Breaking Bad: Why We Admire the Antagonist

To have a steady scale of value is pretty commonsensical. And it actually works until… it doesn’t. There are moments of crisis when all conventions drop and they are exposed for what they truly are: artificial codes we are comfortable with because they keep us cozy.

Filmmaking has rarely honored us with such a monumental antagonist. An antagonist the uniqueness of which consists of the fact we admire him, instead of frowning upon his deeds or disagreeing with his ways. Walter White is neither a saint with a past, nor a sinner with a future. On the contrary, he reveals there’s no purity of genres when it comes to moral judgment.

Without being a champion of decency, he used to have a normal life with commonplace preoccupations. Financial insecurity, professional and social humiliation, rumination of missed out opportunities, all these build up and reach to a point where they become unbearable. Sounds familiar?

We admire Walter White not because he keeps true to his past values, however undefined and vague, but because, with complete awareness, he defies them and decides to start from scratch on a new path in order to support his family. His knowledge in chemistry – once promising a successful career – helps him skyrocket his reputation in drug dealing. We admire the Heisenberg in Walter, because he denounces the superficiality of everyday morality.

Clearly, there is a fine line between a nerd who knows his way around a test tube and a drug kingpin. Each of us enjoys the transformation, saluting the shift. It is because we’re always curious about the reverse, and because wrongdoing is anyways much more entertaining than a plain sequence of noble feats.

It’s no wonder, thus, that the entire past life of Walter is concisely represented – rather hinted on – during the first episodes. The series enacts the transformation and his evolution on this newly found path simply because the Villain is more entertaining than the Victim.

We’re all tired of superheroes that save the girl, that save the day, that set an example. Walter White is either a new face of everyday reality, or the face of a new reality – embrace which concept suits you best. Either way, it is closer to how we understand our daily lives, much closer anyway than the iconic Savior figure: he refuses to be a Victim, and if that’s what turns him into a Villain, than nothing is actually lost.

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