The Orange Couch, Breaking Bad, Episode 7: “Say My Name”
New Orange Couch, where we dissect the “you can’t get out alive” theme of the episode. I’ll add to our observations above this: When Walt began this operation, he really did think he would never get out alive, since cancer was coming for him. But, in fact, what’s apparent to Skylar and dawning on the rest of us is that Walt’s created a situation where no one else comes out alive. Unless, of course, cancer gets him first.
Or Hank. A quick word about Hank: It’s continuously uncomfortable to me to have to root for Hank. I like the character, of course, and love how they started him off as a noxious asshole and slowly turned him into one of the most appealing characters on the show. It’s not personal, by any means. But rooting for the DEA runs against everything I hold dear. The DEA and all state versions of it have done as much as the War on Terror to erode civil liberties. Unlike the War on Terror, the War on Drugs could never even have a theoretical end. One of my biggest issues with Breaking Bad over something like The Wire is the utter lack of acknowledgment that the DEA is half the problem here. That they exist is why drug dealing is such a murderous operation. I think this episode, while not being blatant about it, finally got around to gesturing in the direction of acknowledging it. The police are seen, visually speaking, as a menace to a little girl. We’re reminded that under our drug laws, the government has wide authority to snatch assets. As exciting as it was to see Hank finally get a lead on the Heisenberg case that he can work, we’re also reminded that the money the lawyer was putting in safe deposit boxes was the livelihood of 9 different families, families mostly composed of innocent people just trying to get by. The people directly involved in the crimes, after all, can’t use it. They’re sitting in jail. So I liked that. We have to remember the DEA aren’t the good guys.
It’s interesting watching this season of Breaking Bad while the presidential campaign goes on, because if I didn’t know better, I would think the character of Walter White is a parody of Mitt Romney. Both men present themselves as lovable family men, but both are just power-hungry assholes. Both have huge egos and try to project and overwhelming confidence that masks lingering insecurities. Both have an image of what they’re supposed to be—badass gangster and Tea Party conservative—but in their eagerness to live up to it, they try too hard and fuck it all up. Romney makes blatantly racist jokes that even the most straining-to-avoid-the-issue mainstream media can’t deny, and White shoots someone he doesn’t have to. Neither of them can tolerate listening to good advice from perceived inferiors, which only makes the rapid escalation worse. Both of them seem to be doing what they’re doing not because they love it, but because they believe that this is about achieving something they were destined for. Walt even uses the word “birthright”, a word we can imagine Romney using in private to describe the Presidency quite easily.
But this was written before the campaign, and I hardly think Vince Gilligan has Mitt Romney in mind when plotting Walter White’s downfall. Instead, I think Gilligan imagined that Walt’s path to meglomania is a common one, especially for white dudes who had something special about them, be it political connections or scientific genius. The world is full of pompous asses who imagine they’re greatness embodied, but have to endure a world full of people who are too blind to see what they see, which is why Ayn Rand’s terrible books sell like hotcakes. These guys are wrong, of course, but the genius of Breaking Bad is how clearly Gilligan sees that such men will never be pried off their delusions of grandeur. Not even when their narcissism is the very thing that is ruining their chances at achieving their goals.