‘I am the one who knocks’, said Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) on episode 6 of the fourth season of Breaking Bad (Gilligan 2008). As Walter was the one who knocked so was this modern classic who knocked at the home of millions of people throughout five seasons. A hit in the United States and in the rest of the world. But how did the people root for someone as Walter? How did this vile character had so much support? In this essay that question will be answered trough an evaluation of the show and the characters on it.
Breaking Bad is a neo-western crime drama tv show produced in the United States. The American serial was created by Vince Gilligan. The show happens between 2008 and 2010, it follows Walter White journey from being a normal high school science teacher to a kingpin and all as a result of being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. On the 20th of January 2008, the show premiered on AMC with eight more episodes still to come, however, due to the Writers Guild of America strike it was limited to seven episodes (Mcfarland, 2013). Until the year 2013 the serial had four more seasons combining in 62 episodes. The last episode of the show was seen by 10.3 million viewers when premiered in the US (Hibberd, 2013). Also, according to a study made by TiVo, Breaking Bad is the most ‘binge-watched’ show of all time. The study shows that 35% of the people who participated binge-watched Breaking Bad, which makes the show first on the list, followed by House of Cards with 29% and Game of Thrones with 25% (Abrams, 2014). Besides the ratings and records, Breaking Bad also conquered the critics with highly positive reviews and it’s considered by many the most consistent television show of all time (Rotten Tomatoes, 2013). Additionally, the serial won plenty of distinctions including 16 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes and 1 Peabody Award (IMDb, 2013).
Furthermore, Walter White (drug kingpin alias Heisenberg) is considered an antihero. (Burwell, 2018) An antihero is a main character in a story who lacks predictable heroic qualities such as courage, morality or idealism. Usually acting mainly out of self-interest or in ways that challenge conventional moral codes. While occasionally might do actions that are ethically correct, however, most of the time it is not for the right reasons. While the antihero might not be something new to the world of television, what is new is this character, Walter White, transformation into the antihero Heisenberg. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan points that his serial is primarily about the character of Walter White. “I knew what the central spine of the show was going to be … I wanted to create a show where the protagonist metamorphoses into the antagonist. Historically you haven’t seen that on TV” (Sweeney, 2014).
But how did the audience got so attached to Walter? For starters, Walter has a cancer, no health insurance and he is a professor. He has good will and that is one of the main factors that keeps the audience beyond him. Walter is only on the drug business because soon he is going to die and wants to support his family. Furthermore, is a very intelligent man, some call him genius, which makes him even a more believable and likeable character. (Golden, p.73) As his son, Walter Jr, said: “he’s annoyingly smart. I mean, super brainiac annoying.” To sum it all up, Walter first establishes his intelligence and integrity. Then, he establishes his good will by claiming that family is the reason for his bad actions. At this point a bond between Walter and the audience is established. Now there is only two choices for the viewer to make: to believe him or not.
On the other hand, Walter at some point starts to neglect his family, but he stills has the full support of his wife, Skyler, during a big percentage of the episodes. He chokes a man to death and poisons a child. Then he has a chance to save his partner Jessie’s girlfriend, but he lets her die. These are some of the questionable actions of the (in)famous Walter White (Burwell,2018).
However, the audience’s decision was made, and that decision was to stick by Walter’s side. It is in the best interest of the spectator to believe Walter because since in this way the spectator can watch the show without moral regret, but if the audience decides that Walter is a liar, then they must watch a lying evil man committing awful crimes or stop watching the show (Koepsell, 2013). As pointed on the begging of this essay the final episode was watched by more than 10.3 million people in the United States on AMC which is a subscription required American channel (Hibberd, 2013). Therefore, people wanted to follow and support Walter until his last adventure. The science nerd defeats the bad guys? There are few things more compelling than that.
To conclude, Breaking Bad is a morality play and the main character is Walter White. Walter’s journey is a constant challenge of the audience’s moral values and therefore manipulates the viewer to support Walter and his run for the drug dealer crown. It is easier for the audience to believe in Walter’s good intentions since the first impression is the one that lingers the most. Even when Walter admits that he did it for himself, it is difficult for the audience to believe him. The viewer was there for the whole story and have seen Walter’s weakest and strongest moments and therefore kept an emotional connection with him.
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