Monday, September 30, 2013

The One Who Knocks: Breaking Bad, I Am Legend, and the Bogeyman

Remember My Name

Posted by Chris Haire on Mon, Sep 30, 2013 at 11:09 AM

As last night's "Breaking Bad" came to a close, it quickly became clear that Vince Gilligan's award-winning series wasn't the Shakespearean drama so many desperately wanted it to be. And it wasn't the morality tale that others argued that it was. In the end, "Breaking Bad" was a wish-fulfillment fantasy in which one man inadvertently becomes the bogeyman and he loves it. Which is exactly why Gilligan crafted a happy ending for Skyler, Flynn, Holly, Jesse, and even Heisenberg himself. 

Long before the blue meth kingpin fell to the floor in Uncle Jack's meth lab, Walter White was dead. Exactly when that happened, well, that's hard to pin down, but an argument can certainly be made that Walter White did not fully come to be Heisenberg until the keys to the stolen car in Vermont fell from the visor heavens — after a prayer no less to whatever dark lord Mr. White worships. At that moment, the former school teacher was no more. Any fear that he had that he might not be able to exact his revenge — and to save his family — were over with. It was then that the fearless Heisenberg finally took over. Only then would he finally be able to remind the people of Albuquerque, N.M., why he should be feared. 

When Walter White learned that he was dying of cancer, his mission was never to care for his family. It was solely a desire to be remembered. He feared that his wife would move on, and that his son would eventually forget him, and that his unborn daughter would never even know who her father was. He was a man of great potential who had never made a name for himself. He had settled for a life as a milquetoast living in mediocrity. Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him. It not only ate away at his body, it ate away at the shackles that prevented him from being what he was always meant to be, a bogeyman. And in the world of drug dealers and crime lords, Heisenberg was the worst of them. 

One of the most amusing moments in the final episode of "Breaking Bad" occurred when Marie tells Sklyer that Walt is not a criminal mastermind. While Skyler's expression is blank, you can tell that she scoffs at her sister's claim. She knows better. And so does everyone else.

Although it's only touched on briefly here and there in the final episodes of the series, Heisenberg is such a fearsome figure that he's the source of national discussion — Walt's talked about on Charlie Rose of all places like he's a common dinner table conversation topic like Obamacare, Miley Cyrus, or sexting. He is a source of myth and legend. Teens sneak into his now abandoned house and summon his spirit through spray paint and haunted house dares. Even Marie acknowledges how much the police and the people of Albuquerque fear him. She speaks of manifestos and city hall bombings, as if Heisenberg would be bothered with such things. He wouldn't. But make no mistake, for the people in New Mexico, Heisenberg is the white devil that hides in the shadows. He is the one who knocks. 

Like Robert Neville in Richard Matheson's vampire apocalypse classic, "I Am Legend," Walter White starts off as a a hero who through his own relentless drive to survive discovers that he has become the villain, the bogeyman of legend. Walter White's final acts only cement that legend. Instead of hiding out — and eventually being caught — he returns to his home and kills the very people who attempted to rob him of his legendary status — and his wealth — and he does it in such a calculating and effective method that the public will have little to no choice but to admire him, if they don't already admire him for all that he has previously accomplished, from cornering the meth market in the Southeast to creating a car wash empire to launder his blood money to ordering the massive prison hit that kept him out of jail. He is a criminal mastermind that demands respect.

Heisenbeg may ultimately be a villain, but he is a meth monster of myth that the people will never forget. And when they say his name — which they inevitably will — they will do so quietly and then quickly look over their shoulders. Legends never die. They're always right behind us.

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