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I was terrified.

Walt-Breaking-Bad

I was watching myself kill people.

Walter White was just my proxy.

Every episode of Breaking Bad I watched was my own reflection in the mirror.

Bryan Cranston, the actor playing Walter White who becomes the drug lord “Heisenberg,” agrees:

“People ask, ‘Was Heisenberg always there–the darkness–or did he have to completely adopt a new personality to survive?’ And my answer is the former–he was always there. Anyone can become dangerous. Heisenberg has dark thoughts. The rest of us are just not exposing our dark thoughts to the world.” [1]bad-heisenberg

Yehiel Dinur knew this too.  He was a chief witness against the Holocaust atrocities of Adolf Eichmann in 1961.  Dinur, survivor of Auschwitz, confronted Eichmann face-to-face for the first time in almost two decades.  Seeing the genocidal murderer of thousands, Dinur broke down in uncontrolled sobbing.  Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame questioned Dinur about his emotional response.

“I was afraid about myself,” said Dinur. “I saw that I am capable to do this.  I am . . . exactly like he.  Eichmann is in all of us” [2]

Walter White, Adolf Eichmann, and Dexter are in all of us.  Showtime’s murderous drama Dexter, as reviewed by James Hibberd in Entertainment Weekly, is a show about a vigilante serial killer.  Sara Colleton, executive producer of the series concurs:

We all have a dark passenger. We all have some aspect of ourselves which we are terrified of letting it see the light of day . . . and that is something that’s been very relatable. [3]

bad-dexter“Relatable” is putting it mildly.  We are all capable of evil, because we are all inherently corrupt.  We like to think we are basically good.  But we’re not.  In our most honest moment we have to confess our own inherent corruption.  We cannot blame politicians, parents, or passing culture:

“the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between political parties—but right through every human heart.” [4]

Literature is full of stories where we are shown something is wrong with the human heart.  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson demonstrates the titanic battle raging within humans: depravity triumphing over dignity.  Many other voices would concur with the general concern that humans are corruptible:Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - stage (1887) Richard Mansfield

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe

“The Lifted Veil” by George Eliot

“Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The Man That Corrupted Hanleyburg” by Mark Twain.

But my personal favorite is the post war tale Lord of the Flies explaining William Golding’s truth: humans left to themselves will always degenerate.  Humanity is gone bad.  As Ralphie, the bespeckeled target of power gone mad, says, “I’m afraid of us.”  The voice of what humans can become comes from what humans are—inescapably, terribly, dangerous.

bad-i am the dangerSo Walter White proclaims “I am the danger.”  But we still like “bad people.” A 3 minute, New Times video poses, but does not answer, why.  It was not until I watched the live AMC “Talking About Breaking Bad” last night that I understood the answer.  Julie Bowen, superfan from Modern Family, made the point:

In the final episode I still want Walterto get away with it. There is something in all of us who has this animal inside of us.

My inherently corrupt self couldn’t agree more.

Breaking Bad is one of the best conceived, best written, best directed shows ever produced for television.  Period.

But Breaking Bad will ultimately leave us empty.  However the final episodes play out we are still left to ourselves and by ourselves.

I am tired of being terrified of myself.  We all long for the good to overcome  the bad.  There is only one good answer to Breaking Bad:

And He made a public spectacle of evil, triumphing over evil at The Cross. [5]

Mark believes our inherent human corruption can only be overcome by perfect incarnational sacrifice.  Dr. Mark Eckel helps Christians understand how to engage the culture with the gospel of Jesus.

[1] Bryan Cranston, as Walter White or as he becomes, “Heisenberg” in AMC’s Breaking Bad (July, 2013, TV Guide)

[2] Charles Colson, from a speech at Harvard University.

[3] Sara Colleton, Executive Producer of Showtime’s “Dexter” (James Hibberd, “Dissecting Dexter,” Entertainment Weekly, 9 August 2013, p. 68).

[4] In the “Ascent,” one of the autobiographical sections of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago

[5] Colossians 2:15.

 

 

  1. Anonymous says:

    This article explains a lot for me, and helps me see why it is useless to blame others for the evil that in inherently inside of me. Thank God for His grace

  2. Mark, one day I stumbled upon Breaking Bad on Netflix. At first, I thought it a comedy show. One day curiosity got the best of me and I started the first episode. Being a bit compulsive myself I watched a bunch of episodes back to back. I’ve seen every episode. I couldn’t get enough. I too became increasingly terrified of myself. Walter White is in me. The shock on his face when he kills Mike in the last episode of last season. He is both shocked at first, and then calm. The internal war at play. We all fantasize, I think, about being “the danger,” “the one who knocks.” I want to be that man…and I hate it…and I love it.

    The last lines of the latest episode with his brother in law…

    “I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I’m talking too.”

    “If that’s true, that you don’t know who I am, then maybe you’re best course…would be to tread lightly.”

    Oh snap! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1iePhwzh30

  3. Mark, The creepiest connection I have learned about this truth–that humans have such a capacity for evil–was through the Milgram experiment that deals with obedience to authority. This is not a fictional account, and not done with a select “evil” population. It shows how easy it is to give in to the simple instruction, “The experiment requires that you continue.” In Breaking Bad, it seems that Cranston’s character (especially being scientifically-minded) also has the bent that the “experiment,” regardless of who gets hurt or killed on the way, must go on.

    And, yes, we are all in one way or another, part of this dynamic due to the Curse. God, help us to live the counter-intuitive life that Jesus lived so that we will not listen to false authority, or even our peers (see the Asche Conformity Experiment) when they are drawing us deeper into darkness rather than walking in the Light.

    The final thought I have about this is that maybe we want Walter to “get away with it” because we, too, hope to escape our sins. Thank God we have a Redeemer. Never take that for granted!!!

  4. I’ve held this belief for a while – that we are all capable of horrendous acts. I’ve shared these thoughts with people in the past… and a few agree, but most tend to vehemently disagree. I’ll say that, no matter how “good” we are as people, no matter our fortunate upbringings, etc., we are all capable of acts such as those displayed in shows like Breaking Bad, Dexter, and the like. Really, the only thing keeping us from truly considering these actions as viable in the first place are never being in the right situation to act. I believe those that say, “no, I’d never do [horrendous act]” just lack the ability to envision themselves in a setting that would truly prompt these thoughts to begin with. A lot of people are unwilling to admit that they are “inherently corrupt.”

    Your entire article reminds of a song title John Wayne Gacy Jr by Sufjan Stevens. It’s similar to the most recent Breaking Bad article in this way – the last few lines spoken leave you with your jaw dropped.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otx49Ko3fxw

  5. Bryan Hudson says:

    Beginning to watch Breaking Bad TV show today on Netflix reminded be to the thankful for the new life Jesus graciously granted me! Having been raised by two loving parents, “breaking bad” almost consumed my life and got me killed when bullets flew one night.

    Since July 8, 1978 I’ve been living the miracle of the new birth in Christ and discovering the unfolding newness of that new creation!

    2 Cor 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

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