As the night fell, I felt remorse as the episode came to its end. “This is a mistake”, I thought to myself. I had begun watching a series, which I hadn't done in ages. I’m very hesitant when it comes to shows, because I know I could be using my time better. Another issue is that if I start something, I have to watch it all the way through.
Breaking Bad was one of those shows that was constantly on people’s lips coupled with great acclaim. My interest didn’t have much to do with the accolades. The appeal was Bryan Cranston, whom I'd previously seen playing a carefree and whimsical father in the show Malcolm in the Middle. Having an interest in acting myself, I wanted to see how he’d pull off a character so different to what I’d grown so accustomed to.
A couple of episodes in I was feeling conflicted. Breaking Bad very quickly takes a dark twist: dying Mr. White, the main character, becomes a crystal meth cook in an attempt to provide for his family. I try to be careful with the material I expose myself to, as what you choose to entertain grows. Now I’m not worried of becoming a meth cook, but sometimes small steps can take you on a path you never wanted to take. When you think about it, isn’t that exactly what happened to Mr. White…?
Around a dinner table I discussed Breaking Bad with a fresh acquaintance. I was a couple of seasons in, and was regretting the decision. I told him I couldn’t understand the story: how could such a decent family man do such horrible things, with a motive like that?
His response blew my mind. “Isn’t it quite a precise description of us? Even the most benevolent person has all the ingredients of evil in them. Small decisions, piled on top of each other, can lead to big consequences.”
His comment completely changed my outlook on the show. Mr. White loved his family. He was a decent tax-paying citizen. His family, friends and colleagues enjoyed him. He had a good motive together with a hasty decision. This slowly escalated into lies, conniving, betrayal and ultimately murder.
'Breaking bad'. It’s a slang expression which means to give up on the typical morals and follow one’s own path. Yet the expression has a sense of continuity about it. Change, no matter the direction, is gradual. It takes a motive to power it, and steps to further it. Change can also be powered by a lack of motive. There’s no such thing as staying in one place in life: you either go backwards or forwards. People who lack a purpose have a tendency to fill the void with something noxious.
I’m writing to you about this because this is an important principle to be aware of in life. I’ve always strongly identified with “the good team”. Ever since a kid, it was evident to me that I’d always be one of the good guys. I’d never be one of the baddies. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I’m not above getting lost.
In the process of time, all of us go through change. Our small decisions do have a great impact on the direction of that change. There’s a proverb that says that the prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.¹ Sometimes being wise can be as simple as understanding the law of cause and effect. What you decide today has an effect on your tomorrow.
“Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.”², said Mr. White with a hardened heart. A series of sequential steps had brought him to a place of constant fear, lies and deceit. He never gave up control. He lived life on his own terms. The price, however, was heavy.
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”–Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet, and philosopher, 1817-1862
1. Barker, Kenneth L., and Donald W. Burdick. Zondervan NIV study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
2. Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 8. Directed by Johan Renck. By Vince Gilligan, Sam Catlin, and George Mastras. Performed by Bryan Cranston.