Now this, THIS is a television program. Of course, I have written this before. We won’t rehash the editorial feelings about the show – aside from pointing out that the show has developed on its crackling, explosive strength that it showed out of the gate – but instead ruminate on some of the developing themes, as the depths of Walter White’s life and his newfound vocation grow. In particular, we are seduced by the idea that Walter White is turning bad – but is this really true?
- I mean, you look at the first season – and we see all the things he is up against. His son with cerebral palsy, his loving but somewhat overbearing wife, quietly emasculating in-laws, a job teaching at a high school when his peers have achieved so much more scientific fame, his lung cancer – all are obstacles and challenges that we identify with so easily. We identify with Walter and want him to succeed. He is sympathetic – because of what he is up against and how he wants to care for his family. However, his decisions now are getting colder … in Season 1 when he kills a man, it feels like self defense. This is a dangerous character – what is he to do? However, what do we make of his relief when he sees Jesse’s girlfriend die? What do we make of Walter’s power play with his OWN SON by the pool? What do we make of his lying to Jesse and getting him out for a marathon cooking session? Yeah the success in the meth field has given Walter a ton of self confidence, and given his life some meaning – indeed, look at the joy in his face when he gets to leave the hardware store to tell someone to stay off of his turf – but has it also fomented his fundamental badness? That is, we sympathized with him because of circumstance, and still do – it is seductive how much we want him to complete the drug deals and successfully hide his cash – but how much did we really know about HIS character vs stuff we just ascribed to him because of our fundamental humanity? Maybe he is not turning bad, but just a bad guy who never had the forum to work his black magic?
- The above notion is underlined in other scenes. When Walter Jr has a fundraiser for his dad and talks about Walter’s quality, we wonder not “does he know about the meth?” so much as “Walter has never seemed like that sort of dude”. Is Walter an angel? Has he seeemed like a father of the year, or just an ornery withdrawn sot. It just feels like his evil turn is no accident.
- On the other hand, Jesse’s character arc is an interesting counterpoint. He doesn’t want to be disowned by his family. Sure, he has chosen a rough life, but clearly he wants some acceptance, at least from his brother on a level other than drug dealer. He finds an apartment and gets with the gorgeous gothy supervisor girl next door. But these are all his better instincts, to have a nicer place, run his drug ring – do something positive as it were. Indeed, he really cares about Jane. When Walter calls him to cook, remember, he is on the way to the museum to hang out with her. Even when he is about to do meth, he wants her to leave – to not jeopardize her recovery. Jesse is in approximately the same miserable place as Walter – worse being in rehab and all – but he seems like he is trying to fix himself, or at least is conflicted about the hard parts.
- The inspired addition of course is Saul Goodman by the great Bob Odenkirk, though we know him less in dramatic work. His performance is great as the shady lawyer. He brings a combination of oiliness and street wisdom that Walter doesn’t have. But he seems like he is a good guy to know. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.