Dare We Shed a Tear for Walter White?

Walter White.  Man.  Walter White.

And so the last episode of Breaking Bad has broken over us like a tsunami wave on a beach. And we are left in its aftermath to try to make sense of the wreckage.

Warning: Spoilers.

I came to the Breaking Bad party late. Two and half weeks ago I watched the pilot episode. I loved it. I was overcome by a fear that the end of the series would be spoiled if I didn’t watch the final episode on time. Averaging 3 episodes per evening, I made it to the finale last night (watching Ozymandias and Granite State as the lead-in). The finale was brilliant. It wrapped most everything up with a flourish, and both lead characters, having the consequences of their brutal actions served up to them on cold pates, found freedom in their own escape. For me, Jesse Pinkman, the emotionally damaged punching-bag, shall relish his physical liberty (he’ll obviously never break free of the awful memories which now and forever eat away at and cripple his spirit) until he messes up again (I see a lot of jail time in his future because he simply never learns) and Walter White/Heisenberg, having welcomed death on his own terms, goes into the great unknown with a smile–it was, as he admits, all about him all along, and he dies knowing that he finally reached the pinnacle (albeit a twisted version) of his long self-suppressed genius-potential.

This morning I read two thoughtful reviews on the finale and the series posted on the Daily Beast http://t.co/3vSwHu8nOm and the New York Times http://t.co/A4kfPDayIi.  I’m not going to recap them here but I’ll add a few thoughts–that’s what a blog is for, right?  In some small part of me, I was rooting for Walter White right up to the end.  If I ever run into real-life versions of Walter and Jesse I will dread them and steer as wide a path around them as geographically possible. But as fictional characters they provide endless fascination; as multilayered bad guys they also generate moments of empathy.  Who can not feel sorry for Walter at the beginning of the series, with his diagnosis and the seething rage, the quiet desperation bottled up inside of him?  For all of us who try to play by life’s rules and suffer its frustrations it is always a thrill to see the cork pop on a character.  Walter, released from all restrictions by his impending doom, takes action to prove to himself and everyone that he is the brilliant scientist that no one else knows he is.

Walter gives in to his ego, his id, and once the id is in control nothing else but the self matters.  Nothing.  Heisenberg is a real-life manifestation of Walter’s id, a walking, talking, glowering megalomaniacal monster bending the world to its will with bloody hands.  Heisenberg has always been coiled in the pit of Walter’s unconscious and when the call to action comes, Heisenberg is ready.  He knows exactly what to do. In the universe of the pure id, meth-brewing, the finest version of the drug ever seen, is an acceptable forum to prove Walter’s scientific brilliance. For the pure id, murder is an acceptable method of problem-solving.  Intellectually, Walter knows that everything he is doing is wrong but he steps aside and allows the id to rule him because he must win. He openly admits this decision at the end of the series, but he knew what he was doing all along.

In the end, as the light fades in Walter White’s eyes, he looks upon a meth lab like a man visiting the garage where his start-up business first sprang to life.  Walter dies with a smile on his face because he got what he wanted–his id unleashed without civilized control got him what he wanted: the money, the fame, the dark fulfillment, the personal self-satisfaction.  Walter dies knowing that his family’s money, stacks and stacks of money, is safe and the world now recognizes him as a brilliant mastermind.  By giving himself over to his ego and accepting the pain it would inflict upon him and everyone around him, Walter White won.  To hell with his family, to hell with his society, to hell with everything normal people hold dear.  He won.  And make no mistake, the man smiling at the end of Breaking Bad is Walter White: the id is gone now, re-submerged, having served its purpose, leaving the man himself to stand proud upon the blood-soaked peak of his own miserable but undeniably impressive accomplishments.

Walter White is vile. Jesse and every other low-life creep in their circle (most now dead by Felina) of drug cookers, pushers and distributors are vile, no matter what positive attributes they might possess. But Walter and Jesse are creations of fiction. We have seen into their minds.  The writers and Cranston have played the game so well that I can never shake feelings of pity for the guys.  Walter is a creature of the civilization which birthed him, one which labels you a failure if you don’t earn stacks of money, if you don’t live in a Taos mansion and if you don’t have a blue celebrity checkmark beside your name on Twitter.  Walter is one of us at the beginning, the everyman. Creator Vince Gilligan states that the goal of the series was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.  If I could be so bold–and this is just my own interpretation–I would reword Gilligan’s statement slightly.  I would say the goal of the series was to let all of us into the skull-theater to watch Mr. Chips submit wholeheartedly to the immense will of his inner Scarface–the unchecked, unvarnished, empty-eyed id-beast of self interest we all see in ourselves from time to time–and use it to win.

Heisenberg is the monster from our nightmares, the one which frightens us so much because we all recognize that he, perhaps as old as our genetic material, lives somewhere within us all.  It’s all about our chemistry.  “I am Legend,” Walter could have said with his final breath.  And he would have been right.

I’ll be Reading and Signing at Mysterious Galaxy on Oct. 26

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Redondo Beach, CA.

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Redondo Beach, CA.

If you’re in the neighborhood, I’ll be participating in a Terror Buffet reading and signing event at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in Redondo Beach on October 26th. Join myself and ten Southern California authors of epic and urban fantasy, steampunk, mystery, and horror for an afternoon of genre celebration. Participants include: Melissa Olson (Trail of Dead), Richard Ellis Preston Jr. (Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders), Kate Maruyama (Harrowgate), Andrew E. Kaufman (Darkness and Shadow), Kathy Danley  (The Woodcutter), Rob Kroese  (Disenchanted), and Lee Goldberg (Monk, The Heist) and a bunch of other The Dead Man authors: David Martin Tully , Lisa Klink, and Phoef Sutton.


The First Edition of the Newsletter is Out!

The first edition of my A Bag of Good Writing Newsletter is hot off the presses.  Please click on the attached link to peruse and feel free to sign up on the widget here on the site.


Anne Charnock on Her New Sci-Fi Novel, “A Calculated Life”

I am honored to welcome the fantastic science fiction author Anne Charnock to the blog today!  Anne just released her new science fiction novel, A Calculated Life, yesterday, which has been described as a “Stunningly relevant re-imagining of 21st century Britain as a bioengineered corporate dystopia.” (Chris Graham)

A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock

A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock

In the following piece Anne talks about the steampunkish history of her home town of Manchester, why she chose it as the setting for her new novel (which takes place in the near future), and gives us a brief introduction to both herself and the story:

Anne Charnock: If you ranked British cities according to their steampunk credentials, I reckon that my home city of Manchester, in the north of England, would be top of the list. Why do I say that? Well, Manchester was the first global industrial city and steam power was the key to its growth. The first railway station on the planet was built in Manchester. That alone should put my city top of the list.

I was raised in one of the largest cotton mill towns on the outskirts of Manchester – Bolton – and I can remember as a child looking down from the surrounding hills and seeing a town huddled around dozens of mill chimneys. Although the cotton industry went into terminal decline during my childhood you could still walk alongside an operating mill and hear the slapping of shuttles in weaving looms.

And I have incised memories of my parents taking me, my sister and brothers to a stone bridge over the local railway line, where we’d wave to the engine driver of the lunchtime steam train. It blasted along the tracks and the driver always blew the whistle as we disappeared in clouds of steam and smoke. We often made these short trips during our school lunch break and I’d return to school with specks of soot on my shirt collar.
Anne Charnock
I chose Manchester as the setting for my near-future novel, A Calculated Life, because ever since the Industrial Revolution this city has maintained its record of innovation, often centred on research at Manchester University. In fact the computer revolution began there in 1948 when “The Baby” machine ran its first stored programme. Where better to set a science fiction story?

Although my novel imagines a future Manchester Metropolis, I allow the city’s industrial history to seep into the narrative. In Chapter Six, for example, my main character Jayna makes a clandestine visit outside the city limits and I describe her walk to the shuttle terminus:

“Leaving the commercial district, she walked along the glass-walled buildings of the sprawling university complex. The pavements widened and the dense canopies of whitebeam gave intermittent shade to the weekend pedestrians. Relegated, she thought, these whitebeam; just a form of sunblock now. But, once upon a time, they were the stuff of industry; the cogs, literally!”

Whitebeam wood made particularly strong cogs for early industrial machinery, just as Jayna – with her hyper-intelligence – becomes a strong cog in a late 21st century corporation.

Here’s a summary of A Calculated Life:

Late in the twenty-first century, big business is booming and state institutions are thriving thanks to advances in genetic engineering, which have produced a compliant population free of addictions. Violent crime is a rarity.

Hyper-intelligent Jayna is a star performer at top predictive agency Mayhew McCline, where she forecasts economic and social trends. A brilliant mathematical modeler, she far outshines her co-workers, often correcting their work on the quiet. Her latest coup: finding a link between northeasterly winds and violent crime.

When a string of events contradicts her forecasts, Jayna suspects she needs more data and better intuition. She needs direct interactions with the rest of society. Bravely—and naively—she sets out to disrupt her strict routine and stumbles unwittingly into a world where her IQ is increasingly irrelevant…a place where human relationships and the complexity of life are difficult for her to decode. And as she experiments with taking risks, she crosses the line into corporate intrigue and disloyalty.

Can Jayna confront the question of what it means to live a “normal” life? Or has the possibility of a “normal” life already been eclipsed for everyone?

And a little bit about me:

Anne’s writing career began in journalism. Her articles appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, International Herald Tribune, and Geographical. She travelled widely as a foreign correspondent and spent a year trekking through Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya. Anne is an active blogger and contributes reviews and book recommendations to the Huffington Post. She splits her time between London and Chester and, whenever possible, she and her husband, Garry, take off in their little campervan to southern Europe, and as far as the Anti-Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ACalculatedLife

Twitter: https://twitter.com/annecharnock

Website: http://annecharnock.com/