The popular perception of Breaking Bad‘s protagonist Walter White is that he is a stone cold bad ass anti-hero with a murderous persona dubbed “Heisenberg” to match. That he is a calculating criminal mastermind that could erase a man on a whim by the fifth season. While there is definitely some truth to those sentiments, at his core, Walter White is a bit of a joke. A character who is easily capable of ringing as many laughs from a person as Bryan Cranston’s other famous role as Hal from Malcolm in the Middle. He is a terrible liar, an even worse criminal (that would leave incriminating evidence in the bathroom his DEA agent brother-in-law frequents), and is hypocritical to the point of often coming off as pathetic. Something to perfectly encapsulate Walt at his core is the often forgotten scene of him squeamishly backtracking on his famous “I am the one who knocks” speech by the end of the same episode he said it to his frustrated wife, uttering “I may have overstated things earlier and I’m sorry to be so forward” in a pitiful attempt to alleviate her fears on the safety of her children. That is Walter White, a man who says things with no true meaning in them and is fueled by his petty attempts at rebuilding his pride. Because of that, Breaking Bad is a world where we can laugh at his transparency and his naked attempts at recognition, and as a result, I feel the show had truly pushed itself into greatness.
Breaking Bad is a show that is never afraid to be funny, and one that fearlessly mixes humour with even the darkest of events. The image of Walter, fresh after a traumatic shootout that cost him the life of someone once close to him, rolling a barrel full of money like a toddler through the desert, strikes me as just one of the many examples of that in the show. The show never forgets that overwhelming pride also comes with overwhelming vulnerability. Walter White is a man who is driven by a past where he squandered an opportunity that would have made him incredibly rich and a present that saw him have a job he feels he is far too overqualified to be doing. Because of that, you will see scenes of Walt angrily throwing a pizza onto a roof in a fit of domestic rage, you will see him try and fail to break an office window in a vain attempt to exact revenge on a man that cuckolded him, and you will see him desperately sputter a pathetic apology to an associate he inadvertently killed in what can honestly be described as a childish tantrum.
In stark contrast, there are many dramas out there that try to pump out as much “drama” as possible with every minute of run time they could muster. On The Walking Dead viewers saw their lead character lead a band of roaming zombies away by feeding them a pig the audience had no reason to care about, as “dramatic” music blared in the background in a desperate attempt to get us to feel something for that scene. All I felt personally was the urge to laugh for all the wrong reasons, whereas the writers of Breaking Bad could have easily played a scene of that type for real laughs. While I realize the tones of the shows are very different, and The Walking Dead is intended to be the type of show that exploits humourless darkness for drama, I still hold that Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias” episode affected me more on an emotional level than every episode of most dramas combined, the elements of humour from the show taking nothing away from that.
Breaking Bad is every bit as funny as it is dramatic. It’s the show that can mine humour from the absolutely ridiculous (and admittedly heavy handed) event of two planes crashing into each other in mid air, while at the same time handling the heart breaking event of a child being brutally gunned down with the weight it deserved. And for that, I will be eternally grateful for it being able to break the mold of bleak prestige dramas and give us something that is truly unforgettable.
Quote of the day:
– Walter White, Breaking Bad.