Last night we watched the first three episodes of the very first season of Breaking Bad, a show I’ve been eager to watch but just never have seemed to get around to. We finally did it, and I think it is safe to say, we're already hooked. I had the benefit of listening to a great interview with Bryan Cranston, the lead in Breaking Bad. You may remember him as Hal, the goofy father on Malcolm in the Middle. This is nothing new to those of you who have been watching since the first season in 2008, but during the interview, Cranston explains how the creator, Vince Gilligan had this vision of taking the character, Walter White, a high school science teacher from this humble, nearly transparent man who has never had as much as a speeding ticket, and transforming him into Scarface. When you see the plight of this genuinely good man and what he endures without complaint in his given life situation which is revealed in the first episode, you are able to turn off the moral compass for a minute and appreciate why he even considers the absurd and illegal path he is about to embark on. And now, like me, if you had been meaning to watch Breaking Bad for years but hadn’t, it is time to grab the first season from Netflix and get started.
I don’t mean to go all intellectually deep and such but I am fascinated by otherwise normal, law-abiding citizens who give in to the temptation of bending the rules for what they deem to be a moral right. If you watch Dexter, I think you can agree to that it can be exhilarating when he finally tracks down and eliminates his victims. For those that don’t know, Dexter is a serial killer. But he only kills those people who are bad and who have otherwise escaped justice. Another show we watch, Justified, has one bad person after another getting whacked. Generally, even if it is Boyd Crowder, a preacher and a criminal doing the killing, as viewers, we tend to agree that the people he kills, need killin’.
I’m not as intrigued by people who are just plain criminals because they are lazy or bad. I don’t go around robbing banks, stealing from my neighbors or killing random people for fun, and I can’t say that I would admire or want to know people who do those things. And this is where it is different with Mr. White, the main character in Breaking Bad. He knows that what he is setting out to do is wrong, and he is torn by the decision he makes. But he weighs his options, what his family situation is, what his foreseeable future looks like, and suddenly, he is willing to do something that goes against his very grain. And this makes for good TV.
Most of us have been faced with infuriating situations in our lives, and for the most part, we keep it under control. We take a few deep breaths or maybe offer a few expletives, but we count to ten and move on. Aside from bouts of semi-road-rage and the flipping of the occasional bird, few people I know would ever stoop to committing actual crimes in order to right a wrong done perpetrated against them. If you were 15, you might egg a kid’s house because he was a jerk at school, or involve yourself in fisticuffs to solve a dispute, but as adults, this never seems like as good an idea in real life as it does in the movies.
For years, I have had this idea for the opening scene of a movie. I don’t even know what type of movie it would be, but in my mind, there is a well dressed, conservative looking guy riding in his nice car. It could be a Lincoln Town Car or it could be something fancier like a Jaguar. It isn’t Steven Seagal driving the car, but someone more “normal” Like that guy who played Ferris Bueller’s father.
Ferris’ dad is minding his own business, driving calmly down the street as he listens to some smooth jazz in the background and he is having a polite conversation on his cell phone, perhaps it is with Mrs. Bueller or maybe he is checking in on Ferris, who knows. In my movie, talking on the cell phone while driving is not a crime. The guy pulls up to a stop light and as he chats on the phone, a second vehicle pulls up in the lane next to him. Though Mr. Bueller has the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on, his conversation and his smooth jazz is rudely interrupted by the obnoxious thumping of the unreasonably loud music coming from the car next to him, a car inhabited by a couple of pot smoking slackers with nothing better in life to do than insinuate themselves into other peoples’ personal space.
As a side note, I have found myself in this situation more times than I care to share. Not driving in a Jaguar listening to smooth jazz and chatting with Katie Bueller, but sitting in traffic while a couple of assholes make their music selection my music selection. It’s rude and it is wrong. But aside from perhaps an ugly look, I wait for the light to change and move on. And most of us do that.
In the movie, the actor chatting on the phone asks the caller to hold on for just a moment and he sets the phone down on the dashboard. He places the Jaguar in park and opens the door. The light is still red and the guys in the car next to him only just begin to pay attention as he steps toward their car.
In a single move, the unassuming dad from Ferris Bueller pulls a large Glock from inside his suit jacket and puts two holes into the radio console between the driver and his stunned passenger. Though the music is now gone, he calmly says, “Turn that shit off.” Okay, maybe it is Clint Eastwood in this role. Nevertheless, just as quickly and as the light turns green, he slides his Glock back into the holster in his jacket, enters his own car and picks up the phone only to say, “sorry about that” and drives down the road continuing his conversation and enjoying smooth jazz. I don’t know how the rest of the movie goes, but with a beginning like that, I already like the main character.
The reason this is only a scene from an imaginary movie and not a routine occurrence in my life is that I have a switch in my brain; it allows me to let little things go. I think most of us do. The moment of satisfaction we might get from taking matters into our own hands does not nearly justify the pain and subsequent losses associated with police, lawyers, judges, and prison. So, we endure the obnoxious thumping until the light turns green and we move on. I wonder though, how many of us have something bubbling under the surface that, given the right trigger, would make us that guy.
A week or so ago, many of us probably had these fantastic ideas of how charitable we would be if only we had won the Mega-Lotto. Imagine, after you purchase a few houses and some cars, and pay off all your debts, even the stingiest amongst us had to have some feeling of sharing the wealth, right? The only trigger needed to make you a king of charity is to have the winning numbers on that lotto ticket. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t win either. But the fantasy was good for a while.
I don’t care to say who, but a guy once told me about a situation he had in a bank. There was this underlying issue he had been having with bad service there and the people were not treating him like the long time customer that he had been over the previous decade or two. As he was sitting there waiting to speak to someone about a particular matter, his mind began to play out these different scenarios of how he would react if he got the run-around or they didn’t give him the answer he needed.
I sat there mesmerized listening to his detailed description of the violence that was about to be done on the contents of the bank lobby. There would be computer monitors shoved from desks, chairs pushed aside and no doubt, more than a few deposit slips thrown into the air. When he was called to speak to the bank official, he was tense with the anger building up inside him, just knowing that the meeting was going to go bad and before long, there would be news cameras and reporters standing outside the bank and an old driver’s license picture would be flashed on the TV screen for his wife to see that he had finally lost his shit and SWAT was moving in.
But in fact, the scenario played out differently. The bank people gave him what he wanted, they did so in a professional and polite manner and they avoided the wrath that was just bubbling under the surface. The trigger was not pulled that day and you just wonder, how many of us are that close, whether it is the bank or the job or a neighbor or perhaps a relative, who sets off that little time bomb.
And in case you are wondering, no; I’m not offering you a glimpse into anything personal that reporters will come back a few weeks later and say, if only we had read his Blog, we would have known. I don’t even own a Glock.
I really just wanted to point out that, only three episodes into it, I can already feel a sense of understanding in how this man, this common, normal, responsible and good man has found himself making choices he knows are against everything he thought he believed in, and I look forward to the dramatic transformation that will unfold over the next several seasons worth of Breaking Bad. Bust out the popcorn.