So here we are. On Sunday, Breaking Bad enters the final eight episodes that will tell us if this goes down as a Shakespearean Tragedy, or a mere Marlowean... Marlowe... thing. I guess. In any event, as you can tell I’m fairly excited to see just how it’s going to turn out.
Breaking Bad, as anyone knows, focuses on some not nice people doing not nice things. (Contrary to the beliefs of people who know of the show and do not watch it, it does not glamorizing anything, except pork-pie hats. Pork pie hats are awesome.) So... who are we rooting for in all of this? Are we rooting for Skyler, who’s moral stand against what Walt was doing lasted about as long as it took to realize they were really, really rich? Are we rooting for Hank to take down Walt? Are we rooting for Jesse to turn his life around, finally? Or are we just enjoying the ride?
One of the great things about this show is that it taps into the age old tradition of making “heroes” (or at least people we are rooting for) out of the Bad Guy. Basically, think of it this way: Andy Garcia wasn’t a “nice guy” during Ocean’s 11. But he owned a casino. The money that George Clooney and Brad Pitt was stealing was rightfully his. But we wanted those 11 guys to walk out with the money, and we wanted George Clooney to ride off into the sunset with Julia Roberts, despite the fact that he had better chemistry with Brad Pitt.
Great stories are filled with the “hero” of the story being bad men that were compelling to follow. Think about one of my favorites, Macbeth. It’s hard to bounce back from the fact that he rose to power by listening to a group of witches then murder, then he orders the death of a child. Maybe we forgive the occult, maybe we forgive the murder, even, but when you start killing children out of paranoia, that’s pretty much the end of it right there.
Yet, Shakespeare pretty much sets himself as the “hero” of the story. Macbeth is the story of Macbeth. (And the closest parallel to Breaking Bad: The story of a man who is seen as not living up to his potential who works to become a king.) But we follow this man who is doing terrible things because we strive to understand why.
The evolution of Breaking Bad is similar to that. We understand Walt’s struggle at the beginning. We can even start to understand his struggle with wanting to help his family himself. At what point do we have to stop empathizing with Walt? At one point do we stop rooting for the bad guy? At what point do we want Walt to fail? At what point do we want Macbeth to fail? At what point do we want George Clooney and Brad Pitt to just finally kiss and get it over with? (That’s another post.)
Deep down, I don’t think we do. I think it comes down to point of view. No one can argue that Walt is a nice man, that ship sailed probably around the time that he watched Jane die. (At least for me. I’m sure we all have our own “Walt is irredeemable” moments.) I think what we want to see is the story as it’s been put in front of us. This particular story is the Tragedy of Walter White. This particular story isn’t about the good guy Hank taking down Walter. This isn’t the story of Skyler leaving her husband. (In fact, the reaction of people towards Walter is pretty telling... people find her annoying, not sympathetic because she’s trapped in a marriage with a murderous drug overlord.)
To me, this is why the last eight episodes are so important. Despite the murders, drugs, attempted rape... so many other things... we’re still seeing things through the eyes of Walter White... Heisenberg... the “hero” of Breaking Bad. I want these last eight episodes to continue this. I don’t want a shift in perspective. I want us to keep following our villain until the very end.