“Breaking Bad”

I hesitate to even write this blog, as it is about theology in a TV show that I don’t even know that I would recommend you watch. But since it seems like everyone is already watching it, or watched it long ago, I am going to go ahead and write.
For the past month, I have been obsessed. They say the new way to watch TV is to “binge watch,” which means watching an entire series from start to finish. I had tried to watch “Breaking Bad” a few years ago, but didn’t think I could stomach it. It is the story of a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has lung cancer, wants to provide for his family after his death, so he joins with a former student in making crystal meth. The show turns horrifically violent at times but it never glamorizes drug use. I started watching it again about a month ago, and it sucked me right in. I find it to be hands down the best character study I have ever watched. And a portrait of the way sin and the devil suck us in, even with all of our good intentions.
[Spoiler alert] Walt [the teacher] and Jesse [the student] start out just to make money to pay some bills and get money for Walt’s kids to go to college. He even has a figure in mind, around $800,000. But once everyone realizes his chemical genius and how much people will be willing to pay for his meth, the millions start rolling in, and Walt becomes the most ruthless drug czar around.
But you root for him [actually you root for Jesse more], but you at least relate. At the end of the series, they take you back to the first time Walt decides to make meth and right after, he calls his wife who is newly pregnant and they decide on a name for their daughter. He says they should go on a trip that weekend, and you realize the naiveté with which he started.
And isn’t that so tricky of sin and the devil? I’ll just try this once. No one has to know. It won’t really affect my life. And then when no one finds out, it is so much easier the next time. We end up coming up with all kinds of arguments about how what we are doing is actually a good thing. How it is helping others or not as bad as we originally thought.
As I think back over the series and the last episode, I see it as a critique of “The American Dream.” First there is Jesse. He is sort of a henchman for Walt, and he allows Walt to live in the world without witnessing how horribly what he does affects people. In fact, Walt only witnesses drug use once or twice in the 5 seasons. But Jesse has to hang out with a little boy whose parents are strung out on meth. He has to watch a kid get shot by the cartel. He wakes up next to the dead body of his girlfriend who dies of an overdose.
Walt has to watch his wife start to despise him and his best friend and DEA agent brother-in-law doubt him and die, but he avoids the seedy underbelly of what he is doing. And he does it while all the while convincing himself that everything he is doing is for his family.
I was thinking of how many things we do “for our families,” in particular working lots of hours to provide for them. And then how one day we wake up and realize we don’t even know our family any more. We got sucked into the “dream” of more and bigger and security, but those are all illusions.
Walt finally admits at the end that he did what he did—got himself to the pinnacle of the drug cartel—for him and no one else. He wanted the power. He wanted the recognition. And he destroyed the lives of everyone he loved in the process.
Is there anything in your life that has taken over? I know making crystal meth is an extreme example, but maybe you are working a job you hate and it is making you difficult to be around. Maybe you are an addict or not taking care of your body like you should. Maybe you are watching “Breaking Bad” and ignoring your kids and husband [ha].
We are all in bondage to sin. We cannot free ourselves. We think of ourselves first and foremost. And our heart plays tricks on us. Things feel good when they aren’t good for us. Things seem ok when they are hurtful to others.
Walt never had a community. With the exception of Jesse, he did not have anyone who told him what he was doing was wrong, because no one really knew all that he was doing. His wife, brother-in-law, Jesse, they were all given half-truths. Maybe to protect them, but more to protect Walt.
After Jesus rose from the dead and was teaching his disciples one last time, he told them that they would need to forgive sins. And in order to forgive sins, you first have to hear a confession. This is so important for us as we fight the battle with sin and the devil. Most often, we can confess to God directly, but we also often need to confess to God by talking to a trusted friend, or pastor, or doctor. Someone we know will not sugar-coat things.
A person like this is hard to find. But God gives those people to us. You might be called to be that person for someone else. Pay attention. Forgive each other and hold each other accountable. We don’t often realize it, but I believe our lives really do depend on it. Because confessing our sins and giving and receiving forgiveness is the only way to truly break the bad in us.

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