Season Four of Breaking Bad begins tonight at 10 pm EDT on AMC in my part of the world. I’m a late comer to the show, and only because my wife had sat on her Netflix delivery of the first two disks of the first season back in March. But boy did I catch up, watching the first two seasons in a span of ten days! Overall, I find the first six episodes of Breaking Bad the most intriguing. Those episodes provide me the reasons for why I support Walter White (the main character played by Bryan Cranston), because I can see some of myself and my life in his.
For those of you who haven’t watched or aren’t fans, Walter White is a brilliant yet foolish has-been-who-really-should’ve-been-somebody high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s fifty years old, married for seventeen years, with a fifteen-year-old who has cerebral palsy, and with a surprise baby well on the way, as his wife’s in her third trimester. When he discovers after collapsing at his other job (at the local car wash) that he has advanced lung cancer and maybe six months to live, he decides through serendipity to use his training as a biochemist to produce high-grade methamphetamine, or crystal meth, in order to provide for his family before kicking the bucket.
I’m not terminally ill, at least as far as I know. Nor am I a biochemist. But like Walter White, I am an over-educated person with tons of skills and experience, but woefully under-applying them in my current work as an adjunct professor and consultant. I wasn’t pushed out of a venture with a biotech company in which the other partners made billions of dollars off of my ideas. But I’ve had people in my life who’ve attempted to keep me from expressing my ideas, from getting a job, even made up stories to derail my career.
Unlike Walter White, I’m at least teaching college students, if only in the technical sense that the students I teach are in college. Although, given the sporadic nature of my consulting when combined with my teaching, it may be time to do like Walter White and obtain certification to teach high school social studies. For unlike in Albuquerque, teaching at the high school level out here often pays better than being a college professor, and can yield better results academically for the students involved.
Given where Walter could’ve been in life by the time he reached middle age, it’s small wonder that he has a
deep well of pent-up rage to draw from throughout the series. I understand that rage because I’ve seen it in myself over the years. But my rage comes from a life of deprivation and working my ass off to overcome it, only to feel as if there’s still tons’ more work to do. With the struggle to become a successful writer, and not just an academic one with a book and a couple dozen articles to my credit, I’m already tired. But the struggle for more work in a field in which you know you’re well qualified and already have done a ton of work can lead to Walter White rages. Or, for that matter, Bruce Banner each time he turned into Hulk.
Really, I realize that on the whole, I’m not Walter White. I’ve been written off too often in life to see myself that way. But I can understand after spending the better part of three decades working to turn “No!” into “Yes!,” to prove myself as a thinker, educator, historian, manager and writer. Not only to myself, but to my God, and those manning the gates to jobs, publishing, grants and degrees. I get it as to how and why rage can build up. I guess that if I found myself with Stage 3 lung cancer, I could use my talents to write other people’s books and dissertations, or even to write scripts for porn, but that wouldn’t exactly be me.
No, under Walter White’s circumstances, I’d probably call in every favor that I’ve been owed since seventh grade. I’d contact every writer that I’m a fan of, every contact I know associated with publishing books, magazines, scholarly journals, and make myself a royal pain in the ass. That is, until getting a book contract for Boy @ The Window, publishing several pieces I’ve been working on with occasional bursts of writing for the past two or three years. I’d do whatever I could to make sure that Noah and Angelia were taken care of before I passed.
Come to think of it, what I’ve just written should be my mantra, impending death or otherwise. As Nickelback says in “If Today Was Your Last Day,” “against the grain should be a way of life.” That’s been me for the past thirty years. So I’m really only sometimes Walter White.