Thursday, October 10, 2013

[TV] The Bad Guys Lose, or Not

The Bad Guys Lose, or Not: [[There are spoilers in this post regarding the ending of Breaking Bad and Dexter.]] Two master criminals retired from the TV screen inviting summary reflections and comparisons: Dexter Morgan of Dexter, and Walter White of Breaking Bad. Comparison mostly came about because the final season happened to be airing on the same night at the same time. There is little else they shared, including quality.

Dexter, as a series, was not worth it. It had two ripping good seasons, followed by six seasons a general suckitude. It's not hard to identify the problems: too much time spent on uninteresting ancillary characters who were discarded like used tissues; thoroughly unrealistic plot points, beyond the ability to suspend disbelief; comically bad dialogue and cliched tropes; the list goes on. You would think that having a psychopath as a lead character would have been a problem, too, but not really. If your lead is incapable of experiencing emotion how do you get a character arc? The answer to that was clever (and missed by most people). Dexter's arc was to slowly build up personal relationships through acting like he was normal, through mimicking the actions and rituals of others. In time he would come to find that it did him no good. He just destroyed everyone and everything around him.

It's not a bad concept...for a full length feature film. Maybe even a trilogy of films or a single season of TV. But eight seasons -- no. You end up with exactly what you got: massive storylines and even entire seasons that were essentially throwaways -- no reason for existing and then abandoned thoughtlessly. There were long stretches where the only validity to the show was the exceptional acting of Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter. In the end, Dexter becomes a lumberjack and I'm left to wonder why I wasted so many hours keeping up on it.

One hundred and eighty degrees opposite is Breaking Bad. A paragon of focus and character development. There is little I need to say about it that hasn't been said in every corner of the Internet. To find fault is to be a supreme nitpicker. With Breaking Bad you waste no time in the evaluation of quality, you jump right to the questions of meaning.

The question at the end was one of justice: Did Walter get his just desserts? Most people would look at him, deem him evil, see that he died in the end and feel that justice had been served. Wrong. Walter got away with it. Remember: he was a walking dead man from cancer anyway. And he got to live and be king for his remaining time on Earth. Walter won. I can't imagine how people are interpreting it otherwise.

Jesse broke even. He was a low life, burnt out drug user to start and he looks to be destined to live a marginal life from now on, although he may be grateful for it after what he's been through. Walter Jr. and Holly won -- although they don't know it yet. The money left for them will cushion them immensely and start them on the right path. Walt Jr. will continue to hate his father but live with it, and Holly won't give him a thought, but my guess is that Walter, like any good parent, would willingly sacrifice the love and admiration of his children to provide for their success.

His wife and in-laws lost, and lost big. Remember how natural it was for them to assume Walt had no options but to beg friends for help with his cancer treatment? It was just Walt right? How could he possibly handle anything? I'm told there is an added scene in the DVD release that emphasizes the dismissive, thoughtless contempt in which he was held by Skyler. To them, and because of them, to himself, Walt was not even a living creature. He was barely worth a thought.

Now Hank is dead. Marie is widowed. And Skyler...well this is best of all. Hank and Marie were complicit in subordinating Walt and treating him like a nonentity, but Skyler made him that way. Walt may have had evil in him, but without Skyler holding him to be such a helpless eunuch it would never have seen the light of day. Now it's Skyler who's the basket case. She has to live with her complicity and her own sins. Let's not forget what she did to her former boss, not to mention how she readily joined Walt when the volume of money was mentioned. Is she going to tell her kids she did it for them or will she just maintain a lie, forever, to maintain a reason to continue? She is compromised to the point where she is can pretty much have no life. I must say Anna Gunn nailed the soul-crushing wife role and followed it with the guilt and anger role even stronger. Without her, the series would have been severely diminished.

So if you've deemed Walt evil, the injustice is complete. It was a total victory for Heisenberg.

I am looking forward to the time in a couple of years when Breaking Bad is no longer fresh in my mind, so I can binge watch the whole thing all over again. I doubt I'll ever watch Dexter again.