Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 11

Thread: Walter White, Macbeth of American Suburbia - Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh

  1. #1
    Administrator
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Posts
    21,787

    Default Walter White, Macbeth of American Suburbia - Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh

    Adi Tantimedh writes.



    It?s interesting to watch how Breaking Bad has become a cultural talking point, the biggest since The Sopranos. Walter White is an even more insidiously identifiable protagonist because he snuck in under many viewers? radar by appearing to be a suburban everyman before revealing just how ruthlessly evil and controlling he is after seeming to be a sympathetic middle-aged man living in the kind of quiet desperation that many people can easily recognise in themselves. Unlike Tony Soprano, who was born into organised crime and trying to live a middle-class family life, Walter White is a middle-class family man who becomes a gangster, a kind of fantasy that many people have, especially those who enjoy gangster stories.

    I?d been saying for years, since Season One, that this show was really ?Macbeth in American Suburbia?, and creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan pretty much admitted in an interview on BBC Radio Four some weeks ago that he and his writers have been drawing on Macbeth as a reference point throughout the series.

    Novelists and screenwriters are often encouraged to draw on the classics to add layers to their own stories. After all, why not steal from the best? And you could say Shakespeare is probably the greatest screenwriter who ever lived (even if many of his plays would be considered first drafts that need work).

    To lift from classic stories like Shakespeare doesn?t always mean slavishly copying the plot so much as the spirit or the themes of the story. Sons of Anarchy lifted liberally from Hamlet throughout its run. Screenwriting lecturer Robert McKee has presented a convincing case for the way Chinatown references Oedipus Rex.

    Breaking Bad does not copy Macbeth but uses its archetypes and motifs throughout all five seasons. Macbeth was a man who was spurred by a supernatural force to pursue power through murdering a king. His wife encourages him, and he finds he can?t stop murdering people to stay in power until he gets his comeuppance.

    On twitter, comic artist Faith Erin Hicks suggested that Walter White?s cancer stood in for the witches that spurred him to embark on a life of crime. That was how viewers were lulled into sympathy for him, a seemingly ordinary man with financial worries who decides to break the law to provide for his family. But that only hid his true colours: he was not that ordinary ? he had epic levels of pent-up rage, frustration and entitlement for years over having losing out on a partnership on a major business venture when he gave up his share of the company. That became a clue to how ruthless he was going to become once he got a taste of the power that comes from being the head of a criminal enterprise. He felt hard done by the world and didn?t get his full due. That frustration was still relatable for when he becomes full Macbeth.

    It was fun to spot the other references to Macbeth as the show went on. Their Duncan didn?t show up till the second season in the form of drug kingpin Gus Fring, who became a formidable adversary for Walt as he was smarter and deadlier than Walt ever hoped to be. It took two whole seasons for Walt to finally out-strategise and kill him, cementing Walt?s lust for and rise to power.



    No Macbeth take-off would be complete without its Lady Macbeth, and of course, that comes in the form of Walt?s wife Skylar. While she doesn?t have the drive to persuade her husband to murder the king as Lady M. did in the play, she did agree to help him with laundering his drug money, but then became overcome with horror and guilt in her complicity and even has the equivalent of Lady Macbeth?s breakdown in season five with her scene at dinner where she walks into the swimming pool. By now, in its final season, Skylar has reverted to full Lady Macbeth mode out of a sense of desperate self-preservation as she and Walt feel under siege from Hank, their DEA cop brother-in-law who has sussed out Walt?s criminality. Just this week, she has even suggested to Walt that he should kill Jesse Pinkman, Walt?s partner and surrogate son.



    I assumed the Macduff in this story would be Hank, since he was the cop on the hunt for the drug kingpin who turned out to be his own brother-in-law, but it looks like Macduff is two people here: Hank and Jesse Pinkman. Where Macduff wanted revenge on Macbeth for murdering his family and his children, Jesse now wants revenge on Walt for poisoning his girlfriend?s son.

    It?s a fun game to spot the Macbeth references in the show, and they help lend additional emotional and moral complexity. The most interesting thing about the show is how many viewers are still sympathetic to Walter White and want him to get away free, despite the monstrousness of his acts and the extent he lies to everyone, including himself, to justify his actions. It?s particularly notable how much people hate Skylar so much that they sent death threats to actor Anna Gunn, considering Skylar wasn?t murder over a dozen people. They don?t seem to accept that Skylar is a character who is dealing with a terrible situation she?s trapped in as best she can, yet they continue to support Walt for all the deaths and horrors he unleashed on the world. It?s fascinating to me that a kind of generalised misogyny should be triggered by a popular TV show in a way that none of its makers ever intended, and how it reveals the weird double standards that society holds men and women up to. It just goes to show that pop fiction can become litmus tests for social attitudes, and the Lady Macbeth Syndrome is in full force here, to everyone?s surprise. Certain archetypes still carry power.

    To get the full cultural experience, you don?t just watch the show. You watch the watchers too.

    Breaking wind at lookitmoves@gmail.com

    Follow the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture, stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.

    Look! It Moves! Adisakdi Tantimedh

  2. #2
    Bleeding Cool Peter G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    The Monastery Of Pimps, Chicago outpost
    Posts
    6,414

    Default

    I have to disagree. The only real parallel I will accept is Skyler as Lady Macbeth, and I'm not even sure about that.

    If Breaking Bad is copying Shakespeare, I think it's Hamlet. The show is just focusing on Claudius (Walter White) instead of Hamlet (Jesse Pinkman).

    I would like to submit the following as evidence --

    Mike was Jesse's father figure. More than Walt, he cared for Jesse and looked out for him. The scene where Jesse is pacing around the living room after Mike's death wondering what happened bears a striking resemblance to Hamlet. You even have Badger and Skinny Pete joking around, filling the roles of Rozencrantz and Gildenstern. He slowly sees through Walt/Claudius' lies to know the truth, putting him into an emotional spin and bordering on madness as he wrestles with what to do. (Walt is "the King," after all.) The most recent episode ends with Walt/Claudius deciding to do something about this pesky little defier of his rule before he exposes what he did. The end of Hamlet featured lots of poison going around, and we still have the ricin out there.

    Jane would be Ophelia, drowning to death but on her own vomit instead of in a river. (I'm still uncertain if Jane's father would be Polonius or Laertes.)

    So, is Walter going to attempt to poison Jesse and it gets accidentally ingested by Skyler? I hesitate to say that is what will happen, though, as I subscribe to the "hunter/gatherer" theory that first popped up on the Straight Dope message boards. It was pointed out that Walter winds up acquiring habits and preferences of those he kills. He starts cutting the crusts off his sandwiches like Krazy-8. Walt starts drinking on the rocks like Mike. In the flash forward, we saw him driving the kind of estate car Mike liked. He puts down a towel before puking in the toilet like Gus would have done.

    Season 5 opened with a flash-forward, where we see Walt wearing a big-pocketed, army-style jacket.

    The kind Jesse likes.

    He also breaks and rearranges the bacon on his plate the way Skyler did.

    I think it's going to come down to Skyler. When the show started, Walter was bossed around by everybody -- his boss, cancer, but most notably, his wife. As he rose to become a master criminal, Sklyer had no control. Until now. Now, she's trying to reassert control over him. I think she's going to badger Walt into killing Jesse, and in a fit of rage, he becomes Heisenberg and kills Skyler afterwards to end her control over him.

    Sorry, but literally no one else I know even watches Breaking Bad, and I've been waiting a loooooooooooong time to geek out over this.
    "Time will tell. It always does." -- The seventh Doctor

    "I could be wrong now, but I don't think so." -- Theme from Monk

    "Tell me who admires you and loves you, and I will tell you who you are." -- Charles Augustin Sainte-Beauve

  3. #3
    VP in Charge of Cool
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1,356

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter G View Post
    I have to disagree. The only real parallel I will accept is Skyler as Lady Macbeth, and I'm not even sure about that.

    If Breaking Bad is copying Shakespeare, I think it's Hamlet. The show is just focusing on Claudius (Walter White) instead of Hamlet (Jesse Pinkman).

    I would like to submit the following as evidence --

    Mike was Jesse's father figure. More than Walt, he cared for Jesse and looked out for him. The scene where Jesse is pacing around the living room after Mike's death wondering what happened bears a striking resemblance to Hamlet. You even have Badger and Skinny Pete joking around, filling the roles of Rozencrantz and Gildenstern. He slowly sees through Walt/Claudius' lies to know the truth, putting him into an emotional spin and bordering on madness as he wrestles with what to do. (Walt is "the King," after all.) The most recent episode ends with Walt/Claudius deciding to do something about this pesky little defier of his rule before he exposes what he did. The end of Hamlet featured lots of poison going around, and we still have the ricin out there.

    Jane would be Ophelia, drowning to death but on her own vomit instead of in a river. (I'm still uncertain if Jane's father would be Polonius or Laertes.)

    So, is Walter going to attempt to poison Jesse and it gets accidentally ingested by Skyler? I hesitate to say that is what will happen, though, as I subscribe to the "hunter/gatherer" theory that first popped up on the Straight Dope message boards. It was pointed out that Walter winds up acquiring habits and preferences of those he kills. He starts cutting the crusts off his sandwiches like Krazy-8. Walt starts drinking on the rocks like Mike. In the flash forward, we saw him driving the kind of estate car Mike liked. He puts down a towel before puking in the toilet like Gus would have done.

    Season 5 opened with a flash-forward, where we see Walt wearing a big-pocketed, army-style jacket.

    The kind Jesse likes.

    He also breaks and rearranges the bacon on his plate the way Skyler did.

    I think it's going to come down to Skyler. When the show started, Walter was bossed around by everybody -- his boss, cancer, but most notably, his wife. As he rose to become a master criminal, Sklyer had no control. Until now. Now, she's trying to reassert control over him. I think she's going to badger Walt into killing Jesse, and in a fit of rage, he becomes Heisenberg and kills Skyler afterwards to end her control over him.

    Sorry, but literally no one else I know even watches Breaking Bad, and I've been waiting a loooooooooooong time to geek out over this.
    You disagree even though the show's creator and writers already admit on record that they're drawing on Macbeth?

  4. #4
    Bleeding Cool Peter G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    The Monastery Of Pimps, Chicago outpost
    Posts
    6,414

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by aditantimedh View Post
    You disagree even though the show's creator and writers already admit on record that they're drawing on Macbeth?
    Oh...I didn't see that interview....

    ...I'll be over here...if you need me....
    "Time will tell. It always does." -- The seventh Doctor

    "I could be wrong now, but I don't think so." -- Theme from Monk

    "Tell me who admires you and loves you, and I will tell you who you are." -- Charles Augustin Sainte-Beauve

  5. #5
    Captain Cool Neurotic Moose's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    California
    Posts
    4,940

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by aditantimedh View Post
    You disagree even though the show's creator and writers already admit on record that they're drawing on Macbeth?
    I can see both the resemblances to Macbeth and hamlet as working out nicely, its a very Shakespearian show, hell you could compare a lot of the revenge murder stuff to Titus Andronicus, the cartel stuff especially bares resemblance to the goths and Gus' revenge on them has some parallels to Titus, the prison killing montage also has a Titus feel to it, let's just say its a big Shakespearian style show and be happy

  6. #6
    VP in Charge of Cool
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1,356

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Neurotic Moose View Post
    I can see both the resemblances to Macbeth and hamlet as working out nicely, its a very Shakespearian show, hell you could compare a lot of the revenge murder stuff to Titus Andronicus, the cartel stuff especially bares resemblance to the goths and Gus' revenge on them has some parallels to Titus, the prison killing montage also has a Titus feel to it, let's just say its a big Shakespearian style show and be happy
    Oh, I'm totally happy to see Gus Fring's revenge plot as Titus Andronicus and Jesse's arc as Hamlet, especially given how long he's hesitated before finally deciding to plot to bring Walt down.

  7. #7
    VP in Charge of Cool
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1,356

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter G View Post
    Oh...I didn't see that interview....

    ...I'll be over here...if you need me....
    I don't disagree with your points about the Hamlet references. Walt is totally Jesse's Claudius.

  8. #8
    Bleeding Cool Peter G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    The Monastery Of Pimps, Chicago outpost
    Posts
    6,414

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by aditantimedh View Post
    I don't disagree with your points about the Hamlet references. Walt is totally Jesse's Claudius.
    Whew! I just didn't want to come across as someone looking to pick a fight ("Well, you're WRONG!!!"). At least my explanation makes sense. "The whole show is a metaphor for Valley Of The Dolls!" "Uh...yeah...why don't you hang out on the Bendis boards for a while?"
    "Time will tell. It always does." -- The seventh Doctor

    "I could be wrong now, but I don't think so." -- Theme from Monk

    "Tell me who admires you and loves you, and I will tell you who you are." -- Charles Augustin Sainte-Beauve

  9. #9
    VP in Charge of Cool
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1,356

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter G View Post
    Whew! I just didn't want to come across as someone looking to pick a fight ("Well, you're WRONG!!!"). At least my explanation makes sense. "The whole show is a metaphor for Valley Of The Dolls!" "Uh...yeah...why don't you hang out on the Bendis boards for a while?"
    I'm all about keeping the discussion going for as long as possible as long as everyone has something to say without insulting or trolling anyone.

  10. #10
    VP in Charge of Cool
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Outside Toronto
    Posts
    1,597

    Default

    Shy of actually calling it MacMeth, I think a new thing can be inspired by a classic worth without being limited by it. Past a certain point, the new thing becomes itself. Knowing Jesse and Hank didn't play out as initially planned, suggests MacBeth isn't so much architecture as inspiration at the start. Skyler's late turn toward bloody thoughts comes from the story rather than a turn and nod toward Lady Mac, though the story momentum allows for parallels to still be made as things being pulled down by gravity will behave similarly.

    ~R

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •