Monthly Archives: August 2013

Breaking Bad: Is Walter White the greatest monster on TV?

 

According to Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, Walter White is a man having the worst mid-life crisis. Ever.  He’s certainly having a bad hair day – after all those chemicals and bouts of radiation that he’s having pumped into his system. You know, those kill-or-cure treatments that his teacher’s health insurance policy won’t pay for…. If ever there was a poster boy for Obama Care, Walter White must be it. 

 

Breaking Bad is currently gripping viewers in the US but if you want to watch it in the UK, you have to either view it on Netflix, blinkbox or buy the series on DVD. I expect that many of you reading this will have seen way more of the series than I have.  At the time of writing I am still on Season Two.  But, given the dearth of decent TV on during the summer holidays, it won’t be long before I catch up.

 

Is Walter the greatest monster, currently on TV? I thought that, until a friend pointed out, that before Walter, the greatest anti-hero on TV was Tony Soprano, from The Sopranos, also broadcast on cable. Walt, in his alter ego as Heisenberg is as violent towards the people who cross him as Tony is. While Tony physically abuses women (a particularly disturbing aspect of his character); Walt’s abuse is psychological.  He treats his wife Skyler with contempt: manipulates her, and lies to her face, while telling her he loves her.  There is a turning point in Season Two when Skyler asks Walt about whether or not he has a second mobile phone. And what does he do? He looks at her tenderly and then proceeds to lie through his teeth.

 

Like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Breaking Bad is a story for its time, broadcast during the longest recession of recent times. It mirrored the collective gloom and struck a chord with those supporting families and struggling to make ends meet.

 

Walt and Skylar’s economic fortunes were perilous at best, as their son, Walt Junior has cerebral palsy and he will no doubt need care and support for the rest of his life.  Walt is forced to take a particularly humiliating second job at a car wash, where his students bring their cars for him to clean. Then the family are hit by the double whammy of an unplanned baby and Walt’s lung cancer.

 

Walt’s transformation from mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher to Heisenberg, meth cook and then drug overlord evolves gradually. The term ‘breaking bad’  is a euphemism from the American South, when a person steps off the path of the straight and narrow and goes astray.  In Walter’s case he’s gone so far off the right path that there is no turning back.  Or is there?

 

The implied justification for Walt’s bad behaviour has been the need to pay his medical bills and provide for his wife and family after he’s dead.  Even Jesse, Walt’s co-cook, sidekick and partner-in-crime believes this. And Walt never corrects him, despite every opportunity to do so. Because if Jesse knew the truth, he might not be so keen to spend hours at a time, locked away in the middle of nowhere, with a monster.

 

Because if what Walt is doing is really about the money, he would have accepted the offer from his friends Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz to pay for his treatment. After all, this would have been what Walt was owed, anyway; as he co-founded their company, Gray Matter Technologies. When Walt he left the company he sold his share for a measly $5000, when Gretchen and Elliott subsequently went on to make a fortune.

 

Vince Gilligan said, in a recent interview on Channel 4 News, that Walt’s diagnosis is the real motivating factor, as, for the first time in his life Walt has freedom from fear.  The worst is going to happen – and soon. So why waste what time he has left by worrying what people think? And in Season Two, when Walt counsels his brother-in-law, suffering a bout of work related post-traumatic stress (indirectly caused by Heisenberg’s antics), Walt tells Hank that his own diagnosis has been incredibly liberating. Before he knew about his cancer, Walt would like awake at night, worrying about how he’d meet his mortgage payments or what people thought of him.  Oh, how deliciously ironic it is, when Walt tells Hank he should stop worrying about the responsibilities of being a DEA agent.

 

In a perverse kind of a way, Walt is an aspirational role model for men, in particular, going through their own mid-life crisis, during these tough economic times.  The aspiration is, about being able to do bad things, rather than wanting to emulate Walt’s life style. He’s not exactly able to enjoy the fruits of his ill-gotten gains, is he? You don’t see Walt swanning by the pool in the Caribbean, sipping on a mojito.  I don’t imagine that the chance to cook up crystal meth in a RV in the middle of a sweltering New Mexico desert is on many bucket lists.  It certainly isn’t on mine.

 

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Where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables

 

When I look at this photograph of Victor Hugo’s writing room, the Crystal Room in Hauteville House, St Peter Port, Guernsey, I find it hard to imagine that these surroundings inspired such a dark, literary work as Les Misérables.  ImageImageBut of course, Hugo, who was forced to flee his French home in 1851 to live in exile firstly in Jersey, then for fifteen years in Guernsey, although surrounded by light was responding to what he saw as the dark heart of French society at the time.  Les Misérables was published in1862 and by the time he was finally able to return to France after a political pardon, Hugo had written some of his best works while living in exile.

 

Although Hugo was estranged from his homeland during his time on the Channel Islands and he must have suffered as a result of that as well as coping with the loss of two of his children, who had pre-deceased him; Hugo it must be said, was at least able to lead a very comfortable, bourgeois existence while in Guernsey.  Not only did Victor Hugo’s wife and family accompany him into exile, so too did his lover, the French actress Juliette Drouet, who gave up her career to be with him.

 

Hugo’s writing had already made him rich by the time he arrived on Guernsey and bought Hauteville House, now at least, in one of the most desirable areas of St Peter Port. Hugo spent many years completely remodelling the house and it stands today as one of the most idiosyncratic houses I have ever visited.

 

It is stuffed full of ornate, dark furniture with quirky features, including a recycled door turned into a table, hidden doors behind dark, ornate panelling, a memento mori over the bedhead in the guest bedroom (of all places) and his original writing room so dark and gloomy that even Victor Hugo found it was too dark to work in and had to abandon it for the delightful light-filled room you see in the photograph. 

 

The other photographs you can see here are of Fermain Bay and the surrounding area, which was one of Hugo’s favourite places to walk. There is a cliff path that takes you there from St Peter Port, which twists and turns through forest and then drops away sharply to reveal the stunning rocky coastline on what is one of the most delightful spots on the island. 

 

More photographs of Hauteville House can be found at: http://www.visitguernsey.com/victor-hugos-guernsey