Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Alden Wakefield H01 - Breaking Bad Post #1
My three blog posts will consist of philosophical analyses of Breaking Bad. I will discuss the show’s messages on: Happiness, The Legal System, and Death and Morality. To warn the reader, there will be major spoilers in my posts. If you wish to watch the show, I suggest that you wait to read these posts until the show has been viewed in its entirety.
Breaking Bad and Happiness
AMC’s hit series, Breaking Bad, is widely accepted as one of television’s most successful shows in history. With a total of over 10 million viewers, one has to wonder what the show has done correctly to obtain such a large audience. Breaking Bad does not draw in viewers with consistent violence, obscene language, or lackluster humor. Instead, this masterpiece of a series has managed to make today’s public reevaluate their stances on everything from child murder to marital unfaithfulness. It begs the questions in life we often do not want to ponder, and it makes the viewer question the societal norms that secretly plague our lives.
Happiness and the pursuit of happiness are themes that Breaking Bad recognizes and then picks apart. Walter White, the protagonist, lives a normal American lifestyle in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife, Skyler, and their son, Walter, Jr. Walter, or Walt as he is called, is an overqualified high school chemistry teacher with a prowess for his subject. Skyler has recently quit her job as a bookkeeper in order to care for her unborn daughter, Holly. Walter, Jr. in a normal high school student expect for his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. This is a family that would not be recognized from the masses in America; there is no inherently interesting thing about any of the family. They are meant to be portrayed in this way to provide a medium between the viewers and the messages the show sends. The viewer is meant to relate to these average Americans in order to allow a vicarious double life to exist. The trials of Walt are the trials of the working man, and Skyler provides a model for the stay-at-home mother who would do anything for her children. Their happiness hangs in the balance of a dead-end, middle-American family that capitalizes on the simple pleasures of day-to-day life. So the viewer must ask his or herself: Is this really happiness, or do the majority of people settle for a false reality of happiness?
Walt represents the denial of this plebian happiness. After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he begins to question the path he has taken in his life, and more importantly, the paths he did not take. After an unknown issue with his colleagues in the past, Walt left the company he and his two friends founded, only to find out that years later this company has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry. In order to gain the monetary wealth he lost in this endeavor, Walt compensates by slowly building his meth empire. Walt feels that the capitalist and social systems have never allowed him to bear the fruit of his labors, so he pursues a different, illicit path. With his life on the clock, Walt dives head-first into the meth industry in order to leave money for his family after he dies. As the show progresses, however, it becomes apparent that Walt continues on this path partly out of necessity for his survival and partly due to the rush and happiness it gives him. Walt loses sight of his initial goal and it eventually costs him his family and his life.
We watch Walt develop from the family man who made a drastic decision into a meth kingpin with no regrets for his actions. The series finale finds Walt saying a final goodbye to his wife. His family has completely alienated him and refused the money for which he sacrificed their relationship. When asked why he continued to cook meth, he finally gives an honest answer: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really. . . I was alive.” After a lifetime of underachievement, Walt sacrifices his entire life for the fleeting happiness he felt when he cooked meth. Cooking made him feel that he was on control of his life and later the meth business. This power gives him the rush of success he was never able to feel by playing by the rules.
Were Walt’s illegal actions worth the happiness he felt? Was his personal happiness justified even though he ruined the happiness of his family? Should Walt have settled for the average happiness he felt before his diagnosis, or did Walt never really live until his involvement in the meth business? Breaking Bad begs these questions to the viewer and yet provides no complete answer. It leaves each person to ponder them and decide for themselves what the costs of happiness are and whether it is even an honorable goal to desire.