September 7, 2011
The Quest for Liberty: What Breaking Bad Is Really About
AMC's "Breaking Bad" is not only one of TV's most thrilling shows, it is also a show that tells much about the times we live in. On the surface level it's a re-telling the classic American narrative of a rise and fall of a criminal, yet if one looks deeper into the show and it's incredible characters, it becomes clean that creator Vince Gilligan is creating something that speaks to current national values. I'm not talking about consumerism, the drug war, or life in the southwest, I'm talking about ye olde' standby: Life Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness.
At the start of the series, Walter White was playing by the rules. He had a nice family, a reasonable degree of autonomy provided by two jobs, and with a baby soon to be added, a ye olde quite life. Of course this all changed with his cancer diagnosis, it was one thing that shifted his entire view on everything. Life - it wasn't looking good. Liberty - he know was at the mercy of disease. Happiness - he had to live with knowing he didn't have enough money for his family after he passed. Simply put, he had lost control.
Control, power, liberty, free-will, or whatever you want is the key focus on this show. Every character from Walt to Marie wants to be in control over their own destiny. In the most recent episode Walt snarled "Never give up control" to another cancer payment. I loved this because it confirmed what we already knew, Walter was no longer sick with cancer, he was sick overdosing on too much control. He had more money than he'd ever need, he had tasted the rush of murder, and he saw himself as smarter than Jesse and Gus.
And that's what we all want, right? We want to have more power at our jobs? We want to have more money to be able to provide for our loved ones. We want to be the masters of our destiny, not some schlub who can't see that life is out there for the taking. If you look at the characters who have got iced on the show many of them lack the ability to control their situation. Tuco, Combo, and Jane all were drug addicts who died because of being unable to handle their shit. Gale had the skills, but couldn't control his own destiny by taking the top job, and Victor lost control of the situation at the crime scene.
In contrast the most sturdy characters on the show exert an almost super-human level of control of their life. Gus, the best character on TV right now is power player because he controls so much, same can be said of Mike the Cleaner. Yet, if the people with the most liberty are the bad guys, what exactly is Gilligan trying to say if that that the only way to achieve maximum control is to...wait for it...break free from societies'...or break bad.