF!”
Had anyone told me that line without the context, I’d look at you and say, “That’s a great line from Walt. Writing like that shows us what’s going on in his head.” But that’s Hank. Hank who’s pride is hurt, not from the fact that the Meth Druglord he’s been hunting for the better part of the year is his brother-in-law, but from the fact that he’s being taunted. The fact that he’s being underestimated again. That despite the fact that he’s figured out that his brother-in-law is Heisenberg, he can’t get the confession he wants. He can’t get the few words that he wants: “I am Heisenberg.”
It’s things like this that push the show over the edge from mere entertainment to something deeper. To something that is more Shakespeare-like. I’m interested to see where we go from here. Really that line starts to seal up Hank’s fate: He’s going to have to die. Hank’s pride is going to get in the way, the same as Walt’s pride affected him, the same as Skyler’s pride is starting to affect him. The whole thing is just going to keep going in a vicious cycle, much like Macbeth or Othello or Lear. Now we get to add White to that list, and all the prideful people around him.