Having only just recently finished watching the entire run of Breaking Bad, a friend asked me what my thoughts were on the show and in particular the finale. My first immediate response was “I hated Walt”. Apparently that was a pretty natural response as my friend replied “You’re supposed to by the end”. It got me thinking how I could become so involved and enamored with a show in which you literally despise the lead character for all the bad he or she does.
That said, this does this not apply to every character that expresses dark behavior. Take for instance Dexter Morgan (Michael C Hall). The guy is a serial killer (who only kills bad people) whose actions led to the death of his wife Rita (Julie Benz) and several other innocent people along the way (Doakes, his sister Deb and LaGuerta to name a few) yet we are rooting for him to evade the law and continue on his merry killing way while, watching Breaking Bad, all I wanted was for Hank to get his man and put Walter White (Bryan Cranston) away for good.
Nurse Jackie’s Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is another prime example of a love/hate relationship. The pill popping superstar nurse all but ruined her marriage, her career and treated friends and co-workers like trash all while downing copious amounts of pills and having an illicit affair and all I wanted was for her to get what she had coming. I disliked Jackie Peyton for all the horrible she brought to peoples lives.
Yet going as far back as the 90’s with the Aaron Spelling soap Melrose Place. Two of the show’s most devious characters Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton) and Dr. Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross) both slept and blackmailed and even bombed their way through a decent run of the series, but in true form, all I wanted for these crazy ladies was to come out on top.
What I can’t get my head around is what is the difference between Walter White and Dexter Morgan and Jackie Peyton and Sydney Andrews? Each are flawed, each have done inexplicable acts and yet i’m divided as to who I root for and whom I want to receive their comeuppance.
Part of it, I think, is because we go into a show, say like Dexter, knowing he is a serial killer. There’s no surprise shock act that makes us question our feelings towards him. Same applied to Kimberly and Sydney on Melrose Place. The two made a splash on their entrance, letting us all know they were here to cause trouble, while on the other hand, when we meet Walter White, he’s a married science teacher who’s discovered he has cancer. We want to resonate with his less than perfect life situations and we do….but then we witness his actions of atrocity (including poisoning a little boy) and suddenly we begin to question.
It’s this tickle on our emotions that makes characters like Walter White and Jackie Peyton so different from those like the Melrose duo, Dexter Morgan even American Horror Story Coven’s Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) or Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Mad Men’s Don Draper (Jon Hamm).