Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Analyzing Bad

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 31, 2014

 

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-c1-albuquerque-breaking-bad-20140131-dto,0,3467725.htmlstory#axzz2s1Q0nxNK

This series, ‘Breaking Bad,’ has brought television to a psychological depth, never seen before, as far as I can tell. Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, depicted in the photo above with a gun pointing at the audience, demonstrates a middle-aged man looking for meaning and power. We, as an audience, relate to his struggles, while at the same time, we despise him for making meth, a toxic substance, ruining the lives of so many addicts. As today’s LA Times article describes, although Walter White is a chemistry teacher turned meth cook, the show is about his search for meaning, in a world which feels to him, to be so empty and so unfair. He turns passive into active by taking charge of his “partner” and former student, Jesse, played by Aaron Paul. Together, they form a relationship that is complicated, twisted, manipulative,  and loving. There is no relaxing while watching this series, as each moment is tense with surprises and disappointments, like a life lived with such passion, that there is no room, or desire, to coast. I, for one, could feel my blood pressure rise and fall during each episode, as I cared for these characters, needing to remind myself that they are not part of my caring world, only my imaginary world of wanting to understand motivation and wanting, but failing, to have some sense of predictability of their behavior. The one thing I could count on is that I would feel each character’s need to make a difference; each person’s strong desire to be seen, to be heard, and to matter. How each of the main characters translated this desire into behavior was where the writers took my breath away. The lines between good and evil faded, not just within each person, but in a constant shifting sands where the confusion of sympathies created a blood-boiling tension. I confess that I binged on this series as I was intensely curious to know the next chapter, like a life that is constantly on the edge of change. This is the curiosity that drives my work, but that is so rarely driven by media. ‘Breaking Bad’ broke me into a rapt consumer. I am not alone, and yet, I feel the show touched me as an individual. I am still thinking of the characters, wondering how they are doing, needing to remind myself, they are not real. That is a good show.

2 Responses to “Analyzing Bad”

  1. Shelly said

    Why do you like it–because the writing is that good, or that you can relate to them as individuals and you can “feel each character’s need to make a difference, each person’s strong desire to be seen, to be heard, and to matter?” I wonder if you, as a psychiatrist, see what it is that the writers try to make come across and which the regular public may not normally see. Can you say something about the conflict which arises between people when both have the same desire to be seen, heard, and to matter–thereby one trying to make the other insignificant so that one can seem to matter more? Isn’t this the basis of most regular conflicts?

    • Yes, the writing, the acting, the filming all come together to make high quality television. The regular public must also see it, as it is rated as one of the best television shows of all time. Yes, we all need to feel like we matter, and so how we accomplish this goal, sets the course of our lives. For some, this means putting others down, and yes, this can create conflict, but for others, it means leaving the world a better place. I would not say this is the basis for “most” regular conflicts, but it can be a basis for some conflicts. With the knowledge that our lives are by definition, temporary, we are faced with a struggle over how to cope with that. A legacy, of any kind, allows some of us, to feel more at ease with our upcoming demise. Thanks.

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