Is it OK to Feel Good About ‘Breaking Bad’?

dam thoughts, barry currin, beaverdamusa.comExactly 8 months after the rest of the world, we finished watching the Breaking Bad series last night. Three hours later, I was still wide awake.

It wasn’t so much the post-traumatic stress disorder from the finale’s crime, blazing machine guns, gore and blood (blood and more blood) that disturbed me so much. I simply couldn’t sleep for asking myself, “Why are we drawn to shows like this and these horrible characters?”

To explain what I mean, let me take you down my Netflix descent into debauchery.

It all started a couple of years ago with The West Wing. While all of the characters had agendas and flaws — it was about Washington politics, after all — they did the right things for the right reasons more often than not. I felt good after most of the episodes because the good guys normally prevailed, even if they weren’t good all the time.

breaking bad

By Joanbanjo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Next we watched Scandal, another political drama. The Scandal characters, though, would stop at nothing to get what they want. Throw in a couple of hidden pasts, a bunch of Oval Office hanky-panky, and an ex-CIA hitman using a drill as a torture device, and you have the makings of a show that would make the poor West Wing folks blush.

From there we regressed to House of Cards. Instantly, these guys make the Scandal characters look like a bunch of missionaries or those people who stand in intersections holding firefighter boots on Saturday morning taking up money for the volunteer rescue squad. On House of Cards, if somebody gets in your way  you whack ‘em. No questions asked. Guns. Carbon monoxide. Whatever. Whack, whack, whack.

Now back to Breaking Bad, with Walter White and his crew. Walter does horrible things. He is the king of all other ruthless TV characters. The only trouble is, the writers of the show made us love him, relate to him and identify with him on some level. It is exactly how they made us love all the other characters who did horrible things on those other shows. Quinn and Huck on Scandal. Frank Underwood on House of Cards. They all made a deal with the devil and took us hostage on their wild ride in the process.

And when we had the chance to escape we didn’t. And I think I know why.

It’s because — as bad as they are — they are always having to deal with somebody worse. There is always a conflict making our horrible, ruthless characters more palatable than the ultimate bad guys. It’s human nature for us to want the good guys to win. And although these “good guys” aren’t necessarily good, they’re still better than their adversaries. This isn’t anything new. Think about J.R. Ewing, Alexis Colby or dozens of others. We want them to win because there is always someone we hate more.

In the last episode of Breaking Bad, Walter told his wife why he committed all those crimes. “I did it for me,” he said. “I liked it.”

Refreshing, isn’t it? In this day of blaming either someone else, a bad childhood or a mental disorder for our actions, I found it strangely comforting that Walter owned it — as heinous as it was.

So as long as the Walter Whites of the entertainment world are even just a little better than the people they battle, I guess I will continue to root for the Walter Whites. What choice do I have? It’s not like they’re remaking Gunsmoke anytime soon, anyway.


About Barry Currin

Barry tries to be funny and poignant, and he's usually satisfied when he succeeds with one or the other. (Being both is awesome. And sometimes that happens.) Email him:

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