While on my travels to Northern California, I got caught up in a Breaking Bad marathon. I watched the whole show with great dedication and vigor for nearly a week, and my fortitude caused me many sleepless nights. I just could not help myself. I felt a deep resonance for Bryan Cranston’s characterization of Walter White (WW), and I was tangled up in a web of feelings of familiarity and likeness? Could this be? Firstly, how could I liken myself to a crystal meth cook and dealer, and secondly, how could I, who purports to hate all things from mainstream culture, find communion in one of the most popular television shows of the 21st century?
Well, I decided that Breaking Bad is the ultimate allegory for the life of an artist, so let me count the ways
1.) YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY WILL THINK YOU’RE A FUCK UP
WW SEVERELY disappoints his family, and we find that he really has no choice. He cannot share this part of himself with them because they expect him to fit into the role of dutiful and upright husband/father. True he chose to have a family, and his potential was unearthed after he made his children, but the glamor of his new life really captured their interest and attention because they were suddenly living the lives that they always wanted… financial autonomy, power, charisma (and that is why people are drawn to the artist: they get to be stars by association with and to freedom).
2.) THE PERSON WHO “SEES” YOU
In the case of Walter White that person is Jesse. Jesse calls Walter White an “artist” and he pledges himself to the role of mentee. Their relationship is the most sacred and profound relationship in the show, and WW will not allow Jesse to be harmed of course, until Jesse betrays him, but even then he expects Jesse to be murdered. In the finale, WW rescues Jesse and sets him free from his crystal meth cooking enslavement. There is a tacit understanding between Walt and Jesse. Jesse finally understands that Walt was playing the game the whole time to keep Jesse alive, and that game included handing him over to the white supremacist drug lord posse who would have never let them both survive.
3.) YOU HAVE TO BE A MASTER MANIPULATOR
Now, this doesn’t mean that as an artist you’ll be rich or famous (same could be said for the character of WW), or in the case of Walter White that you’ll live and your family will forgive you (same could be said of some artists), but the ability to see five steps ahead WILL ensure you the ability to stay out from under the grip of people who you don’t respect or who don’t respect you. This ability guarantees your autonomy.
4.) EXTREMELY VOLATILE
this characterization of artists is by far the biggest factor contributing to their isolation. because they do not play by certain rules they are frightening, but in all of my years… the best are this way. if they aren’t, then they are trying to sell you something, so don’t take it personally. take this as a testament to the fact they don’t want to play you. (no. 4 speaks to the protagonist of Breaking Bad).
5.) PEOPLE WILL DIE
Now, this is where Breaking Bad and the life of an artist are sharply different. Actually, everyone will be stronger for your decision to pursue your passions. It will give them permission to live a little more freely. Their freedom may not look like yours. It may be as simple as being happy-as-hell that they AREN’T you and that they in fact HAVE xyz. But in the end, this is a gift too.
And, to come full circle, the more the artist comes into his/her own (no. 3), the more his or her actions (no. 4) contribute to a quality (no.2) that ensures a life of not caring about what other people think no matter who those people are (no.1) because in the end we are all going to the same place (no. 5).
A deep and heartfelt thank you to an incredible show!
Signing off from the Entertainment Capital of the World!!!