The Whitest Show On TV: 11 Statements About AMC’s Breaking Bad

By Guest Contributor Garland Grey; originally published at Tiger Beatdown

1

I am totally hooked on this show.

2

The actors and the writing are solid. The plot lines are interesting, and the dialogue is fresh; it is very well done, and it is part of the much-lauded television renaissance. It always finds a way to reveal character in really interesting, visually terse ways. Last season revealed so much about the status of Walter White’s moral vacuum with a single shot of a potted plant on a patio. The cinematography and visual palette is engaging, and the show is very hard to stop watching once you absorb a emotional defense against its weird, slow, anxiety-based drama.

[There are spoilers under this cut, you have been warned.]

3

I’ve found the show stops being so much mental work when you start rooting against Walt. Watching Walt manipulate and hurt Jesse Pinkman allowed me to make peace with the idea of Walt dying or going to Federal prison. Which allowed me to sort of sit back and be an unemotional observer instead of pausing every few minutes and being torn up by the tension.

4

There is a problem with the way Breaking Bad portrays the aspirations of my race, people who look like me, and how those aspirations justify the deaths of people of color. There is a moment in the fourth season where Gustavo Fring orders Jesse to go do some bit of grunt work to leave Walt to clean up the mess from the cook alone, and Walt recruits three ladies from Lavandería Brillante to finish the job in the underground meth lab. This is the space Gustavo slit a man’s throat in, that he has been clear about being willing to murder people over. These women are not killed (which was a distinct and clear possibility) but they are deported back to Honduras. Their entire lives upended so that Walt could sit on his ass, shake a cup of coffee at a camera, and get one over on his boss. He had every reason to think he’d be dumping those women into barrels of acid, and he did it anyway.

5

There’s a mythology that undergirds this country’s understanding of race and seeks to explain why white people succeed at the things they do…and the name of that mythology is white supremacy. What I see in Breaking Bad is a story that is partially about how easily white people can dominate and outmaneuver people of color. The show invokes this dangerous, cutthroat drug world in order to create tension and then deifies Walter by showing us how expertly he masters it. The men he comes into contact with are considered to be human anomalies in their ruthlessness, yet Walt murders every single one of them. He gets people killed because he wants the privilege to make the rules in established systems of conduct; he wants to do things his way. Doing Things His Way is what makes Walt the hero (or antihero) of Breaking Bad. He got a bum hand but he played it like a real star, and the graveyard of dead contacts, henchman, distributors, and dealers is just collateral damage. I haven’t finished the 3rd season yet (I watched the 4th, then the 1st and 2nd) but taking into account the last episode on Sunday, I’ve counted 5 dead white people in the entire series, and two were from the last episode (the German dude and the henchman). The other three were Spooge, Jane, and Gale. That’s a lot of dead people of color versus dead white people.

6

I said on Twitter that Breaking Bad was a “white privilege fantasia.” Think about the one most special thing about Walt, the thing that gives him power: the purity of his meth. If you look at the breakdown of who can create pure meth it is Gale, Jesse, and Walt–all white characters. Possibly Maximo, Victor, and the chemist in Mexico could have attained such purity but all of them die after attempting it. So purity in the series is tied to whiteness.

7

The last name of the main character is White.

8

If the show is loyal to its foreshadowing, the way it hinted at Gustavo’s death in the elevator with the steady, persistent bell, Walt is not going to survive this season. He could sell or run the car wash and be way, way ahead, but he’s greedy and ruthless, and going to die. I’m glad the series is quitting while it is ahead, but this season just seems like housekeeping. Just making sure Walt makes his appointment with the bullet, or the knife or, as Mike puts it, the bomb that will strike him down for his hubris.

9

Breaking Bad fans need to back off of Skyler, seriously. There is one recurring female role in the show, and she’ll always be wrong because what she represents is the shrill, nagging harpy. The woman who won’t let her husband live his most authentic meth-cooking life. Even to the point that she’s been scared of him, she’s laundered money for him, put hired muscle on her ex-boss to protect his empire, and is still with Walt after everything he’s done to her. The end of the second episode of this season is his kissing her unresponsive form and trying to whisper poison into her ear to justify the measures he’s driven her to. She did those things for her family, like he’s flooding the Albuquerque drug market with blue meth for his family.

10

I’m skeptical of the things people are allowed to justify as done for their family. People can justify the proliferation of assault rifles because one day they might need or want one to protect their family. They can defend a man who covered up child rape because the university he worked for and the honor of it are important to their family; they can strike out with their shock and anger at not having the Golden Aegis of Football extended to their particular Astroturf dreams and ignore the way their need for football generates a desire in the sport to please them at any cost. Not all families are considered equal in America. It might benefit poor families to have a more rigorous social net that prizes allowing families in poverty to build lives for themselves, but first we’ve got to assure every person making over 250K but less than a million that, yes, it is important that they have a big house, at least three expensive cars, private school for their kids–all hardships and crosses they must bear that are way more important and deserving of our pity and understanding than someone trying to stretch an allocation of food stamps across a household of children and adults who cannot find work that will keep everything running. They’ve got cell phones! A refrigerator! The rich bastards! There is a lot more ambient empathy in the culture for people who own small businesses or have educations or have white skin. The hardships of these people are the ultimate injustices that human beings face. A white dude gets cancer? NOOOOO, WHITE PEOPLE ARE SUPPOSED TO LIVE FOREVER.

11

There are perfectly good reasons to have cathected the character of Walter White, because he often says really true, really important things about how a person’s life can get away from them. How a person can make all of the “right” choices and still come up short. Having a giant amount of privilege doesn’t mean your life is going to be one long afternoon with your head under the mashed potato dispenser. Shit can go wrong in your life that no amount of money will fix, but any amount of money will mitigate. At final tally this show has a lot of unacknowledged issues of race, a lot of issues having to do with whose life story is worth rooting for. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been amazing performances given by people of color–Giancarlo Esposito being at the very top of that list. His character, his back story, his tight, controlled merciless cold anger was perfectly executed. But now that he and his people are dead or on the run, we come back to a mostly white party of people left alive, plotting how to start over again. With the White family and their white lawyer, Jesse and Mike and Lydia and Hank and Marie all circulate around each other, waiting for the no doubt painfully white finale. That’s what we’ve got to look forward to.

  • Anonymous

    If only this show wasn’t white man-centric it might be the perfect show. I’ve hated Walt for so long, I don’t even know if I liked him at all.

  • 1stimecomment

    great article, i am also hooked on the show, mainly because of the great acting & script, but became more & more disturbed by the racism & contempt expressed towards the underclass the more i watched. there’s a scene somewhere in the 3rd season where jesse invites a lot of meth users & homeless people to his house for a big party, he keeps bribing them with drugs, alcohol, food & money to stick around. at one point he throws a big wad of cash into the center of the room & watches while they fight each other to get it. he does the same thing with vials of meth too. it’s reminds a lot of a rich white tourist throwing coins to beggers in a 3rd world country, but i thought, ok, they’re using this to show character development, how jaded & exploitative he’s become, how being used & abused by walt has driven him to this… but the rest of season 3 & part of season 4 [which i haven't finished watching] kinda implies to me that the whole thing is about this middle/upper middle class white kid’s rite of passage & everyone else is just collateral damage in his journey to “find himself.”

    there’s another scene in the 3rd season where gale tells walt: “i’m definitely a libertarian, if i wasn’t cooking this meth someone else would, & it wouldn’t be as pure.” …despite gale being a really sympathetic character [& really fantastic portrayal by the actor] i think there’s something so racist about how unquestioned this is, & jesse & walt’s levels of guilt about the murder of gale, another white man, being greater than all the murders of people of color & implied deaths & suffering resulting from the most pure [ie addictive] meth hitting the community combined…

  • C

    Not to judge you on anything I really think you are stretching it in some places on this show. One of your points is that the main character of the show has the surname of White. Is this an actual talking point? White as a surname is quite popular in the U.S. ranking 16th overall. For all we know, the show creator wanted to use some alliteration for his main character.

    Also, I do not really see this as a show showing the WHITE MAN as supposed to be these almost immortal beings as you think they are portrayed. If anything, the show focuses in on damaged people. Each and every character has a damaged personality pertaining to their pride, ego, etc… So if anything, it just showcases the white characters on this show as being damaged people in their own way. Just like every single other person in this world.

    This show is truly showcasing one man’s breaking bad from his everyday life. Walter hated his life but he was complacent in it. A lot of things did not go right for him but he kept calm for his family. All of a sudden, he has cancer and cannot provide for his family anymore which is the straw that broke the camel’s back. He refused to play by the social norm and he wanted to do things his way and be in charge of his life for once. So he decides to start down a path that he thought would lead to that. The story is about one man and how his choices affect his family and those around him. It is not about how WHITEY WILL RULE ALL IN THE END.

  • THarris

    Great, great perspective on the show. I totally agree. As much I love the writing and the acting, I had to stop watching after the last season finale… the Mighty Whitey aspect of the show finally got to me. With the death of Fring, Breaking Bad finally caught up with itself and solidified its stake in the white fantasy/reality of supremacy over and domination of people of color. It was disappointing but unsurprising to see how explicit the show’s overall thrust became in regards to race. Yuck. Thanks for laying it down!

  • http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/ Luvvie

    This piece was amazing. WOW. I hadn’t thought about a lot of what’s brought up here. I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad and I’m looking forward to seeing Walter White meet his end. It’s coming.

  • Lola

    I’ve watched this season without any joy or feeling for the characters. I guess after Gus was killed, my passion for the show left. I think you summed up what I’ve been feeling about the show in general and I’m glad you’ve taken notice of the overwhelmining hatred for Skyler on the TV blogs. I’ll watch next season, but not with the same enthusiasm had for the show when it first started. I’m glad BB is wrapping up for good.