Same here. Similar to Dexter, when he switched from getting the bad guys the cops couldn’t get to actively obstructing the cops from getting the psycho serial killer because he (Dexter) needed to be the one to get him. Switched the whole original premise of the character and why I could relate to him.
I guess it’s a matter of taste. Once I realised that this desperate put-upon chemistry teacher with cancer was in fact a passive-aggressive raging selfish arsehole I wanted to see what further disastrous decisions it would drive him to and get more backstory about what made him a raging selfish arsehole. The show delivered for me on both counts.
For example, it turns out that the former partner who “ripped him off” actually didn’t rip Walt off. Walt did an ego-driven ragequit from the startup and demanded the then-paltry amount the stock was worth to end his partnership.
Accept money for your cancer treatment from the former partner you walked out on before the company became valuable that’s offered in part as consideration of your work for the company and in part because it’s the decent thing to do. Never see the partner again.
Become a drug kingpin, endangering oneself, one’s family, and one’s community because of your ego.
By the way, toxic masculinity is a major theme in Breaking Bad.
yeah, i completely missed that show. i wonder if it would work for me now or not.
yikes. congratulations on getting away from that life… i can’t even imagine what you went through. i can see how it wouldn’t be your cup of java, in that case.
I worry about a show that goes too long between the making the arsehole the hero (which arseholes love!) and the resolving of the just deserts (which seems to happen more on television then IRL).
It does attract a certain fan base, the shows with all too human unheroes. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Mad Men, The Apprentice
It was the only time in my life when I wasn’t chronically lonely and miserable, actually.
Not sustainable, though . And there was plenty of drama and damage along the way; not everyone I knew made it through alive.
 At the peak of it, I dropped a third of my body weight in six months (got down to about 45kg). Regularly hitting 100+ hours of continuous sleep deprivation ain’t too healthy, either.
I sleepwalked through a few seasons, somehow, and then it suddenly got good. I don’t know what changed, but I’m glad I stuck with it.
They bring him to the edge of total and well-deserved ruin a few times in the series. In those cases, he squeaks out of disaster by not being an arsehole (or at least not posturing like one).
As for just deserts, it’s left vague in both Sopranos and Mad Men if the arsehole anti-heroes get them in the end. Tony might very well finish his meal with his family and continue his life of crime, and Don might go on to further fame by cynically exploiting the counterculture. Alternately, that blackout ending of the Sopranos might be Tony taking a hit, and Don might not be the literal auteur of the Coke commercial and might end up worse for running away.
In contrast, The Apprentice, like most reality TV, actively and unambiguously encourages and rewards arseholes. Since we live in a broken society that does plenty of that already I have no interested in watching the semi-scripted versions on TV.
Sounds like those other 3 shows make arseholes easier to identify with and offer compassion to, IRL, and the arsehole would have to watch to the end to get the point or be left with such existential questions. It’s not so much that the shows embolden arseholes, it’s that the shows encourages their enabling. So many characters -reacting- to the arsehole, such power! The Apprentice is scripted too, and has not had a great impact on management IRL.
It’s my pet theory on how we wound up with the President we deserve: our arsehole tolerance has been moved, significantly, by the culture. We have a prank video culture, a freedom to take rather than a freedom to take responsibility. [shakes fist towards Hollywood]
I’m gonna get back on my own lawn now, before these whippersnappers give me the angina.
The people writing those fictional shows trust that most of their viewers are decent enough people to recognise an arsehole and enjoy the dramatic wringers he’s put through at the same time we study the character flaws that make him an arsehole.
The reality shows*, on the other hand, just shrug and assume that their viewers all want to be arseholes and give them the vicarious thrill of seeing which arsehole on the show gets to be king of the fecal hill (pay no attention to the fact that the winner is still a vassal of the host and producers).
Your pet theory isn’t far off, especially since reality TV usually gets far larger audiences than Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Sopranos and Game of Thrones (another fictional serial chock full o’ arseholes) do. Reality TV culture has indeed upped American culture’s already high tolerance for arseholes.
[* scripted as opposed to fictional]
While agreeing, I’m not putting them on other hands. Scripted reality shows have furthered the fictional celebrating of assholes, shown more and better toadies for non-assholes to act like (the talkative ineffective opposition is a favorite character). On the one hand we have popular scripted fictional arses celebrated on TV. Further along that hand we have even more popular scripted reality TV arses on TV. We’re marinading in them.
Enough of us choose them in the Living Room, and one of them wrote his way into the voting booth, where we also chose him. So, I don’t see two opposing forces, with fiction that calls itself fiction on the clean side of things. I think fictional TV arseholes are a gateway drug.
The substances called gateway drugs aren’t necessarily the start of a downward path. Some people are ok with a cocktail or a spliff every night before going on with their normal lives. For others, booze and pot are either abused or become gateway drugs.
For the latter type of addictive personality, fictional TV arseholes work that way. Lots of people thought Tony Soprano and Don Draper were anti-heroes worthy of emulation not only in appearance but in behaviour. In the end, that tells you more about those people than about the characters or the intent of the writers. That’s where I make the distinction.
I’d rather see fictional villains and anti-heroes who are more than moustache-twirling cardboard cutouts – we do ourselves a disservice as a culture when we pretend that the sociopath is some kind of space alien living in a volcano lair instead of a human being with the suburban McMansion and the the family and the office job on Madison Ave. The fictional shows about arseholes are more often than not character studies written by non-arseholes that help us identify the arseholes around us.
Reality TV just gleefully shouts “everyone’s an arsehole, so join in the fun.” If fictional TV featuring arseholes is pot, this is cocaine (which I suspect is a critical substance in the reality TV industry).
You just summed up the whole show.
‘those people’ need us all to be a little more responsible with what we leave out. I don’t want a nanny state, I just want the West Wing back, more or less.
I’m quite sure it used to be handled within the hour, like arseholes should be.
These season long arsehole arcs belong on daytime TV, and court TV. They don’t work for me. I appreciate nuance like few others, but adding nuance to an arsehole is literally like counting hemorrhoids!
I like your analogies. Thanks!
No one makes it on their own. No one, as much as people might imagine themselves as heroic, self-made men and women. In the case of Walt, he spent the entire series proclaiming how he was murdering and dealing drugs “for his family” but at the end it really was all about his own self-aggrandizement, no more, no less. He put his entire family in jeopardy and killed a few innocent people along the way, entirely for his own ego.
And he helped build the company originally, so why not accept help from someone who used to be a friend, who won’t end up homeless by helping to save his life.
Absolutely nobody makes it on their own. That’s why we need a social net and health care supported by heavy taxation of the wealthy. But that’s not the same thing as a wealthy person taking pity on somebody, which is problematic because it allows the wealthy person to present themselves as a “good person” simply for giving resources which other people don’t have the ability to give. Think of how robber barons from Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates managed to turn their reputations around from villains to heroes just by giving some of their questionably obtained earnings back to society.
Yes, Walt was proud, and in typical Greek tragedy fashion, his pride led to his downfall. But my point is his refusal of Schwartz was understandable (his later actions less so).
But Schwartz wasn’t some rando rich guy looking to boost his public image. He was a former partner of Walt’s and a close friend at one point. And from how they spun it in the show, the reason that Walt left the company had to do with the girlfriend (Schwartz’ wife, Gretchen) and is never fully explained from Walt’s POV. Mayhaps more ego on Walt’s part that caused him to leave the business before it did so well?
But I have to agree with others that the core theme of the show is more about masculinity of the toxic variety and the inability to accept help from others, because of this notion that men have to make it on their own, or they’re not REAL men.
As for Gates, Carnegie, etc, sure there is a seriously selfish element to their philanthropy. No doubt. But I doubt it was motivated solely by those more selfish reasons, even if that’s part of it. I think they can be both sincere in their desire to improve the world and also be selfish in their desire to want to look better to the rest of the world. People are complicated, yo! I will say that I doubt my hometown would have had a library had it not been for carnegie, and I’m sure that these libraries vastly improved people’s lives over the years.
I’ve been trying to unpack this whole scene since it was brought up,
Charity can be a cold, hard thing to take, but help is easier to accept. The difference between the two, I think, is some sort of opportunity to pay back or forward. Being beholden to someone for your life without any chance to somehow reciprocate can be a very powerful thing.
So, given Walt’s motivations and the fact he’s a colossal douche, he would have seen this as charity. And charity from someone who he thinks sees him as somehow lesser. This is to be rejected because inflated self-worth, toxic masculinity, pride, resentment of others success and the self-loathing from knowing he made a bad call when walking away, along with all the other bullshit wrapped up in it. And regardless how the offer was put, he would have rejected any help too, for the same reasons.
There’s a need to see himself as the hero and the saviour, the big man, master of his own destiny, all that rubbish. Anything that doesn’t fit within that narrative will be twisted or rejected out of hand.
But of all the piss-poor decisions he made, this is maybe one of the more human ones. I’m not sure what I’d have done in the same situation.
This sums up why I could never get into Breaking Bad:
I’ve lived a few hours’ drive from the US my whole life, but this whole “medical expenses” thing is just unimaginable. I mean, we have medical expenses too, but not like that.