HomeUncategorizedViolent TV:Breaking Bad and Sense8

Violent TV:Breaking Bad and Sense8

The New Agey Netflix show “Sense8” gives a strong emotional texture to multicultural society and multi-humanoid solidarity.  The normal “human” friends of the core 8 superhuman characters are just as important to them as the 8 sensates are to each other.  This gives the series’ argument for empathy more weight.  What detracts from it is not necessarily the presence of extreme violence but the way it is used melodramatically.

I think the Wachowskis may have done a better job had they gotten more time. Netflix pulled the plug, and then, because of the fan outcry, gave them a two hour finale which only solidified the melodramatic structure.  “Whispers” and his group are cartoonishly evil and little attempt is made to complicate them or explore why they exist.  They are a simple evil contaminating force.  Wolfgang’s violence is sometimes well played for tragic effect, but this goes out the window as violence is unquestionably used as the purifying force to defeat the enemies of diversity and empathy.  It’s a strong mirror for the problems of liberal multiculturalism where anyone that doesn’t share their views is framed as evil. That said, the show is often a beautiful illustration of multidimensional consciousness as it uses film to show how much each of our struggles is connected to others across the planet.

Though the entertainment media event this week was all about another movie wrap up to a big tv show, “Breaking Bad”.  “Breaking Bad” was one of the most watched shows of the handful of critically acclaimed programs of the recent golden age. Hardly any normal people watched “the Wire”.  However, “Breaking Bad” was problematic in that, though it framed Walter White’s violence as a tragic fall into immorality, people identified with him too much, with the passive beta male becoming drug kingpin.  The show ended years ago, but in the recent netflix movie “El Camino”, we get an understated epilogue which shows the other main character, Jesse, learning to overcome his passivity in a more humble, but no less violent way than the main character had done.  In “Breaking Bad”, it was Jesse’s “empathy” that had kept him subservient to others throughout the show, and so in the recent movie, he is learning to individuate.  

Part of the problem with tragedy and with the tendency towards relativism in postmodern metaphysics, is the deadlock of undecidability that characters like Jesse have a hard time breaking through.  In contemporary society we often just “go with the flow” as Jesse does, because making moral judgments in a complex world with no overarching metaphysic can seem like an arbitrary choice.  In the sitcom on moral philosophy called “The Good Place”, this is made a source of comedy, as characters try to do the “right thing” to get into heaven, yet find that making moral choices in our age based on any calculation or moral rule is basically impossible. In “Breaking Bad”, Jesse was often overwhelmed by the wills of others, always having to choose between two wrongs, unable to create a third option that would make him author of his own life.  

As I argue in “It Could Have Been Otherwise” , the culture is attempting to construct a hero myth that can break free from the relativism of tragedy, and the melodrama of traditional myth, and construct a metaphyisc for the postmodern age—one where the hero defines his own destiny in the chaos of contemporary society.  This is opposed to merely being tragically humbled into “empathy”, which can become tragically passive, or, alternatively (or what is often the case these days, as in sense8, simultaneously), a regression to and reaffirmation of a traditional good/evil metanarrative.  For empathy is only “universal” in the abstract, or in the dreams of the New Age counterculture.  Choices have to be made and too strong identification with one side can mean violent antipathy to the other.  Yet too easy identification with any side and you get Jesse, bouncing around as the pawn of others.

The new Breaking Bad movie suffers from some of the same problems the show did, as they both frame excessive violence with a pleasure that the hero and we are meant to enjoy.  Though with Jesse, we see this as connected more to a character finally taking control of his life rather than with Walter where we see him enjoying it for the sheer power over others it makes him feel. Still it falls short of the shows that have more successfully created a Nietzschean/postmodern hero myth like: “The Leftovers”, “Man in the High Castle”, and “Mr. Robot”….

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