Breaking normal

Updated: May 9

Me and the mizriz watched Breaking Bad recently, our second time through the series. I'll leave the well deserved accolades re storytelling, character development, plotting, etc., to the many others who have already done that. All true.

Vince Gilligan, the creator and producer, has said that he pitched the series as a way to break from the traditional TV role of good-guy-in-stasis, which was useful for keeping a storyline running for years or even decades. He envisioned a main character that would evolve "from Mr. Chips to Scarface". And he did that, but not without making it clear, intentionally or not, that Mr. Chips had the Scarface homunculus in him from the get-go, and that the protagonist's family was the catalyzing medium that produced this change of state from Walter White to Heisenberg.

And so I was wondering about the theme of the corruption of "family" in Breaking Bad. Not that family is a good thing that can be corrupted by pride or greed or any of the other evils, but rather: family as the corrupter. There are no good families in the BB story world. You might say that the grasping free spirits of Walter and Jesse become suffocated by the strictures of family. Walter's repeated invocation of family to justify his actions was shown to be both cynical and sentimental, but it was also his way of cursing the very thing that kept him from living life to its fullest.

In the final scene, as he lies dying on the floor of the meth lab, the story ends with a look on his face that says, "I have lived!" His only other option had been to accept his fate as an underachieving high school teacher and unassuming family man and cancer victim, and to die on a hospital bed, knowing he had rejected any chance of saying that.

According to Wickedpedia, Vince Gilligan's parents divorced when he was seven. Did this drive the place of family in BB? Gilligan's mother was named "Gail," as was the only character who epitomized innocence and goodness in the meth business. That character had no family (none worth showing). Jesse murders him.

Seems to me, there are no stories about breaking normal. Maybe there can't be. Normal people, who make up the audience, want to see out to the edge. They want to see and feel the courage of the people who go there.

And yet, without "normal," there is no edge, and more to the point: nobody to go there.


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