Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 103

Becoming the One Who Knocks: Innovations as a Response to Social Strains in AMC’s B reaking B a d Following Hank Schrader’s brief comparison o f cockroaches and criminals at a family barbeque, W alter White asks his brother-in-law the pivotal question presented throughout five seasons o f A M C ’s Breaking Bad : “Where do they come from? Criminals like the one you . . . I mean , what do you think makes them who they are?” (“Breakage”). As a show delineating a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher’s transformation into New M exico’s largest methamphetamine manufacturer, Breaking Bad provides its viewers a unique (and often humorous) commentary on criminality in America that analyzes the motivations behind lawless action throughout many o f its episodes. The pilot opens by presenting W alter as a man with little to no autonomy in his life: his family is controlled by his overbearing wife, Skyler; he works two jobs in which he is consistently disrespected; he is burdened by his financial Situation; and he has been recently diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Emasculated and oppressed by a capitalistic society, W alter is a socially strained archetype: an everyman for the recessionary twenty-first Century. As David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp suggest, '''‘Breaking Bad emerged on the airwaves at a critical time in American history. Deep in a never-end[ing] recession, losing confidence with our technical and innovative prowess worldwide, outpaced by competitors, and nervous about the future and what we leave the next generation, we are all W alter White” (vii). However, unlike many individuals negotiating difficult economic times, W alter refuses to continue living his life feeling that he lacks free will; as a result, he tums to a life o f crime in an effort to cope with his painful Situation. His joum ey throughout five seasons o f Breaking Bad consists o f circumventing arduous social structures in an effort to provide for his family and discover a sense o f freedom in a highly commercial society. As W alter suggests, to be successful in America an individual must “get out in the real world and . . . kick that bastard as hard as you can right in the teeth” (“Better Call Saul”). Unable to do so conventionally, W alter achieves this aim by cooking methamphetamine, becoming a successful drug lord, and giving Albuquerque, New Mexico, a serious case o f meth mouth.