Sunday, July 17, 2011

Breaking Mad

Tonight is the first episode of season four in the AMC original series Breaking Bad, an odd show that is surprisingly a propos for the times in which we live. I had watched the first three seasons on DVD, using it as a needed distraction while doing the treadmill. The last couple of nights I have watched reruns of season one, partly to rewaken interest in the show, partly to see what I missed the first time through. It isn't that the plot is so elaborate. But the treadmill can be noisy and some of the dialog is hard to follow that way.

Also, since there was a piece on the show in last week NY Times Magazine,
I wanted to see how my impressions of the show compared to what was written in that review. At least for the first several shows, there is quite a divergence.

At core the show is fundamentally about the following question. What does the world look like when we have sensible goals to pursue but regarding means our primary emotion is anger, an emotion we've kept in check most of our lives? Now circumstances have changed and we no longer see a reason to hold it all in. Indeed, the show cherishes its release. Timing-wise, the show has been either incredibly lucky or very smart. The first episode aired in January 2008. The core issue for the show lining up perfectly with the views of small investors as they watched their retirement savings shrivel during the financial meltdown.

I will not review the plot. It is covered well elsewhere. I will only point out that the early episodes have several scenes, not integral to the longer story but meant to illustrate that ordinary people go through many situations where others are obnoxious or uncaring to them. We learn to walk away - the lesser of evils. The angry person, however, doesn't walk away. The angry person aims to get even. When that works, because the anger is tempered with intelligence, there is a sense of satisfaction that (street) justice has been served and also a feeling of exultation, because achieving the outcome required Cojones. The viewer can see the narcotic effect. It is how the main character transforms.

The show also can be taken as social commentary, though superficially it appears to be farce, on two key elements. The main character has lung cancer that appears terminal. The family lives comfortably but are financially not prepared for this calamity and he is the bread winner. So he has a motive to accumulate a lot of money in a hurry. You won't find slow and steady wins the race here. He does not tell his family immediately about the cancer, I suppose because he doesn't how to deal with it. When circumstances make the telling inevitable, the response is to find the best oncologist possible, one who turns out is outside their HMO network, with the treatment prohibitively expensive. He is a middle aged man who is dying. He deserves the best to alter that outcome.

Anger has produced a rise in this man. Without knowing what is in store this season, it appears he is headed for a fall.

Sent from my iPad

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