Walter White after his metamorphosis. Screenshot by m0rula.
I’ve been watching Breaking Bad a bit compulsively. It’s a TV drama about a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking and dealing crystal meth. For the horrificness of this drug just check out Montana Meth project ads. Violence has always been sexy ever since Gilgamesh, but I’ve noticed two trends in depicting it. One is slacker violence, making it a joke, and the other is actual violence, making it disgusting. Oddly enough, both are kinda funny.
Spoiler alert I guess, but the first few episodes of Breaking Bad involve a fair amount of inept killing and flushing of chemically devoured human remains down a toilet. It’s disgusting. At the same time, the whole thing is deeply, darkly humorous. The characters get themselves in so much shit that there’s nothing to do but laugh. What I like about Breaking Bad is that it doesn’t glamorize violence. The act is there, and it is exciting, but they also show you the sickening buildup and the sickening clean-up. Hence you realize that violence really is sick.
When you kill someone in the movies they say their last words and drift off to sleep. Then the plot moves on, or the police arrive in dozens (never mind sending one car in time to do something) and the hero gets a blanket and reunited with the girl/kid/etc. When you really kill someone they shit and piss themselves, gurgle and leave a heavy and stinking mess to clean up. Breaking Bad shows this, in all its unholy glory.
Contrast this was slacker violence like Green Hornet or Your Highness, where it’s just a joke and even overweight, inept characters can become action heroes to the improvement of their lives.
In contrast, Walter’s life gets more and more visibly fucked as he is trying to stack up money to provide for his family (not really a spoiler, he has terminal cancer, hence the drastic career change). There are also extend scenes where he’s taking chemo – the drugs his drug money is paying for – and you can see that he’s literally addicted to life, that he’s pushing one sort of drugs out to get another sort in. Both cause immediate disgustingness and pain, but have the payload of promise, a theoretical better future.
Breaking Bad is punctuated with great violence, but it’s really about characters on the knife’s edge more than the knife itself. It’s a really interesting show.