Friday, August 23, 2013

About that Macbeth Moment...

There’s a rule in film. No matter what, you don’t kill kids, and you don’t kill pets. Doing that is generally short hand for “the guy you’re dealing with is really, really, really bad”. In fact in Jaws,  Steve Spielberg (who’s like... the Orson Welles of filmmaking) kills off a kid and his dog early on so you knew that the shark wasn’t like other sharks... he was an evil shark, possibly built on an ancient indian burial ground.

So let’s talk about Macbeth for a minute. Macbeth takes the whole “no killing kids” thing very seriously, with Macbeth ordering hits on two kids - one to prevent his prophesied successor, and one because he was the son of his chief rival. Up until this point in the play, we could sorta get behind Macbeth. After all, he had no real plans to be anything more than a really good soldier up until he came upon some witches in the woods. (And can you blame him? If you encountered some witches in the woods, what would you do? I’d probably try to be king. And eat their house, if it’s made of chocolate.) After the witches tell him that he’s going to be the king, it’s his wife that helps to ensure that the position gets vacated. I mean, he’s not a nice man, but he’s hardly the monster that deserves to be (SPOILER for a story that’s been retold a billion) decapitated at the end of the story.

That’s a lot of buildup for us to start discussing Breaking Bad’s Macbeth moment: the killing of Drew Sharp. 

The body count on Breaking Bad has never been what one could consider low, and Walter White has had his hand in a lot of it, even if he hasn’t pulled the trigger. Jane, Gus Fring, Gale, Crazy Eight, the two random thugs... it’s an impressive list for a guy who was giving F’s to lazy students a few months back. And yes, it was evil Todd not Walter that pulled the trigger on Drew, the young kid who saw a bunch of men filling up a tub in the desert. 

Was the killing of Drew a necessary death? Not really. At this point he watched a bunch of guys filling up a tub. And they didn’t really know how much he actually saw. He was a kid. On a dirt bike. That could have fled if he really thought he saw something, or if he thought he was going to be in any danger. But these were all arguments made by characters on screen (Specifically Jesse.) 

The problem has been Walt’s reaction. His reaction is what proves to be our Macbeth moment. I’d argue that this is our tipping point where we no longer are watching Walter White. Walt’s gone. We’re now watching Heisenberg.

Walt was never going to win a contest for least selfish person alive. Jesse even reminds him at one point, “hey... you only needed 300,000 dollars for your kids...” But most of the deaths he’s caused have been to protect himself of Jesse. Gus Fring was threatening him. (Although I figure that given a long enough timeline, Gus was going to be killed by Walt... that’s another post.) Jane, while he didn’t kill her, was taking Jesse down a dark path. The thugs were going to kill Jesse AT THAT MOMENT. The most innocent is probably Gale, but at the time he was working with Gus, and posed a direct threat to Walt and Jesse. Also, let’s face the fat that as fun and lovable Gale was, he was cooking meth for a brutal drug lord. Gale, while “quirky” and “fun” was really a gun and an ego complex away from being Walter White. (That’s another post) Even Crazy Eight tried to kill Walter TWICE. These were deaths that, while brutal, were things we could get behind in some way. 

The problem with Drew is the fact that 1) Todd shot him... Todd, who was trying to break into the business. Todd, who was trying to impress Heisenberg/Walt. Todd, who’s really the first of Walt’s henchmen. (Not a partner or paired with him, working for someone else.) 2) They pulled the train heist the way the did SO NO ONE WOULD DIE. 3) they had no idea what he saw. 4) they cleaned up the crime scene, and that was that. The end. Goodbye to Drew, who was reported missing, and really not mentioned by Walt again. 

The placement of this death is also interesting. Macbeth has Macduff’s son murdered in act 4, just before the ramp up to the final act... same with the death of Drew. It’s the ramp up of the final act that starts to bring the true character of Walter (and Macbeth) to light. No longer are we dealing with the sympathetic characters that are victims of their circumstance... these are characters who are brought those circumstances on themselves, they just didn’t take ownership of it. It’s something that we’re going to see more of as the final act is upon us. 

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