Why Walter White has become Tony Soprano

I’ve been catching up on my Breaking Bad, and while I was at it,  I kept wondering two things. The first was: “what is Los Pollos Hermanos’ stance on gay rights?” and the second was: Why is this show increasingly becoming a copy cat of The Sopranos?

 

bb walter white large 300x215 Why Walter White has become Tony SopranoPeople who have seen both shows know they have always had thematic similarities. They’re both about  a middle-aged father trying to balance his criminal life with his family life. Simply put,  it’s about alpha-males fighting against domesticity but upholding it at the same time. As Gus reminds us in season 3: ”What does a man do? He provides.” The problem is that the duty of providing can lead to dark places.

When the masculinitiy of Tony Soprano or Walter White is questioned they respond like impulsive primates. Tony kicks the shit out of a young and buff ‘soldier’ just to show that his gunshot wound isn’t affecting his physical dominance (he puked right after). Instead of pissing against his fence, Walt gives his underaged son too much tequila to show macho Hank that it’s “his house, his rules” (his son puked right after).

 

 

Both shows also have a strong emphasis on the parental relationship between the Alpha dog and his flawed protege. Walt takes care of Jesse the junkie while Tony takes care of Christopher the junkie. The older men try to instill some set of values onto their younger peers, even though they’re confused about their own. The result is not very pleasant and both young bucks develop depression and low self-esteems.

 

 

Although these similarities have been here since the beginning,  something still fundamentally differentiated them from each other. Breaking Bad uses the original coming-of-age angle instead of being another ganster series. It’s the origin story of the organized criminal (say what you will but Walt is a very organized man). The show provided tentative answers to the question of how people actually ‘break bad’. It’s a slow process and every step is arduous and provides real dilemmas. While people die like flies in The Sopranos,  Breaking Bad makes the viewer experience every little step of murder and its aftermath. How does one kill? How does one dispose of a body? And, most importantly, how do you live with yourself after that?

 

 

 

I’ll also add that Breaking Bad was much more daring in an artistic sense. The cinematography had a distinct originality, in which the New Mexico landscape, the coordinated use of colors and color filters (I love how they sometimes pop out of the screen), and the original angles provided an artistic flavor that never accompanied The Sopranos. The scripts were also cleverly written and, particularly in the first two seasons, a visually provoking opening scene functioned as some kind of “answer” of which I didn’t know the question yet. That’s why I kept watching and why Breaking Bad can really pull you in.

 

 

But somewhere along the way, something changed. Breaking Bad is no longer about the descent into criminal behavior. It’s now about a man who’s deeply entrenched in the drug scene and doesn’t seem to want to get out of it (sidenote, I am currently halfway though season 4 so if things radically change, feel free to yell at me). It’s about staying alive and bringing in enormous heaps of cash. Walt is no longer coming of age as a criminal. He is just an aged criminal. He’s also not driven by an external force to engage in criminal behavior (this used to be his terminal condition). Even his wife Skyler is in on his secret, which takes away much of the tension between his family life and his professional life.

 

 

It  boils down to the fact that there is no longer any attention to why Walt does what he does and how his actions change him as a person. A good way to measure this transformation is his appearance; the more facial hair removed/added per season, the more character development you can expect. Sadly, his facial hair hasn’t changed the last three seasons.

 

 

Even the artistic value has suffered from this tonal shift. The writing isn’t as delicate as before and the slow suspenseful unraveling of episodes has made way for cheap thrills and cliffhangers. There are still some lovely original montages and a catchy musical score, but they don’t take center stage the way they used to.

 

 

 Why Walter White has become Tony Soprano

 

 

 

If I’m no longer seeing the things that make Breaking Bad different from The Sopranos, I have to ask: what is the point in watching this show? I don’t watch it to see the public and private lives of the upper managment of a criminal organization. That’s when I’ll watch The Sopranos on a rerun. Breaking Bad should go back to its strength and explore that initital question about organized crime: why do you do this in the first place? Could any one of us do this?

 

 

You’ll often hear TV critics say that a series finds its voice after the second season. Breaking Bad seems to have found someone else’s voice which is too bad because the original voice sounded just fine.

2 Responses to Why Walter White has become Tony Soprano

  • dieter
    dieter says:

    Yeah, the ever-growing ego is some sort of development I guess. But he’s far from being the insecure chemistry teacher. It was the combination of that and drugdealing which I liked the most.
    I’ve warned you before: watch the Sopranos, lest I defriend ye!

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