Tag Archives: TV

BREAKING BAD: Walter White Is Not A Villain

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I just finished watching the finale of Breaking Bad, and was immensely pleased with how it turned out.  Not only did it tie up all the lose ends, but it brought meaning and self realization to a series that’s been an incredible journey.  As I like to say, it’s a good story well told, and it completes the perfect arc for one of the most inspiring and unique mythological characters ever created for a television series.  Walt’s journey is a mythical one, as it is fraught with serious choices and major consequences.  But after awhile, Walt starts to take it in stride, and embraces the side of himself he calls Heisenberg.  Here’s the thing, however.  I think there is a large misconception among people about Walt’s character.  Most people see him as an evil person or a villain.  I highly disagree.  I think Walt is a much more complicated character than to so neatly fit into one of those persona’s.  If I had a reason why people think of him as evil, its a reason for them to feel okay with watching his character do the things that he does.  As long in the back of peoples minds they acknowledge him as a bad person, it creates an easy disconnect so that the audience won’t fully have to identify with him.

Well, if you’re a fan of the show and you think Walt is evil, I’m going to challenge you on that perception.  Walt is not a villain.  He does a lot of terrible things, sure.  He kills people.  He’s gotten many innocent people killed because of his actions (the plane collision for instance).  He’s been terribly sadistic towards Jesse, even to the point of almost having him killed by someone else.  For awhile, his thirst for power and money consumes him.  There are many reasons for us to easily judge him as an evil man.  Except he’s not.

Walt is engaged in a spiritual journey.  The way it begins for him is harsh as he is pushed through desperate needs, because of his cancer, his pride, his failed opportunity to be a part of a multi-billion dollar corporation, his lack of health care and life in the poor house…his life is considered all for nothing.  Until he finds his calling as a meth cook.  With his incredible chemistry skills, Walt’s path to becoming a meth cook brings out the best and worst aspects of him.  The universe has guided him on several instances, and the best aspect of Walts journey is that he owns his destiny.  It’s a life that he admits at the end of the series that he built for himself.  Because he wanted it.  What he wanted most was for his life to matter, even if it meant going down as a criminal meth kingpin.  What is actually happening is an incredible transformation, as a butterfly of a whole new color begins to emerge.  And you know what?  Despite the fact that Walt dies at the end, he gets everything he wanted and does everything he set out to do in the first place.  Skyler finds it in her heart to forgive him.  He gets his money to Walt Jr.  And by setting Jesse free from the meth lab, in so doing he sets his spirit free.  There’s a reason Jesse, representing Walt’s younger self, is imprisoned in that meth lab by the end with no way out.  By the time Walt sets him free, Walt can begin the next leg of his journey.

I’ve thought of Walt’s death scene being a comparison to the end of American Beauty, just in the same way as Lester is looking at the photograph of his family before he goes…as Walt is looking around the meth lab before he goes, there is that moment where it all comes together, where the two characters see it all before them, their lives and everything that brought them to their current path.  They get it in that moment.  Walt doesn’t actually die at the end.  His spirit lives on through Jesse.  What I love about the end, is that when he falls to the ground, there is a sight smile on his face, just in the same way after Lester is shot, he has that same smile in his own pool of blood.  It’s an absolutely beautiful moment as Walter White has finally come home.

I’m sure what I’m saying might be a little difficult to understand about why for this reason I don’t consider Walt an evil person.  I don’t even consider it redemption.  I believe the purpose of everything he did was to lead up to this moment of self realization.  His path has a kind of flow, where we might put meaning to the death count in his wake, except in the end, it really has no meaning.  It’s just about this singular moment.

Like I said, calling Walt a villain makes it easier on people so they don’t have to connect with him.  But that’s not the reason we watch him.  We watch with fascination, wondering how and if this character is going to find his way to bliss, after committing so many horrible, awful acts.  I was watching Vince Gilligan on Stephen Colbert, and it’s interesting because he talks about Walt as being an evil character.  Except it’s a lie.  He knows consciously that Walt isn’t evil.  But he has to say it because otherwise people aren’t going to understand him and believe that he’s condoning meth distribution and murder.  Which he’s not.  Gilligan does the most noble thing he can do with his hero character, and that’s to not judge him.  None of the characters are judged personally through their actions.  There are prices to be paid and consequences for sure.  But we love these characters because they are being allowed to find their own way.  It makes them even more funny, sadistic, or even tragic.  It’s the best thing any writer can do for their characters which is to just let them go in their own way.  The characters story wants to be told.  And it’s a mythological journey about someone finding their place in the universe.  Walt thinks he’s going against the universe, but it’s actually there with him the whole time, allowing him to chose and find his own path.

So if you’re a fan of the show and you love Walter White, don’t be afraid to step outside for a moment that the character might be evil.  There’s more to him than people give him credit for.  I think there’s an important reason why so many people are in love with the show, and the reasons are because of our connections to myths.  Walter White will go down as one of the greatest hero characters ever created, and we have a lot to thank Vince Gilligan for his understanding of that.

Slow News Week

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I thought I’d write an update, although I have no idea what to actually write about. I guess I could tell you I’ve been busy writing for This Is Infamous, a fairly new movie website, which I’ve written several articles for. I will have a write up about Cinecon over there pretty soon. There were lots of great classic films screened this year, all of which I had never seen before. Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and you can check out pictures from my own personal Breaking Bad tour I took. Speaking of Breaking Bad, that show is going swimmingly. I am still amazed at how well thought out and put together it is. There is definitely years of writing experience put into it thanks to the passion of creator Vince Gilligan. It’s a great show for sure. I’ve been watching the final season of Dexter as well, and I have to say that’s not going as great as I would have hoped. The storyline has just been kinda scattered. You still can’t even tell they’re building up to a major conclusion. Everything just feels so…ordinary. I’m not impressed.

Sorry everyone, I know I’m rambling on here. I’m currently at my favorite coffee shop in Burbank as I write this. It’s been a good place to draw up inspiration. As well as getting on a caffeine high! Which is what my writing is starting to sound like. Geez. Anyway, I should probably stop at this point…no really, stop now! Stop! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Have a good weekend everyone. 🙂

Paying Attention To What Your Children Watch

Ariel

This is something I’ve struggled to say for awhile, and I’m sure there are plenty of you die hard Disney lovers who will give me hell for saying it.  But I’m going to try and explain in the best way I can why I think The Little Mermaid is a terrible film.  It is.  I have hated this film since I was a little kid.  I have been angry for awhile now how The Walt Disney Company started off back in the day as something so great only to fall apart and take the dark path because of the success of single film.  The Little Mermaid, to me, is the movie that destroyed Disney Animation.  When I was a kid I not only hated the film, I was too emarassed to tell anyone how much the movie upset me.  It was my worry that people would make me out as some kind of self centered egotist for not understanding why a movie that was so successful and loved by so many people, as Ariel would say “…could be bad”?  I am worried about what kids will take away with them when they watch a movie like this. Ariel, in my opinion, is a selfish spoiled brat who doesn’t know who she is.  She then falls for an innocent guy who also doesn’t know who he is.  Ariel doesn’t listen to her father, who tells her to stay away from humans for her own personal safety.  But if Ariel doesn’t listen to anything her father tells her, what makes us think she’s going to listen to Eric when he has something to say?

Ariel2

I actually think in the movie’s story, Ariel’s father is innocent in this whole mess.  It’s not his fault with what happens to her.  The film tries to blame him as being too stubborn and pig headed, and wants us to believe he should just let his daughter go because she’s “following her dreams” and wants to “be herself”.  But the fact is, Ariel knows nothing about how the world works.  She has absolutely no discipline for herself, and quite frankly her friends aren’t any help either.  Who do we see her hanging around with all the time?  A 12 year old kid ?(Flounder)  Why doesn’t a girl her age have any girlfriends?  She seems like she’d be pretty and popular enough.  If you want to try and make sense of it, imagine of this were a live action movie about a teenager.  Why would she spend all her time with a 12 year old when she’s trying to figure out how to get laid?  It’s like spending all your time with your little brother. So what about Sebastian, then?  He tries to help her more than anyone, to the point of even singing a catchy Oscar winning song about why this thing with Eric is not going to work out and that she should stay Under the Sea.  He’s right.  He’s right the whole time.  She abandons her father who only loves her and wants what’s best for her.  She runs off to the most untrustworthy drug dealer in town (Ursula)  trading her “voice” for ecstasy…I mean legs…that will make her “human” so she can meet and fall in love with Eric.  But then she gets into trouble when she blows the whole thing, dragging first her friends into her problems, then her father, who has to turn over his entire kingdom and get himself turned into a kelp pol-lop so his daughter can be saved, and then finally getting Eric involved to fight and kill a gigantic Ursula for her.  At the end of the film her father forgets everything his daughter just put him through and decides to reward her for being selfish and spoiled by giving her ecstasy (I mean legs) so she can go on and live happily ever after with her new chump husband Eric, who apparently never got the memo that every time he hangs around this girl, the threat of getting himself killed increases.  If you need more convincing, just look at the people she associates with!  Power hungry drug dealer witches?  A clueless father?  An angry crab she never listens too?  A 12 year old boy?  Who is this girl??

I saw this movie the first time when I was 8 years old.  Admittedly at that age you’re not going to understand all the things that are wrong with a movie, except that if it’s entertaining and you’re having a good time that’s all that really matters to you.  Well, it wasn’t enough for a person like me later on when I started watching the films I liked at the time (or thought I liked) and then realizing these movies were not good for me at all!  The Little Mermaid in particular made me crazy and upset because when the end of the film came, I was so terrified and embarrassed of the giant Ursula scaring me that I had to keep it all inside.  I kept it inside out of fear of being ridiculed by my then classmates in 2nd grade who all loved the film, because lets face it, admitting you were terrified from a Disney film at that age isn’t exactly cool.  I had to hide it from my friends, and this terrifying nightmare of a film always stuck with me.  I feared as well the mean-spiritedness from others who would laugh me off to the side if I admitted the film scared me.  I had no idea how to handle a movie like this at all, and nobody to help me during that time.  So I had to figure it all out on my own.

It’s not that I’m mad at these people, its just perpetuated ignorance from all parties involved, including the filmmakers.  I’m certain they had no real intention of frightening or upsetting young kids.  But at the same time it’s the filmmakers themselves who could not see that the story might be going in a bad direction.  This is not a good movie.  It’s not a good movie because it teaches children all the wrong things to expect out of life.  You have to look at the original Anderson tale to understand what the story was really trying to say.  In the actual story of The Little Mermaid, the mermaid dies.  She dies because her own ignorance and self righteousness catches up with her, and it happens when the prince decides he’s not in love with her and runs off to marry somebody else.  She fails, and she’s turned into salt water.  The message of that story is what happens when we gamble our lives, when we are willing to risk giving up our existence over a petty infatuation.  The original story shows us how dangerous that can be.  It’s dangerous to give into our emotional impulses without consulting with someone or ourselves to know if this is the right choice.  The movie flops the message completely saying now that you will get what you want if you gamble your life on something that might not turn out the way you expect.  In the movie Ariel never learns anything from her experience.  Somehow we’re supposed to believe the lesson is that she had to learn to get along with her father.  But her father isn’t on her mind at all during the whole time she’s human.  During the scenes where Ariel is human on land, we cut away at one point where Triton discovers Ariel had run away and he’s afraid and upset, feeling guilt for shouting at her.  We cut back to Ariel, and she’s having the time of her life not giving her father a second thought that she might be worrying him or feeling guilty that she’s upsetting him.  She just wants to snag her prince.  At the end her father has to sacrifice his life and his power and kingdom to save her, and what happens after the witch dies and everything is back to normal?  He lets her go.  Which if you think about it was probably the smartest move on his part, because now the problems of his daughter are dumped on somebody else, and since Triton lives in the ocean and Ariel’s been changed into the human, she won’t be making any visits to daddy anytime soon, at least until somebody invents diving equipment to she can go to the kingdom and visit her father.  So unless he really wants to show up to the surface and change her back into a mermaid, he could do it but why would he want to anyway if he really feels he failed his daugther?  If anything, call it a happy ending for Triton and a sad depressing ending for Eric who now gets to find out on his own what a selfish washout Ariel really is.  Triton at least can now move on with his life, knowing that he at least did something right with his 6 other daughters, who would never selfishly run out on him.  So in that sense, we gotta give Triton credit that he actually probably is a good honest guy (and a good father) just trying to make the best of his situation.  It’s not really that Triton’s a control freak, and it’s not like his rules about merfolk staying in the ocean are part of a dictatorship.  The guy does it to keep his people safe, so nobody else will get hurt.  So of course when Ariel botches things up, and Triton is forced  to turn his power over to Ursula, making her dictator/ ruler of the ocean, fucking over an entire kingdom because of one selfish girl who wanted to get laid by a boy…I think we can start to see now how crazy this movie really is.  And we can start asking ourselves how movies like The Little Mermaid are influencing our children.  How will a movie like this influence your children as teenagers when they get angry and decide to turn against you for their own selfish needs?

Yet, this is the movie that “saved” Disney from falling apart.  It wasn’t because it was a good story.  It wasn’t because the message was so important.  It was because Disney knew exactly all the right buttons to push in its audience.  They knew exactly what they could sell to an audience to make them believe the story was speaking to them in a way that sounded like it was important, when it wasn’t really at all.  This film set up all the tactics used by filmmakers in animation from here on, when it came to manipulating audiences with wonderful songs, silly sidekick characters, and so on….all the elements that trick you into thinking this movie is an important event.  It’s not that way at all.  We allow ourselves to be taken in by it because of our backgrounds, because of our belief systems, because of everything we were told by our parents or what other people tell you you’re supposed to like about movies, animation, TV, film, etc. and never actually thinking for yourself that this kind of story might not be good for you or your kids who eat this stuff up on a daily basis.  I don’t think people should be made angry by the fact that the entertainment industry is manipulating your children to seeing the world as if it’s just like the Disney Channel.  But there comes a time when all kids need to learn to grow up, and wake up to their surroundings, their parents, their family, their friends, and even their own children when they have them.  Your kids are made to think that protagonists like Ariel and every other Disney Princess is noble and dignified in their decisions to be free and be the person they want to be.  But sadly, those princess thoughts about what it means to be free comes from a place of arrogance and selfish desire.  It’s all the things that will blind kids from the real truth about themselves and their world.  Many filmmakers making content for children in America are failing at their jobs are storytellers.  Not everything they make is bad, there are still some movies and shows made that are spectacular stories.  But it’s a problem because kids don’t know any better about what their watching.  The filmmakers don’t know any better either about what they’re trying to say because their own belief systems about the world are blinding them when they tell their own stories to other people.

Ever notice now in a lot of children’s programming, it’s becoming more prevalent with adult themes, even if the themes are not appropriate for children or a children’s show?  You can watch something like Adventure Time for instance, which is a a show that, quite frankly, has no idea what it’s audience is supposed to be.  Kids laugh at the goofiness of it, but miss out on all the themes, which are not targeted at them at all and are trying to talk more to adults.  That show would probably be better off as an Adult Swim kind of series.  But you look at the majority of the shows that are doing this, and it’s frustrating.  When I watch animated films, all the messages they want to communicate are adult messages, but they’re so convoluted in making the thing for kids the filmmakers don’t know who or what their aiming at when they think they’re trying to speak to adults and teenagers.  You will notice however that when you look at Japanese Animation, they have a very clear definition as to what’s for adults and children.  You just have to look at the films of Hayao Miyazaki, who has made movies for every age group, speaking DIRECTLY to that age group.  All of his films are wonderful and beautifully told, and the messages of those films are understandable and clear to their audience age group.  What happened in America was when a movie like The Little Mermaid came along, it may have been a whopping box office success, but it made things confusing for everyone about how we should tell stories for animation. When you look at animation that was produced before The Little Mermaid in the 80’s, it may not have been perfect, but those filmmakers at least knew who their audience was.  The Secret of Nimh, The Last Unicorn, Rankin/Bass, Heavy Metal, The Adventures of Mark Twain, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  I even like to give credit to movies like The Black Cauldron, a film that Disney like’s to consider a bad wart on their list of films, but the one thing we can admire about that movie is it it had balls.  It tried to do something different, and it was Disney’s attempt to try and make something more adult.  The same happened with Atlantis and Treasure Planet.  It’s not that any of those films were a bad idea, but what happened is that Disney wasn’t willing to let go of their child audience, and as a result those movies failed because there were too many mixed messages to its audience members.  So if you’re a filmmaker and you are watching these movies, it’s a good idea to ask yourself who the movie is  for, and what is it supposed to be about?  You can tell it’s a problem when you can’t answer those two questions by the end of the movie.  It’s not a bad thing if you cant answer the second question if the movie has a lot of themes running through it.  But if you are watching a film where the message should be obvious, you need t ask yourself again if you were actually receiving the intended message.  In most cases, you may not be.  Yet this is what plagues many animated films made in America.  For many of us as audience members, we may come up with our own personal reasons for why these movies are supposed to be great.  But when we don’t want to face what’s really there,  we make up many reasons in our heads to justify to others why these movies are supposed to be good. But they might not be.

This is just my own personal feeling as to why animation today is bad for our children.  We have an important job as storytellers, and it’s not about raising kids on our own personal bias’ or religious beliefs.  What it is about, being a storyteller, is finding that center place that communicates directly with your audience.  The power of every great story are the things we all carry with us through life.  Every great movie you love that everyone can agree on (a movie like Star Wars for instance) has a message that resonates with everyone inside.  It speaks to us all as people and the true life adventure experiences that every individual faces.  It’s not simply about getting what you want all the time for selfish reasons, it’s about teaching others to get what they want out of life, so that other people can see the amazing person they are inside and inspire those people to find the things they want most in life on their own, and in turn share the same feeling with others.  It’s the worlds most powerful butterfly effect.  Story isn’t just about teaching you how to surviving in this world, it’s about teaching others to find their own path in life, and finding your place in the world as a human being.  And it’s not all happy endings, sometimes we have to show the bad stuff too!  Because showing a bad end teaches children and adults in a safe way not to take that path in life, and what happens when we stop listening to the universe and believe ourselves to be alone in this world.  The truth is, you’re never alone at all, even if you happen to be by yourself at the time.  That’s what great storytelling teaches you and the tremendous power it has to help people find their way.  Pay attention to the stories you watch, especially the ones being told to your children.