With the series finales of "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter" happening within a week of each other, there’s been a lot of talk lately about each show’s lead characters. Online, on television, in newspapers and magazines, and in everyday conversation, people are talking about Walter White and Dexter Morgan. We’re all talking about what it means to be good, to be evil, about morality and justice and the gray areas of it all.
I’m thinking of two stories in particular that I’ve read online recently. One, "Is Heisenberg Dead? Walter White and the Light-Switch Theory of Morality," talks about Walter White—the former chemistry teacher in "Breaking Bad" who starts manufacturing crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatments and provide for his family in case of his passing—and his alter ego, Heisenberg, and whether the two are one in the same. In a nutshell, who should take the blame for the bad things Walter White does: Walt or his evil alter ego?
And then there’s the other article, "Damon Lindelof on 'Breaking Bad': How Heisenberg Is Like Batman," in which the "Lost" co-creator compares Walter White and Heisenberg to Bruce Wayne and Batman. In it, he explains that Bruce Wayne was always Batman and that the murder of his parents was simply the catalyst to awaken the Dark Knight. And essentially, Walt can be explained in the same way.
Which brings to mind the character of Dexter Morgan and his so-called Dark Passenger—because the whole premise of that show is that Dexter was born a serial killer, "born in blood," as the character so eloquently describes in his ongoing narrative throughout the show’s eight seasons. He was born with the urge to murder. And the murder of his own mother in front of him when he was only a toddler simply awoke that urge, that Dark Passenger.
What’s interesting about both of these characters is that both are complicated people. Both have a sense of morality to them, because in their own eyes, both Walter White and Dexter Morgan do bad things for, at least in their own minds, good reasons. Dexter murders only bad people, people whom he feels deserve to die, because he has a code. He murders the murderers. Walter White started making meth out of love for his family and because he got cancer. And he was scared. And when we’re scared, we become desperate. And what we like about these characters, why we root for them and care for them—or, at the very least, why we are fascinated with them—is that they do the things we sometimes secretly wish we could do.
I’m not saying that we all have this deep-down urge to commit murder or produce and sell meth or break any kind of law. But the criminal acts that Walt and Dexter do and the fact that they get away with them for so long and the fear and respect they command is something, at least for most of us average people, we wouldn’t mind experiencing at least once in our lives.
And to take it a step further, I’d argue that the violent, illegal, very selfish desires they have and act upon are merely the exaggerated tendencies we normal people struggle with every day—our own fears, desires, imperfections and addictions. We all have our own Heisenbergs or Dark Passengers, don’t we? We all struggle with our own sense of morality, and when we sometimes don’t make the best choices—the little white lies we tell (or, sometimes, the big ones); the pens we steal from work; the time we cheated on our high school math test; and even the bigger issues we deal with, such as infidelity, alcoholism and gambling—we sometimes choose to justify them for what we think are own good reasons. We want to be able to act on our urges sometimes and get away with it.
Now, of course, this can be argued because these are complicated issues. And I’ve only got 1,000 words to prove my point. And it’s a much bigger conversation, one that I’ve started on my Facebook page. And one we can continue here. So let’s do that. What do you think? Why are we so fascinated with shows such as "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter"? And what does it say about us? Sound off in the comments below.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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