Monday, September 02, 2013

Breaking Bad: I want Hank to win

[SPOILERS GALORE. Don't read this if you're not up to the  middle of the final season of Breaking Bad.]

Am I the only person in the country (world?) who wants Walter White to pay for all the horrible things he's done? I was on his side for a long time, but at some point I turned. Maybe it was after he poisoned and killed a small boy just to break Jesse's allegiance to Gus. Maybe it was watching Walt ruthlessly manipulate Jesse about their murder of the boy on the bike or watching Walt kill Mike in a fit of childish fury. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere in there, I began rooting for Hank.

There I said it: I want Hank to nail Walt's ass to the jailhouse wall. Walt is a horrible person, not so much for killing so many people over one year (remember, it's only been one year in Walt-time), but for how cruelly he plays Jesse again and again. I agree that Walt cares about Jesse a great deal and risks his life for him, but it's a sick, sick kind of love. It's a love of ego and pragmatism and sneering superiority. Jesse is the true protagonist of this show. Over four seasons we watch mild-mannered, law-abiding Mr. White descend into the original gangster of megalomania, but we watch Jesse transform from a fronting, two-dimensional drug dealer into a haunted, conflicted sidekick whose soul goes deeper and more pained with every decision Walt drags him into. Jesse's the only character who consistently displays a moral conscience.

We're now a few episodes into the final half of the final season, and I'm stunned by the lack of sympathy for Jesse in the online discussions of Breaking Bad. Is it that everyone loves a winner and since Walt has what it takes to destroy anyone in his way, let's cheer for Team Walt? Have Jesse's heart and emotions worn thin with an American audience that doesn't want to be reminded of its own moral conflicts and inner pain? Are we participating in that heartless calculation that if you're dumb enough to believe XYZ, then you deserve what you get?

If the heart of this series were the relationship between Walt and Skyler, maybe we could keep rooting for them because that's the contract between an audience and a Bonnie-and-Clyde story. But the heart of this series has always been the relationship between Walter and Jesse. Watching them grow to care about each other in spite of themselves was funny and fascinating and gave me hope for the state of Walt's character. But watching Walter tear at the foundation of that partnership again and again, leaving Jesse more broken and isolated each time, has drained all humanity from his character. For Jesse's sake, I want Walter to pay for his shit. I want Hank to win.

Is there anyone out there who agrees with me and has the guts to say it? Please see also my post Breaking Bad: the one I feel bad for is Skyler.


Mick said...

Not a clue what you are on about

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Mick, this TV show is currently an American obsession among a certain part of the population. I've been hooked on this show since it started in 2008. I apologize for writing a blog post with such an exclusive subject. I don't like to do that, but I'm so disgusted with some fans' reaction to the show that I had to let it out.

Anonymous said...

I'm more annoyed that people don't think this could be just about anyone with a big ego. If I fell into the meth life, this would be me. When armies of kids go inteveryoneo the life, it's them. Guns and death. He is a monster, but that's who they all are in this life (are race & age making this show interesting?). Walt poisoned a kid. They all kill kids. Walt has a soft spot; so do other baddies.
People root for Walter. It confirms my hunch that we people are assholes, and people are getting in touch with it.

Mick said...

Its ok Reg we'll probably get it on our screens in the near future.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Yes, it's true that we all have the capacity to make decisions like Walter's. We all have the capacity to turn into a walking nightmare.

Nevertheless, I'm amazed by viewers' twisting of the lens through which they watch the show that lets them continue to see Walt as a hero. This response is very disturbing to me. I think even the creators of Breaking Bad didn't mean for audience loyalty to Walt to continue past a certain point. What twisted sick fuck thing does Walt have yet to do that would shake people's support of him?? What the hell is wrong with us that we still see him as the good guy??

Gunner H said...

Well, the thing is that if Hank wins, Jesse kind of doesn't. Hank's positioning himself to do exactly what Walt has been doing - he has a goal in mind (getting Walt) and will let anything happen to Jesse if it means getting Walt. So then if Walt's cancer really is back and he only has 6 months to live, Hank would get Walt for 6 months and I'm sure would put Jesse away for his part for a very long time. Walt gets out the easy way and Hank would still let Jesse rot in jail.

If Jesse is the protagonist here, and I mostly agree with that, the only way for him to win is to take down Walter and leave Hank in a neutral place, or at the very least vulnerable. The direct route clearly isn't going to work, and Jesse has little to no credibility among "normal" people and so that leaves him in a spot where he has to make his own success by being more clever than the manipulative megalomaniac. He can't go to the cops, he can't use force, he can't bring himself to go to Alaska... he's choosing to force a him or Walt ultimatum without help from Mike, Saul, Gus, Hank, Skylar... most of the characters that were or are motivated now to make Walt simply go away.

I can't believe that they would only leave 4 episodes out of 62 to wrap this up and only now start on all this, but I'm guessing that it's going to end something like this: Jesse sets into motion a series of events that makes Walter poison himself, and the death gets chalked up to cancer. $2 bet says it's with two cups of wine poisoned with iocane pwder, which Jesse can tolerate because of all the other junk he's taken in the past.

Anonymous said...

Hank is obnoxious; the writers certainly knew we would hate him. The actor who plays Walter was on Colbert practically weeping about how he would miss Walt.

I have to hope Walt's kid will kill him... then he wouldn't be a wasted character. Why didn't the writers respect the kid enough to make him more interesting?

Nicholas said...

The REAL question would be: how could you NOT root for Walter? I mean, life gave him the finger from the get go. Fuck all that "turn the other cheek" shit. If live gives you lemons, you throw them to your neighbors face and rob them. How can you root for Hank? That lazy fat excuse for a cop always thought he was better, "more manly" than Walter White. So I for one am happy that at last he find out that he was played by who he thought was "a loser".
I want ALL OF THEM (people who always thought W.W was a worm, no life, pussy whipped) to die horrible deads.
If Heisenberg has to go, make it in his own terms. In a blaze of glory.
Oh, by the way. Even though he dis poison the kid. He didn't die nor he was ever expected to. W.W just wanted to shake Jesee up cause he's being a pussy for some time now. With his "moral dilemmas" and shit... He needed him to kill Gus.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Gunner - Thank you, I think you're probably right that Hank would turn on Jesse if he couldn't make Walt pay. Jesse is really playing with fire if he thinks he can trust Hank.

Anonymous - I like Walt Jr. AKA Flynn. He's been interesing enough. I don't know what the point of that BABY was.

Nicholas - Your comment makes me wonder if Walt's character is tapping into a widespread anger felt by people who have had others call them losers or pussies. This show has stirred up a LOT of anger, mostly against the characters that aren't as ruthless as Walt. But I appreciate that you didn't dismiss me from watching the show. I've gotten the reaction that if I'm not rooting for Walt, I shouldn't be watching, which is strange logic.

Nicholas said...

I don't see why you should stop watching a show you like. You have the right to like any character you want...
Maybe what you say is correct. Maybe the show somehow manages to stir shit up in those people. The difference with me is that I've never been an outcast nor dismissed as a loser. Quite the opposite actually. All my life I've been trying to get that kind of people to rebel (they rarely do BTW). I just don't feel any empathy with random people. And I think it is stupid for a person to "share" his/her life with someone if that means having to "adapt" to them or in W.Ws case, live by their rules. I guess it depends on the way you see life. For me, living a long boring life, with a big family and just "waiting" to get old, rot and die is not an option. I don't need nor want a family and when I go it will be under my own terms (no nursing home or walking stick for me. NO thanks.)
I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me, ANYTHING beats having a family and living a boring suburban life.
Like John Derek said: "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse" those right there are true words of wisdom and I've tried to live by them since I can remember.
Now, regarding the show. Don't get me wrong, I do wanna see W.W get killed. Where you and I disagree is in the way and symbolism of it. I'm expecting to have a Tony Montana finale. Where he lived the way he wanted and died the same way. To me, In Scarface Tony went out with a bang. And it took a real coward (like Jesse in this show) to shoot him from the back. I don't wanna see him redeem himself, regret anything he did. You know, that kind of "Hollywood ending" where they try to convince you that one way or the other good always triumphs over evil. And everything will be OK, and life is beautiful etc. That right there is BS at it's finest. I consider myself to be a "bad person". I am no killer or drug dealer. And I don't go around shooting people just because but I'm aware that I am not by any means a nice person or one that would even lift a finger to save anyone but myself, and let me tell you, real life is NOT like the movies show you. Bad people mostly win, and if/when they meet their fate is generally after they've done whatever the hell they wanted and lived life the way they wanted to. That's from experience, not from a show. Have I hurt people by living the way I like? Hell yeah. Do I care? No, not really. It is their problem to figure out how to live a happy life just like it is my own to do the same.
So basically that's why I'm against the "happy ending" of Breaking Bad. I'm sick and tired of Hollywood trying to convince everyone that being a sheep is a good thing. and for the looks of it (and the fact that the creator said MOST of the people will be satisfied with the ending, and let's face it. The "majority" of people see Walt as a baaaad, baaad man and want him to be "punished")it looks like I picked the wrong show to follow. I always thought this was kinda like Scarface, but it turns out it is just another morality lesson. I hope I'm wrong though...

red rabbit said...

Breaking Bad is great storytelling no matter who you're rooting for or against. Plus I get to see my beautiful New Mexico every week. No place on earth has that quality of light.
Anyway, I agree somewhat with Nicholas. Walt was a good citizen, a loving husband and father. His life wasn't perfect, but he paid his taxes and came to a full stop at stop signs. None of this made any difference. I imagine a diagnosis of cancer and the realization that you can't afford to have cancer could bring out all of your demons.

Also, Walt's a perfectionist. If he'd meant to kill the kid, he would've killed the kid. Poisoning a child is a horrible thing to do, but completely true to Walt's character.
Walt is Ozymandias. He's unredeemable. One of the best characters on the page or the screen.

Hank and Marie are supposed to be insufferable and they deliver that x10.

I'm not a big fan of Skylar. Some of her choices don't make sense to me, but she is not uninteresting.

Todd is a true sociopath. Lydia is a pure capitalist. They don't get a lot of screen time, but you dont forget that theyre out there.

I loved Mike :'(

I'm rooting for Jesse to make it out of this clusterfuck. And of course Saul. But i have a feeling this is gonna hurt.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

Notice how much people have to say about a TV show?
More words and sheer thought have been spent on TV shows like "The Sopranos" and "Breaking Bad” over the last two years than on the mortgage crisis still destroying Americans or the Fukishima disaster soon to poison all of us living on the US West Coast once the Gulf Stream brings the fallout here (it's coming--check out the science journals since the newspapers sure are not telling us the truth).
But anyway, here goes. I too, have something to say about Walt.
Yes, the bastard should have fried, and of course he didn't. He was allowed to have a relatively peaceful death after the satisfaction of taking revenge on everyone who’d crossed him and after intimidating his former partner and his partner’s wife into distributing his ill-gotten drug money to his family.
But you know what? Screw Walt. He had already paid for his decisions by losing the love and trust of his son, the one character in the series who most loved and accepted him and would have loved him just as he was if he had remained a simple high school chemistry teacher.
Walt was dead all along anyway. First he was a walking dead guy who lived a mediocre life he was too dead to even know he despised, and then he was a dead hearted, dead souled drug lord (independent entrepreneur, LLC of drugs) who was a stone killer, which is all you can be if you threw away your one legitimate chance to be what his partner became: a visionary scientist and inventor.
What is a meth chemist, anyway? It happens I know something about inorganic and organic chemistry. A meth chemist is someone who prostitutes his or her knowledge and skills for profit off the vices of distributors, criminal enforcers, pushers, and the addicted. Chemistry is an awe-inspiring science that began as alchemy--magic, in the middle ages when alchemists were called wizards. Chemistry, as Walt the dead teacher taught his high school students, 'is the study of transformation'. Walt's former partner transformed society and science with the innovations he and Walt ought to have achieved together. Instead, Walt opted to walk away from innovation and transformation, chose the changelessness of middleclass stupor instead.
Walt is presented to us by the writers of the show as a meticulous craftsman, as taking glee and great joy in the complex processes of chemical transformation involved in achieving the erudite crystallization of meth production--he is a 'master' of meth. ‘Call me Heisenberg' he proudly proclaims.
But how dare a punk ass meth cook compare himself to the great physicist Werner Heisenberg who worked with Neils Bohr and Max Planck, who originated the 'uncertainty principle', won the Nobel Prize, and helped to inspire the creation of quantum mechanics? Werner Heisenberg's great flaw was helping to research a Nazi atomic bomb, but credible historians argue he actually helped to sabotage the project, denying Hitler a weapon that would have destroyed New York...

Rayfield A. Waller said...

What was Walt's accomplishment, Walt, who had the genius and the gift of scientific talent that might have permitted him to actually be as profound a man as Heisenberg? Walt cooked crystal meth. It was a meth, yes that was of a pure concentration, of pure, sky blue color. Remember Tuco's reaction to Walt's overweening pride in presenting his meth, an innovative meth that is blue but 'every bit as pure' as any other meth Tuco has seen? Tuco snorts some, jerks like a mule in shock and ecstasy, and says, “Blue, yellow, pink, whatever man! Just keep bringing me that!” Way to leave your imprint on the human condition Walt!
No, Jesse is the real protagonist of this show, and as it concluded, it was always Jesse who was being transformed, made into something more and more pure, in just the way you detailed, Regina--his soul and his humanity grow deeper with every crime, every disaster, every atrocity carried out by or orchestrated by Walt, every personal loss inflicted on Jesse. The chemical process Jesse is going through is called distillation, boiling away a mixture to eliminate impurities or to eliminate what is unwanted, to leave behind a purer substance or, as in double distillation used for distillation of spirits (spirits!) distillation changes a substance to a gas form and then condenses that gas back into solution, yielding a purer and then absolutely pure substance.

With Jesse in fact, an even more profound process is going on--titration. In titration a chemical reaction is induced between a known volume of a solution of unknown concentration (Jesse is a very known meme--a stereotype we think we know in the first episodes) and a known volume of a solution with a known concentration (Walt, who is the test substance that will cause a catalytic reaction in Jesse—we know Walt, we think he changes, but in reality, Walt does NOT change). A very precise definition comes from Princeton University's chemistry department at that reads, "a measured amount of a solution of unknown concentration is added to a known volume of a second solution until the reaction between them is complete; the concentration of the unknown solution (the titer) can then be calculated.
Jesse is known to us, but his 'concentration' is unknown--his potential. His spirit--the ‘titer’ which at the end of the series ‘can now be calculated’: it is Jesse, transformed, then liberated at the end, pure spirit. Jesse triumphs. Walt simply joins the ranks of the dead he had always belonged to all along anyway. Walt is not even a tragedy—a tragic character could have chosen other than tragedy, but the true tragedy of choice in Walt’s life was not his choice to become a drug lord. The true tragic choice is one that took place before the show even began when he chose to walk away from his potential, his talent, and his true joy. Walt is not a tragedy in this series, because he CAUSES the tragedy in the lives (and deaths) of all he touches. They are the ones who deserve our sympathy, not Walt.
As a university professor I do not regret my choice to embrace teaching a very distressed and conflict riven profession these days--as my profession. Nothing else gives me as much joy as being in the classroom. When I was younger I had endless conflicts with the zombies who are the administrators of universities who are mediocre and soulless, as I yelled at them, protested, demonstrated, and drove myself to conniptions, struggling and battling to try to change what they do. But as I grew older I realized that they are not the point—the students are, the young lives I can and have impacted and transformed. I now simply ignore, defy, and deliberately dis-obey every stupid thing administrators say to me or try to bully me into doing. I’m still engulfed in conflict with them, but now I remain silent, I rope-a-dope them, I apologize then do what I just apologized for again, I stand there when they call me into their offices and watch them, letting them do the yelling.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

I have also noticed, though, that many teachers are just like Walt: they walked away from all the other things they could have done with their lives and wanted to do. They take no joy in the life they chose. Walt’s greatest sin is that he stands before young students in a privileged position as a mentor, proclaiming chemistry as ‘transformation’ but has no passion or commitment to transforming them. Jesse, remember, had been one of Walt’s students. The transformation he brings into Jesse’s life is all through distillation in a medium of violence, nihilism, and despair—a solute of poison. Walt betrays his chosen responsibilities as a husband, a father, and as a teacher.

Meanwhile, Jesse achieves spirit. He condenses into his purest potential form—the only real redemption we get for our sins—by speeding away from Walt and bursting through the gates of the compound he was enslaved within, shouting in joy for his freedom.