As the final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad is heading toward its much
anticipated series finale on Sept. 29, I’ve been consuming just about anything
written about the show. Whether it is episode reviews or
crazy fan theories about how the show might end, I love reading it all.
One of the more interesting pieces
of writing I read was Breaking Bad and Philosophy: Badder Living through Chemistry. The book is an entry in the
Popular Culture and Philosophy series, published by Open Court. Previously, the
series has examined some 60 other topics including Seinfeld, Harry Potter, and The
Walking Dead, another hit AMC TV show.
Before going any further, here’s a
warning: there are probably spoilers ahead. I’ve tried to avoid too many
specific plot points, but the book examines in depth many choices and actions
from the show involving a slew of different characters, so it's kind of
impossible to talk about the book without at least referring to some of these plot
events. Again, you've been warned.
The book is
a collection of 19 essays, each by a different author. As someone who knows
next to nothing about philosophy, I was a little afraid that I would not have enough
knowledge of important philosophical concepts to really understand what the
authors were saying. But by and large, the authors did a great job of “dumbing
down” many potentially confusing philosophical concepts. Most of the authors
seemed to realize that a majority of the people who read the book will be more
a fan of Breaking Bad than a fan of
philosophy, so they tried to simplify things as much as possible without losing
depth or meaning. A downside I could see to this approach, though, is that
people who are well-versed in philosophy will spend a lot of time reading many
philosophy terms and concepts that may seem elementary to them.
The opening chapter of the book details
each death Walter White is responsible for, looking through the lens of Aristotle’s
criteria for either blaming or praising Walt for an action including his
motivations, justification and the consequences of the actions. I was a little
surprised, especially considering how far Walt has fallen this season, to
remember how much sympathy and empathy I had for Walt in those early seasons. Despite
him killing (or being directly responsible for the death of) at least nine
people, I remember justifying his actions as “doing it for his family” and that
he simply had no other choice. Little did I know how unjustifiable Walt’s
actions would become in the later seasons.
favorite chapter in the book was "Heisenberg's Uncertain Confession"
and was written by Darryl J. Murphy, an instructor at Brock University (who I
can only assume was chosen to write for a Breaking
Bad book because of the name of the university). Part of this chapter’s
appeal was how accessible Murphy made the discussion of some of history’s
greatest philosophers. Going into the book, I definitely didn’t expect to be
reading the sentences "cut off his junk and sent him packin' " and
"had mad relations with females" before page 20.
a novel connection between Walt naming his drug kingpin alter ego “Heisenberg”
and physicist Werner Heisenberg’s famous Uncertainty Principle. I apologize in
advance for butchering this attempt at an explanation, but in short, the principle
argues that there is a limit to how precisely some physical properties of
sub-atomic particles can be measured. There is some “uncertainty” in the measurements.
After some logical reasoning, Murphy concludes that this gives Walt’s
science-based, “materialist point of view” a chance at gaining some kind of redemption
by the end of his story. “Heisenberg allows Walt to believe that he chose to
break bad and that he can choose to be good again."
chapters cover many varied topics, such as comparing Breaking Bad to
Shakespeare's Macbeth, looking at parallels between Walt and Don Draper
of AMC's Mad Men, and how Gus Fring's lack of empathy helped him become
the criminal mastermind who led the meth market in much of the southwest
As a whole, the book was an
enjoyable, fairly easy read. One of the benefits of the essay format was that
the book was very easy to pick up for 15 minutes, knock out a chapter and then
begin a brand new topic when you picked the book up a day later. And since
there was no real carryover from chapter to chapter, one could easily skim or
completely skip any chapters that don’t seem interesting.
One issue I did have with the book,
and maybe it’s a bigger deal to me than to most readers since I work with words
for a living, but there were more than a few really distracting grammar
mistakes. Some adverbs should have been adjectives, some present tense verbs
should have been past tense. These mistakes often made me reread sentences
and paragraphs to figure out what the author was trying to say.
only covers through Season 4 and not any of 2012 and 2013’s two-part fifth
season. Walt’s body count has risen since then, so those deaths and choices are
not examined in the book. But I guess it’s a good indicator for how much I enjoyed
the book that I’m hoping a new, updated version is published after the series
Be sure to follow Matt Skrajner on Twitter @MattNewsHerald
Labels: amc, book review, breaking bad, heisenberg, philosophy, tv, walter white