Breaking Bad one day at a time

September 30, 2013

I am pretty sure every guy who saw the series finale of “Breaking Bad” had the same thought, which is, I gotta get me one of those remote-controlled machine guns for the trunk of my car. Presumably this will someday be standard on all new American vehicles. Basically that’s a variant of what they had on “Rat Patrol” (Jurassic TV reference). Every boy who saw “Rat Patrol” wanted to grow up to own a jeep with a machine gun. Walter White lived out that fantasy.

Now, I realize that that “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan’s use of a remote-controlled machine gun as a deus ex machina stretches credulity, because of the obvious possibilities for malfunction, the difficulty of aiming it, and the many ways the choreography could have gone wrong. Like, the bad guys could have said: “Why are you parking your car as if there’s an automated machine gun in the trunk that’s going to shoot up our headquarters?” For that matter, the bad guys could have stopped Walt at the gate and demanded to look in his trunk. Walt would have had some serious explaining to do. Though probably he would have figured out a workaround, because ultimately, Walter White is a comic book anti-hero in a comic-book plot, with special mutant powers that enable him to unleash the forces of chemistry. We will see him next in an upcoming X-Men movie.

The signature moment of the finale, as my colleague Hank Stuever notes, was when Walt says goodbye to Skyler and reveals why he turned to a life of crime. She has just implored him not to say, once again, that he did it for the family. But he says:

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really — I was alive.”

This could be written on many a man’s tombstone. It’s the unspoken truth of male motivation from cradle to grave.

Why does Superman leap tall buildings in a single bound? Because he likes it, and is good at it, and it makes him feel alive. The guy uses X-ray vision and flies around the Earth and causes time to run in reverse not because he’s such a great person, but just to tamp down his growing sense of ennui.

Walter White, as played by Bryan Cranston, is a high school chemistry teacher who gets a bad diagnosis, and then complications ensue. But is Walt being reactive or proactive? At some level this is merely the tale of a middle-aged man in search of a hobby. He’s bored.

Those of us staring into the gaping maw of degeneration, senescence and ultimate obliteration are often driven to take on new activities and interests. You could make the case that Walt went overboard.

If you find yourself with an urge to try something new, my advice is to steer clear of anything that might create a problem for which the activation of a remote-controlled machine gun would potentially be the solution.

The other day I was watering my lawn, closely scrutinizing the nascent blades of grass from the seeds I had dropped a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly it crossed my mind that I had lost my edge. But in a moment like that, you fight back: You don’t give in to that sense of being old, dopey and pointless. In my case, I have a nifty nozzle I use for watering, and it has like 14 or 15 different settings. I can switch among “shower” and “mist” and “soaker,” depending on the hydrological circumstances. Though not a vain person, as you know, I do fancy that I have a knack for watering — that, like Walt with his methamphetamine synthesis, it’s something I’m good at.

But do I take it too far? Do I sometimes get a little crazy, adjusting from one nozzle setting to another, and then back again, flicking my wrists maniacally, and flamboyantly using settings like “fan” and “jet” that aren’t particularly useful, rather than sticking with the settings that accomplish my watering goals? Yeah, probably. And I can just imagine what the neighbors say: “There he goes again, showboating with his nozzle!”

But this is what I do instead of going all Walter White on everyone. Trust me, you don’t want to rouse the dragon within. Like Walt said in that stare-down with his brother-in-law Hank: “If you don’t know who I am [dramatic pause], then [pause] maybe your best course [pause]  would be to tread lightly.”

I am practicing my delivery of that line. With nozzle set on “jet.”

 

 

 

 

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · September 26, 2013