Tonight kicks off the first episode of the final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Chances are, even if you have never sat down to watch a single episode, you have heard of Walt White or his alter ego Heisenberg. The basic premise of this show is a nondescript, white, middle aged high school chemistry teacher finds out that he has inoperable lung cancer, he will probably be leaving this dusty rock sooner rather than later and he wants to make sure that his family is financially provided for once he steps off this rock. So what’s a fella to do? Make methamphetamine! Yep, why not become a middle aged drug manufacturer/dealer?
Anyway the show is pretty much about Walt’s descent into darkness and for some reason, we are all eating this show up, me included. But…you know I have to go there. A fellow blogger tossed out the thought that maybe we wouldn’t be digging ole Walt White/Heisenberg if this show instead were about Jamal Jackson; Jamal, a Black, middle aged, high school chemistry teacher with inoperable lung cancer who decides to start manufacturing crack cocaine so that his family is provided for after his demise.
I originally wanted to say “dude, you are so off the mark”, but the reality is I think there is some truth in that statement. For starters, methamphetamine use in the past decade has become a serious problem in many parts of the United States, depending on who you are talking to, one might say that it is as problematic as the crack cocaine epidemic as the late 1980’s. The only difference is that the users of methamphetamine are not the same users of crack cocaine. Meth users trend white, crack users tended to be POC.
While the show takes us into Walt and his partner Jessie’s antics, really the show is about a “good” person becoming bad. Wikipedia actually sums it up well Breaking Bad is “built on the uncomfortable premise that there’s an irrefutable difference between what’s right and what’s wrong, and it’s the only one where the characters have real control over how they choose to live.” Or better yet “What makes a man ‘bad’ — his actions, his motives, or his conscious decision to be a bad person?”
For some reason the idea of a “good” person going bad resonates deeply with me. It was during my own pre-midlife crisis when I realized that the world is not black or white, but rather shades of gray. I suspect one of the reasons this show is so critically acclaimed is because it makes us think of morality and maybe even our own morality. Yet I can’t help wondering would this show appeal to the masses if our central character were someone other than who he is. Can we see ourselves even in people who are nothing like us? For millions I suspect we all know that under the right circumstances there might be a little Walt/Heisenberg in us but would we recognize our own capacity for that darkness if Walt were Jamal or someone else? Just something to think about.