Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Walter White Wednesday 17

. . . which is the one about family.

The concept of family runs throughout Breaking Bad - most obviously with Walt, who uses his desire to provide for his family as his reason for getting into the meth trade.  For new viewers, when Walt is diagnosed of terminal lung cancer, he begins to take stock of his life and he doesn't like what he sees.  Teaching high school chemistry to bored teenagers hasn't brought Walt happiness or prestige.  Desperate to at least leave behind a tidy nest egg for his wife and children (Skyler is pregnant with a "surprise" baby at the beginning of Season 1, remember), Walt comes up with the hare-brained idea of using his stellar background in chemistry to manufacture the purest methamphetamine on the market.  He's got the skills in the manufacturing arena, but doesn't count on the casual viciousness of the drug trade.  I've argued before that his motives aren't really that pure, anyway.  With Walt, it's more about pride than it is about providing.  He refuses help when it's offered (and offered by well-meaning people, including his brother-in-law) and digs his hole deeper and deeper until he apparently decides he likes the darkness he finds underground.  He doesn't like - not one little bit - his son's efforts to raise money for his treatment.  Walt wants to be The Man Who Provides, but he's busy keeping secrets and shoving away the very ones he's supposed to be providing for.

Not that he's the only screw-up in that household.  Skyler has her own sins to atone for.

But the White family is not the only example of family ties in Breaking Bad.  Look beyond that small circle and you find the strong bonds of family loyalty in the Schrader household, for instance.  Marie and Hank have problems (mild kleptomania and a streak of jackassery), but their loyalty to each other is above question.  Exhibit A - see how Hank tears out of the junkyard when he thinks Marie has been injured, even though it means leaving ABQ's drug kingpins behind to flee (and if you don't think Walt owes a debt for that lie, just ask Jesse, much less Hank, or Marie, or Skyler).  And Exhibit B - see how Marie transforms from self-centered memememe! to Tiger Wife when Hank's treatment options are being discussed.

Now expand out to Jesse's circle.  From what we see of Jesse's parents and brother, he was raised in solid comfort, but his choices have caused his family to make the painful decision to cut ties with him.  Call when you're ready to actually change, not just when you're in trouble and we'll talk is the message his parents send to him after years of shattered promises and broken hearts.  Jesse comes close - so close! - to forming a family of his own with Jane (I'm not counting Skinny Pete and Badger here, although a case could be made), but that ends badly.  The bad ending is the result of a toxic combination of miserable choices and Walt.  Collateral damage here includes Jane's father and an entire planeload of innocents.

But go even further from the bright firelight of the middle-class American family.  Look at the family in "Peekaboo," but don't stare too long - that cracking sound in your chest is your heart breaking for the child.  Oh, and drug lords have families, too.  Just ask the bloodthirsty Cousins, who arrive in Season 3 to exact vengeance on those responsible for the death of Tuco, a hit that has the blessing of the patriarch of the family.  Well, the family that slays together . . .

Normally, family ties are seen to be good things that serve to hold the fabric of society together.  But the family values of Breaking Bad challenge that viewpoint.  Is it love that holds these people together and drives their actions, or is it something more sinister, like the desire to control and to be held in esteem by those under you?  And just what sort of family is it that has these levels of secrecy, violence, and a running body count?

Tune in to AMC beginning on July 15 for Season 5 to find out!

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