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"Breaking Bad" as a modern western

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Title:
"Breaking Bad" as a modern western revising frontier myths of masculinity, savagery, and empire
Creator:
Clark, J. J. ( author )
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
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Language:
English
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1 electronic file (92 pages). : ;

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of English, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
English

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Breaking Bad (Television program) ( lcsh )
Western television programs ( lcsh )
Television programs ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Review:
This paper offers an analysis of the AMC television series Breaking Bad by placing it directly into the tradition of frontier narratives and the Western film. It looks to understand the aspects of the Western genre that the series revises as well as understand Breaking Bad as both a revisionist Western that redefines certain tropes common to the family-centered Western, as well as a Meta-Western that calls attention to the impact of the frontier myth on modern characters like Walter White. It finds that to make a "contemporary Western," as creator Vince Gilligan termed it, the show revises the traditional Western narrative by denying a regenerative quality to violence and demanding a multicultural, complicated, and ongoing understanding of the American frontier. The paper concludes by analyzing how the show's cultural allegories are a reaction to, and a critique of, a modern crisis of masculinity and the American empire.
Thesis:
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Colorado Denver. English
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographic references.
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System Requirements: Adobe Reader.
General Note:
Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by J. J. Clark.

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University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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902879881 ( OCLC )
ocn902879881

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Full Text
BREAKING BAD AS A MODERN WESTERN: REVISING FRONTIER MYTHS OF
MASCULINITY, SAVAGERY, AND EMPIRE
by
J.J. CLARK
B.A., Colorado State University, 2004
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment Of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts English
2014


2014 J.J. CLARK
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
11


This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by J.J. Clark
has been approved for the English Program by
Philip Joseph, Chair Rodney Herring Sarah Hagelin
in


Clark, J.J. (M.A. English)
Breaking Bad as a Modern Western: Revising Frontier Myths of Masculinity, Savagery, and Empire
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Philip Joseph.
ABSTRACT
This paper offers an analysis of the AMC television series Breaking Bad by placing it directly into the tradition of frontier narratives and the Western film. It looks to understand the aspects of the Western genre that the series revises as well as understand Breaking Bad as both a revisionist Western that redefines certain tropes common to the family-centered Western, as well as a Meta-Western that calls attention to the impact of the frontier myth on modern characters like Walter White. It finds that to make a contemporary Western, as creator Vince Gilligan termed it, the show revises the traditional Western narrative by denying a regenerative quality to violence and demanding a multicultural, complicated, and ongoing understanding of the American frontier. The paper concludes by analyzing how the shows cultural allegories are a reaction to, and a critique of, a modern crisis of masculinity and the American empire.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: Philip Joseph
IV


DEDICATION
This thesis was simultaneously the most exciting type of research I have ever done and the most difficult. There are many people without whom this thesis, and this degree, would not have been possible.
First of all I want to thank the love of my life, my wife Emily. Not only was she accepting about the idea of me going to graduate school, but she was excited, positive, supportive, and always willing to say yes when I needed yet another Friday or Saturday night to read or write. Without her at home driving me and pushing me to write, think, and converse about philosophy, literature, and sometimes just bad television, I would not have survived the research process. Thank you Emily, I owe this paper and this degree to you.
Thank you Philip Joseph for saying yes to this project and meeting me with such great excitement and ideas. Thank you for hounding me on campus when I was not writing enough, pushing my ideas past their rough first draft infancy, and challenging both the way I write and the way I think about texts. The first course I took for this degree was yours, and I was exceptionally happy that I could bookend my experience here with you. You brought an inspired perspective to the project that surely it would have failed without.
Thank you Rodney Herring for saying yes to the initial independent study that inspired this project. I loved the American West and wanted to learn more, and that was enough for you to say yes to spending a semester reading Turner, Limerick, Twain, Smith, and many others on my path in discovering the literature and philosophy surrounding the American Frontier. Thank you for so many great conversations and positivity.
v


Thank you Sarah Hagelin for saying yes to being on my committee despite the fact that we had never met before. You did not even flinch at my request, and your input and expertise was wonderful. You reminded me how inspiring it is to have professors who are simply excited about ideas and willing to watch them develop.
Thank you Selena Dickey for so many wonderful conversations at coffee shops, and for allowing me to watch you through your process. Thank you to Justin Bain, Drew Bixby, and the entire crew at the UC Denver Writing Center. You gave me a job and a space when I began this degree that taught me the methods of composition that I needed to complete this thesis.
Thank you Jolon Clark and Jeff Shoemaker for employing me part time during my degree. I have, and always will continue to love what the Greenway Foundation does, and I am in debt to you for employing me for the majority of my life in such ways that made my life choices possible. Thank you so much.
Thank you Matt Murphy, Chris Faller, Evan Durland, and all of my friends for swimming with me and making sure that my academic and critical conversations did not end in the classroom. You created a state of mind in which I could excitedly pursue this research.
Thank you Jana and Joe Clark, my parents, who have always valued education and always asked about my course reading lists because of the unending curiosity that drives the inspired personalities you have. I owe you my love of learning and ideas, and without you watching my newborn daughter, who was the biggest and most welcome distraction to my writing, I surely would never have finished. Thank you for loving her and watching her when I needed time to draft.
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Finally, I want to thank my daughter Olive who came into my life the semester I drafted the majority of this thesis. Thank you for giving me a drive to complete this degree and a perspective on my life that allowed me to revise and compose more efficiently. Editing and revising major sections with you sleeping on my chest in between changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking you to sleep is the only way I would have ever wanted to complete a Masters thesis. I love you.
Vll


CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION..............................................................1
CHAPTER
I. THE COLLAPSE OF THE DOMESTIC AND WILDERNESS...............................6
Placing Breaking Bad in the Western Tradition..........................6
Rethinking the Domestic and the Wilderness: Space and Behavior.........12
Overlap of The Domestic and the Wilderness..........................16
Rhetoric of Necessity and Walter Whites Empire of Innocence...........24
Violence and the Contamination of the House.........................36
Violence at Home or Domestic Violence...............................39
II. BREAKING BAD'S CULTURAL MOMENT: A CRISIS OF MASCULINITY AND
THE AMERICAN EMPIRE.......................................................45
The Hat and the Gun: Walt and Mythic Masculinity.......................46
Myth of Manhood: Masculinity, Fatherhood, and The Role of the Provider.50
The Garden in the Machine...........................................63
Myth of Heisenberg and the End of an Empire.........................66
CONCLUSION................................................................78
BIBLIOGRAPHY..............................................................80
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INTRODUCTION
In an interview with Bill Nevins in March 2013, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan said: Gradually, after the first Breaking Bad episode, it started to dawn on me that we could be making a contemporary Western. So you see scenes that are like gunfighters squaring off, like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.1 Breaking Bad chronicles the story of the emasculated, genius, high-school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Over the course of the series he is transformed into a hyper-violent international meth producing drug kingpinhis alter ego Heisenberg. Walt is accompanied in this transformation by Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a meth producer, user, and ex-student of Walts. The cast of characters and this five-season plot might not immediately invoke the Western tradition, so this thesis works to understand what, exactly, is contemporary or modem about Breaking Bads portrayal of the frontier. It looks to understand the aspects of the Western genre that the series revises as well as place Breaking Bad as both a revisionist Western that redefines certain tropes common to the family-centered Western, as well as a Meta-Western that calls attention to the impact of the frontier myth on modem characters like Walter White.
The modern conversation about the frontier is one that is always working to understand and revise the century-old theoretical discussion inspired by Frederick Jackson Turners 1893 Frontier Thesis, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. In the Thesis, Turner argues that the frontier was a meeting place between
1 LocallQ, Contemporary Western: An interview with Vince Gilligan, 27 March 2013, http://www.local-
iq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3019
1


savagery and civilization. The frontier, for Turner, was a place in which the westering pioneers were transformed by the savage laws of the natural frontier but ultimately tamed those laws and settled the land.2 Theorists have since troubled this theory by accepting the real and lasting effects of violence on the frontier and redefining the frontier in more culturally responsible ways.3 In her influential and essential works of cultural history The Legacy of Conquest and The Frontier in American Culture, American historian Patricia Limerick works to revise the pervasive (and idealistic) Turnerian frontier into a modem frontier that is more historically accurate and culturally and theoretically competent. She defines this frontier as la frontera:
There is the much more familiar, English, usage of the frontier as the place where white settlers entered a zone of free land and opportunity. But there is the much less familiar, but much more realistic, usage of la frontera, the borderlands between Mexico and the United States. This is not simply a place where two groups meet.. .In the twentieth century with conflicts over the restriction of immigration, with disputes over water flow and environmental pollution, and with a surge of industrial development and population growth from American-owned businesses (maquiladoras) operating in northern Mexico, conditions along the border remain far from tranquil. In the idea of la frontera, there is no illusion of vacancy, of triumphal conclusions, or of simplicity.4
The frontier as a borderland where countries, peoples, and armies meet in an ongoing process of cultural import is exactly the frontier that Gilligan generates in Breaking Bad. Limerick goes on to redefine the frontier as a space consisting of multiple borders between countries, between peoples, between authorities, sometimes between armies.5 In a move that challenges Turners closing of the frontier, Limerick argues that the
2 Frederick Jackson turner, The Frontier in American History (Lexington, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013).
3 See generally: Henry Nash Smith Virgin Land', Richard Slotkin Gunfighter Nation and The Fatal Environment, Patricia Limerick Legacy of Conquest, The Frontier in American Culture.
4 Patricia Limerick The Frontier in American Culture in In American Culture, ed. R. James Grossman (University of California Press, 1994), Kindle File. Emphasis original
5 Limerick The Frontier in American Culture
2


frontier remains to be a complex, populated and evolving borderland. Breaking Bad generates just such a multicultural borderland that threatens the traditional ethnocentric understanding of the historic and current frontiers.
Much like Turners belief that the frontier was a wide, free, savage land meant to be conquered and tamed, Walter White sees the meth industry as wild, savage, and unsophisticateda space that he can tame with his superior understanding of chemistry. Following the criticism of Turners claims that the frontier movement was not a purely positive development of civilization in an empty land, but instead a conquest,6 Walt finds that the wilderness (meth production and sales) is in fact inhabited by a developed and organized system that he must conquer.
In this modernized frontier space, Breaking Bad modifies the family-centered tradition of Western cinema. Many Westerns rely on a tradition of protecting, restoring, or creating the family unit through violence (John Fords Stagecoach, The Searchers', Fred Zinnemans High Noon', Henry Hathaways True Grit). Breaking Bad denies many of the narrative traditions common to family-centered Westerns by not allowing violence to be a groundwork on which Walts family can be maintained or saved. It contemporizes the Western genre by presenting a violent protagonist who also has a familyhe is not a lone gunman, but a modem, highly skilled entrepreneur searching the lawless space of the frontier for a kind of masculinity that he does not have as a father. He sets out, like many great Western protagonists, to keep his family whole, but unlike the Westerns in the tradition, his violence tears them apart.
6 See generally: Patricia Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest (New York: Norton & Company, 1987); Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1998); Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization 1800-1890 (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1998).
3


The first chapter places Breaking Bad into a specific tradition of the family-centered Western that explores the role of the family unit on the frontier by placing it next to various films in order to establish its identity as a revised Western. Specifically I explore John Fords Stagecoach and The Searchers, aspects of Fred Zinnemans High Noon, and finally, Clint Eastwoods revisionist Unforgiven. This collection of Westerns serves to provide a sampling of the narrative tradition as well as comparative protagonists with which to put Walter White. Primarily, it looks to establish one of the key elements of the series that denies the regenerative quality of violence in its unrelenting collapse of the domestic and wilderness spaces. I offer an in-depth analysis of how the series denies the traditional relationship between domesticity and violence by analyzing how the series places domesticity and wilderness into an ongoing and inseparable relationship that contaminates the domestic space. In this chapter, I look closely into the violence Walt exerts over his family and others in order to exemplify the series denial that violence can serve to maintain the domestic. Rather, in the series, we see a more realistic dynamic in which violence destroys the family. Additionally, this chapter argues that Walt, confronted with a failure to keep the savage violence away from his family, rhetorically places himself as a victim of circumstance in order to justify his use of violence. This discussion ends by considering the irrevocable damage Walts violence does to his family, and how that is metaphorically and literally played out in the material nature of his home and his domestic relationships.
The second chapter adds another classic western archetype to the conversation by analyzing how the myth of the masculine Western gunslinger in spaghetti westerns like Sergio Leones Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
4


invoke a modern crisis of masculinity in Walt through a use of familiar icons like the cowboy hat and the gun. This chapter goes on to explore the role of masculinity in the show as representative of a current cultural fear about the dissolution of the dominant role of white American men. Walter White, as well as many other leading male roles in recent popular television dramas, is in a crisis of masculinity. This chapter explores Walts crisis as it juggles a myth of manhood and the role of the father as a provider, as well as the role of violent aggression in defining masculinity. The chapter concludes by exploring the current cultural fear about the decline of the American empire.
The paper concludes by briefly iterating the concept of Breaking Bad as a meta-Western and the cultural import of such a narrative to the Western tradition. This explains that Walt, as a representative white American male, becomes a specter of American manhood and the American Dream.
5


CHAPTER I
THE COLLAPSE OF THE DOMESTIC AND WILDERNESS
I believe it is possible for a man, Walter White, to go out and to kill a rival of his, and yet wash his hands and gently and lovingly pick up his baby daughter and caress her and love her as a father. We are capable of that, of those wide swings as human beings. It is frightening in a way.7
- Bryan Cranston on his character Walter White
Placing Breaking Bad in the Western Tradition
The above quote is indicative of the character the series creates with Walter White, but the show revises the relationship between the domestic sphere and the violent wilderness because both exist within Walt, but the outcome of this coexistence is destructive to his family. In order to see what Breaking Bad revises with regards to the family tradition in the Western and ideals of domesticity on the frontier, we can look at the relationship between the family unit and violence in a few classic family-centered Westerns. In John Fords Stagecoach and The Searchers, we see traditional Western archetypes and values played out. In Stagecoach, a group of white pioneers venture out into a vast unsettled landscape under the constant threat of the violent and dehumanized American Indians. In the frontier landscape we meet a collection of archetypes, the prostitute, the man of the law, the drunken doctor, the lover trying to get to her husband, and the protagonist criminal with a good heart played by John Wayne. They survive the violence of the wilderness in a climactic attack on the stagecoach by the American Indians, an attack finally saved by the military cavalry. In the end, after much death and other acts of violence including a fatal shootout in which John Waynes character kills three men in an act of revenge, all possible family units are restored and the wilderness is
7 Episode 707: Bryan Cranston Exclusive, YouTube video, 31:45, posted by New Mexico In Focus, a Production of KNME-TV, August 16, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ULfCtRz82k.
6


settled both physically and metaphorically. The Ringo Kid (John Wayne), the criminal, is allowed to settle his revenge through violence and murder, and yet both he and the prostitute ride off into the sunset to his ranch in Texas, escaping their wild behavior and choosing to be settled. In a process that aligns with Turners description of the frontier, past crimes are forgiven and balance is restored through settlement and family. The law forgives The Ringo Kid under the principle that he is now going to be settled. The family unit holds a metaphoric power that allows the law to forgive murder if the act of violence was done to restore domesticity.
While The Searchers came later in Fords career and the shape of the protagonist changes, it continues the importance of the family unit.8 It relies on similar concepts that favor settlement and view violence as necessary if only to restore the family. In the film, American Indians kidnap a girl from a white pioneer family in an act of savagery. The entire film is dedicated to the search for the girl in order to bring her back and restore the family. Here, the protagonist is not directly part of the family unit, but he is also not an outlaw. He is an ex-confederate officer who fits into the independent masculine cowboy archetype, but he is still driven by restoring certain values. He spends five years searching for the girl and saves her in a violent climax in which he scalps her captor, the American Indian Scar. She is saved through violence. The different shape of the protagonist (when compared to the end of Stagecoach) is obvious in the epic final shot. He carries the girl to the porch of the family, restoring the family unit and ideals, but rather than fitting into the family, he turns away as they enter the house and returns alone back to the dusty, windy desert. The violent individual can still help to restore the family,
8 The Searchers, directed by John Ford (1939; Santa Clarita, California: Walter Wanger Productions), Streaming video.
7


but is no longer, as in Stagecoach, able to find that settlement himself. This kind of principled narrative is repeated countless times in the Western tradition.9
This anti-hero role paved the way for the protagonists in Westerns such as True Grit and Unforgiven. In Unforgiven, Will Munny (Clint Eastwood) is called away from his family ranch (where his two children reside and a gravestone marks the burial site of his deceased wife) in order to take revenge on a band of violent cowboys on behalf of a disgraced and wounded prostitute. The film, therefore, allows for varying levels of acceptable violencethere is a code of honor that Munny acts to uphold. Unforgiven, differently than Stagecoach, twists the protagonist into a character who is not entirely untouched by the violence of the frontier. It calls into question the myth of the violent gunman and allows the protagonist to feel guilt and sadness for his past violence. After a mythic shootout where he survives a fight in which he was wildly outnumbered, Munny returns to his children and stands by the grave of his wife. His image fades out and an epilogue explains that the mother of his wife would never know why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.10 Munny is a revised protagonist, one who is affected by the violence he performs, but still uses violence to defend domestic ideals. His act of violence is defensible because it serves as revenge for another, more grotesque violence.
Even anti-heroes in the Western play a role to restore the family unit (as John Waynes characters do in both The Searchers and True Grit), but the modern landscape of the frontier narrative in Breaking Bad does not allow Walt this restoration. His actions are irreversible and his violence (physical and emotional) so extreme that the family unit
9 This theme can be seen in Henry Hathaways True Grit, Sergio Leones Once Upon a Time in the West, and many others.
10 Unforgiven, directed by Clint Eastwood (1992; Alberta, Canada: Warner Bros.), Streaming video.
8


falls apart in spite of his desire to save it. The savagery he employs does not allow a regenerative settlement. While Munny in Unforgiven is psychologically distressed by his past violence, the violence still allows him to move on and settle with his children. Walt simultaneously plays the role of the violent outsider and father, but instead of restoring the family he is the agent of its dissolution. Walt cannot go into the lawless space of the frontier, scalp his enemy, and return victorious as John Wayne did. In fact, when he does succeed in killing Gus Fring, the most pronounced opposition to Walt in the series, the violence only serves to intensify his wifes fear of him. He cannot, like Munny, violently kill a room full of gunslingers only to return to his children and move away. After Walts final shootout, he dies alone and leaves a severely damaged family behind.11 The once principled and regenerative relationships between family, settlement, and savagery in Western narratives are, in Breaking Bad, destructive.
This is in part because Breaking Bad does not take place in the same culturally mythic space of the west where threats to family, and therefore the role of the hero to protect it, fulfill archetypes. The aforementioned westerns are set in the past, and as such the culturally limited archetypes of the savage American Indian and the nobly violent white cowboy persist. The threat to the family unit not only comes from outside of the family, but it comes from people who are outside of society either because of their culture or because of their behavior outside of the law. In Stagecoach and The Searchers, the threat is the archetypal othered American Indian, while in True Grit, Once Upon a Time in the West, and High Noon the threat is a group of lawless men of various degrees. Even in Unforgiven, a revisionist western seemingly set apart, the threat to the family unit
11 Felina, Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan (2013; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High Bridge
Productions), Streaming video.
9


comes from outside of the family in the form of, initially, a group of bandits, and finally, a group of men led by a corrupt sheriff. In all of these narratives, the violent heroes and anti-heroes protect and restore domestic relationships. Breaking Bad then, inverts the nature of the threat toward the family by defining Walt, the father who believes himself to be the protector, as a threat.
In the fourth season of the show in the episode Cornered, the conversations between Walt and his wife Skylar serve to finalize what is already evident to the audience: that Walt is, in addition to the protector of the family, also its most imminent threat. This scene is a defining moment as Skylar feels the family is under threat and begs Walt to do what is necessary to save the family. She is calling on him to fulfill the role of the classic Western hero, but his response indicates the series denial of that role for Walt:
Skylar: Walt, I've said it before. If you are in danger, we go to the police.
Walt: I don't wanna hear about the police.
Skylar: I do not say that lightly. I know what it could do to this family. But if it's the only real choice we have, if it's either that or you getting shot.. .You're not some hardened criminal, Walt. You are in over your head. That's what we'll tell them, the truth.
Walt: That is not the truth.
Skylar: Of course it is: a schoolteacher, cancer, desperate for money.. .Roped into working; unable to quit. You told me that yourself, Walt. Jesus, what was I thinking? Walt, please. Let's both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you're in danger.
Walt: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn't believe it. You know what would happen if I decided to stop going in to work?...No. You clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No. 1 am the one who knocks.12
12 Cornered Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan (2011; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High Bridge
Productions), Streaming video. Emphasis added
10


Quite a few essential things happen in this sequence. Skylar attempts to paint Walt as the protector of the family and even persuade him to believe the story himself. She tells him that he is not some hardened criminal and that he is ultimately a victim of circumstance. Walt, rather than fulfilling the role of protector, interprets himself as the danger that Skylar fears. Walt metaphorically denies the frontier myth that would allow his past actions to be justified in the service of protecting his family. This moment warrants a more specific comparison to the denial of mythic identities that takes place in Unforgiven. When the young gunslinger The Schofield Kid (James Woolvett) discusses Munnys violent past with him, Munny denies the myth of a glorious kind of violence and establishes Munnys past behavior as psychologically damaging. Here, Munny denies the myth of the gun-slinging cowboy in lieu of a man who has committed violent acts for which he cannot forgive himself. This places Munny as a tragic character who, because of his seeming alignment with some kind of justice, still remains in the favor of the audience and can act as the protecting agent of his family. Breaking Bad furthers this movement toward a deconstructed hero and a reinterpretation of the impact of violence. Skylar wants to paint Walt with a narrative that allows the violence to be justified, but the frontier in Breaking Bad does not allow a protagonist to have that kind of ideal finish.
Not only does the violence affect Walt, it is something that he embraces, a choice that accounts for Walts failure to fulfill the role of the traditional frontier hero by saving or protecting the family unit.
At the end of the same episode, the destructive impact of Walts fearful identity on his family is solidified. This moment comes after Walt irresponsibly purchases a
11


sports car for his son, an action that could put serious suspicion on their family, as publically, and legally, they do not have much money:
Skylar: And if you're so invested in protecting this family it means protecting the story. What do you think the neighbors are gonna say, Walt? What about Hank and Marie? How about the IRS? What were you thinking, Walt?
Walt: I was thinking that I wanted to do something nice for my son. Look. I just worry that he'll blame you for this.
Skylar: Oh, he will. Once again, he'll blame his bitch mother for taking away what his loving father has given him. So thanks for that. But you know what, Walt? Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.
This scene denies a favorable interpretation of Walt, and puts Skylar, Walts wife, in the position to play the role of the protector while Walt is simultaneously the protector and aggressor. His actions endanger his family by potentially raising suspicion and also force Skylar into a position that will serve to harm her relationship with her son. She is tasked with upholding the lie that they have created in order to keep secret the illegal wealth Walt amasses cooking meth. Walt maintains the appearance of protecting the family and unjustly reaps the adulation of his son.
Rethinking the Domestic and the Wilderness: Space and Behavior
The conceptually productive relationship between the savage wilderness and the domestic sphere began with Turner. He insisted that the development of America was a result of the history of colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.13 By describing the relationship as one of settlement, and one where the free land continually receded, he set up a relationship between civilization and untamed land that productively served to help create the American character. What
13 Turner, The Frontier in American History, 1.
12


complicated this relationship was that Turner did not believe it to be one sided; he
believed that it was the interrelationship between these two worlds that defined American development in terms of adaptation and not exclusively domination. Turner hides the violence of the West and treats settlement as a regenerative process that gives life to civilization. Breaking Bad places the violence at the forefront of the narrative, a move that aligns with contemporary thought on the historic and literary significance of the American West that attempts to understand the violent and destructive nature of the frontier in American history. In Breaking Bad, the conquest that classically allowed for settlement, destroys civilization rather than protecting it.
Gilligan utilizes Walts profession as a chemistry teacher to provide the show with a metaphor to help frame Walts transformative relationship with savagery. In the pilot episode, Walt gives a brief lecture on Chemistry in which he explains that chemistry is, after all, the study of change:
Walt: Chemistry is the study of what?
Student: Chemicals (Snickers from the smart kids) Walt smiles.
Walt: Chemicals. No. Change. Chemistry is the study of change, (a beat) Think about it. Electrons change their orbits, molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. That's all of life, right? The constant (shrug) The cycle. Solution, dissolution, over and over. (Walt seems to be talking mostly to himself. A pep talk.) Growth, decay. Transformation. It's fascinating, really.14
Walter White is a man who rapidly oscillates between the wilderness and the domestic in a way impossible in previous frontier narratives and classic Westerns. In classic Westerns, the savagery in the landscape often takes place at a geographical distance from the domestic space. Walt does not simply venture out into the wild and
14 Pilot, Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan (2008; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High Bridge
Productions), Streaming video.
13


immediately return a completely changed man, or succeed in changing the wilderness as a traditional Western protagonist might. The nature of his change is defined by his ability to live simultaneously in both worlds, a reality that defines his change as the process of allowing the more violent persona to take over. He simultaneously exists as a high school teacher who bites his lip when a student acts out, and a meth cook who will kill men and dispose of the evidence to survive.15
His evolution is defined by the rapid movement back and forth in which he develops, and is eventually conquered by, his lust for power. He transforms from a humble, quiet, easily manipulated father and teacher, to a relentless power hungry emperor of the meth industry. He does so within New Mexicos remote desert landscape, but also urban sprawl and the geographic and cultural reality of the borderland between the United States and Mexico. What allows for the close proximity and rapid movement back and forth over the border between wilderness and domestic are modes of transportation (the RV), technology (cell phones), and the modern reality of the American West as a vast land seeded with areas of dense urban development. If American culture has persistently figured the frontier as a space of dynamic change and evolution, then Breaking Bad brings that evolution into a modern reality and explores its consequences.
In another interesting revision of the frontier threat to the family, both Walts diagnosis with cancer, and the parts of Walts personality that choose to do detrimental things to his family, come from within him rather than an othered savage culture. The initial enemy to Walt, his own mortality, is not an outside force that he can conquer through physical violence. As a result, in the series, we see the wilderness space and
15 Pilot, Breaking Bad
14


Walts behavior in that space bleed into the domestic, motivating a domestic dissolution and transformation. Domesticity and wilderness in Breaking Bad are spaces and behaviors that seem to defy a classic relationship that would empower one over the other. The first two seasons of the show explore Walts failure to contain these two spaces and behaviors.
This breakdown of the dynamic between violence and the domestic sphere calls forth William Handleys revision of frontier protagonists and relationships. Handley looks to move the Western conversation away from archetypes: The concomitant tendencies to romanticize the good folks and divide them from the demonized bad folks are a legacy of the Western itself (if not the Western world). It is that dualistic tendency I want to resist and rethink.16 He uses marriage as a way to revise the frontier conversation and the language and methods employed when discussing Western stories: Literary concerns with Western marriage in settings both before and after the end of the frontier and in both formula Westerns and more high brow Western fiction, counter the prevailing cultural myth that the frontier chiefly produced the masculine individual.17 He further specifies this concept of family through the lens of violence: While violence is the traditional preserve of masculinity in formula Westerns, the pervasive theme of female domesticity versus male lawless freedom breaks down in other twentieth-century
16 William Handley Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 6
17 Handley Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West 2. Here Handley also argues that the frontier narratives commonly put forth a dysfunctional family. This idea warrants much more interpretation with regards to modem westerns as well as the western genre as a whole, but was not appropriate for this discussion.
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Western texts, in which marriage does not serve to civilize the savage male violence of the frontier but rather serves to bring that violence home.18
Domesticity is something that throughout the series Walt defends and, to some extent, is the driving force behind his behavior. While this fits with a family-centered Western narrative in which the savage wilderness is settled in order to keep the domestic family together, Breaking Bad fulfills Handleys modem frontier as Walt brings the violence home and contaminates the very domesticity he believes he is trying to defend. Violence takes place in the New Mexican desert but is also contained within Walt and motivates the continual contamination of his family despite his best efforts. The domestic, as it is explored and developed in Breaking Bad, is both a space and a behavior befitting that space.
Overlap of The Domestic and the Wilderness
As the show progresses, the domestic and wilderness become less defined by their physical locale, and more defined by what Walt does in those spaces.19 Befitting the frontier tradition, Walts transformation occurs in the frontier between the domestic and wilderness. The show explores this frontier through Walts attempts to contain the two identities and behaviors, and the slow contamination of his family. This is done through images and narrative sequences of crossover where Walts violence enters his home causing a systemic destruction of his family.
Jesse and Walts respective houses are stages for visual and narrative representations of the overlap. Jesses house is an epicenter of the confrontation between
18 Handley Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West 5.
19 The dissolution of his relationship with Skylar and how it is motivated by the wilderness is much more fully explored later in this section
16


the domestic and wilderness, and is used to bring that conflict into the lexicon of the show. This is most salient in the sequence of events leading up to, during, and after Walts first murders, the murder of Krazy-8 and Emilio, local meth distributors, in the first season episodes The Cats in the Bag and ...and the Bags in the River. In these early episodes, the show confronts the frontier by alternating between violence, the family, and the idea of home as guiding principles of the cinematography.
The murder of Krazy-8s partner Emilio takes place in a remote location in the desert. Even though the violence occurs in geographic wilderness, the show denies the possibility that the violence will remain there. It comes home as soon as Walt and Jesse park the RV outside of Jesses house. Recall for a moment Ethans (John Wayne) scalping of the American Indian in The Searchers or Munnys epic shootout in Unforgiven when the violence takes place in a locale distant from the home space it hopes to protect. This is not the case in Breaking Bad. Both Walt and Jesse have some sense that the significance of carrying bodies in the RV is amplified by bringing them back to a neighborhood dictated by laws and expectations of safety. They both want some kind of separation between the business of cooking meth and the lives they intend to live outside of drug production. There is a sense that any crossover will poison the latter.
Once they leave the desert, the show introduces the conflicts that arise due to their choice to bring evidence of their violence back with them. Although the RV/Mobile meth lab and the two bodies are at Jesses house, Walts domestic space is also under attack by Jesses phone calls. At one point, Walt is on the phone in his home next to his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) listening to Jesse scream about a body moving around in the RV outside of his house. Walt whispers to Jesse to calm down as Skylar walks up behind him.
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While Skylar does not trust Walt in this moment, the gravity of Walts violent behavior is clear when contrasted with his role as a father. Both Walt and Jesses domestic worlds are threatened by the violence they inflict.
The show uses Walts lectures on chemistry to push the synthesis of frontier ideas that is so essential to understanding the shows effort to represent the caustic relationship between violence and domesticity:
So the term chiral derives from the Greek word hand. Now the concept here being that just as your left hand and your right hand are mirror images of one another, right, identical and yet opposite, well so two organic compounds can exist as mirror image forms of one another all the way down at the molecular level. But although they may look the same, they dont always behave the same.20
His lecture describes a chemical concept that has very clear rules; the opposing
sides of a chiral compound may look the same but as Walt points out, they
dont always behave the same. This lecture comes in a moment of rising crisis
and introduces Walts conflict between the mirror images within himself. Just like
the example of the hands, while they may look the same, they are not in fact
superimposable. This tension is caused because Walt wants these two personae to
coexist, but somehow stay separate. The nature of the frontier will not allow such
complete and clear separationhe finishes his lecture at school, all the while
knowing that he is responsible for one dead man, and one severely injured man,
lying in an RV in a suburban neighborhood.
Jesse and Walt cannot contain the evidence of the violence and it rapidly begins to
contaminate Jesses home and neighborhood. Visually, as Walt drives to Jesses house,
20 Cats in the Bag, Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan (2008; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High
Bridge Productions), Streaming video.
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the fusion of violence and domesticity becomes strikingly apparent and the hard and fast chemical laws of chirality are absent. Walt drives his SUV through quiet suburban streets past ranch style houses with bright green manicured yards as Clyde McPhatters classic Youre Moving me plays on his stereo. This seemingly domestic moment is broken as he glances down at the Hydrofluoric acid he has stolen from the school with which he is going to dissolve a dead body, and as he turns the comer, shambling like a zombie up the middle of the road, is the severely ill Krazy-8. As Walt swerves around the stumbling man, the camera cuts to a shot outside of the car, McPhatters song still audible but drowned out by the sounds of Walts screeching tires and Krazy-8s labored breathing. Walt pulls up to Krazy-8, who tries to mn and ends up knocking himself out on a tree. Walt then gets out of the car, looks around to see if anyone is watching him, and, with a two car garage visible in the background, he pulls the unconscious body into the back of the car as McPhatters voice croons over the soundtrack once again.21
This sequence, and the events leading up to Krazy-8s murder establishes a few important things: Walt cannot contain the violence, Jesse and Walt are overwhelmed, and their violence will not restore the domestic. Jesses domestic space is under siege because evidence of his savagery physically infiltrates his home that physically and metaphorically begins to fall apart.
Walt refuses to understand the detriment of bringing the violence home when it comes to someone elses house. Walt is dealing with a severely injured man whom he tried to kill, and he asks Jesse: What is his reputation for violence? to which Jesse responds, Well, um he did try to kill us both yesterday, so there's that. Walt tries to find
21 Cats in the Bag, Breaking Bad
19


a way out of the situation that will not necessitate murder: What I'm trying to say is that he's a distributor, right? He's a.. .He's a businessman.. .he's a man of business. It would therefore seem to follow that he is capable of acting out of mutual self-interest, yes? Do you think he is capable of listening to reason? Jesse quickly responds to this far too logical concept: What kind of reason? Like Dear Krazy-8, listen, if I let you go, will you promise not to come back and waste my family? No Colombian neckties. You mean that kind of reason? No, man, I can't say as I have high hopes where that's concerned.22 Walt wants to contain the violence, and now that they are in a suburban neighborhood, he does not think in terms of violence alone. He is not willing to resort to violence when he is not directly threatened, but insists on a peaceful way out of a situation that is bom from violence.23
Jesses home is irrevocably contaminated by their efforts to erase the evidence of their violence. Walt emphasizes that they have to deal with the body in a way that no one will ever find it. He then suggests chemical disincorporation, which disgusts Jesse. Moments after Walt attempts to have a business conversation with Krazy-8, he is willing to dispose of a body chemically. He oscillates between the two sides of his metaphoric chirality, but despite his desire to keep the worlds separate, everything leading up to the murder defines the frontier as a space of destructive violence.
Having brought the evidence of their violence home, Walt and Jesse depend on the resources of the city to erase the evidence. Whereas the vast landscape of the reservation would have offered plenty of places to bury a body, again, the show refuses to allow that kind of separation. Jesse has to shop in a home improvement store for a
22 Cats in the Bag, Breaking Bad
23 This is a part of Walts rhetoric of necessity explored later in this chapter.
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container in which he can melt Emilios corpse. Jesse pulls the container off of the shelf and moves it to a private aisle away from the eyes of the other customers so he can try to fit it into the container. He sits in the container with his legs and arms pouring out. The fact that he is sizing up the container for a dead body is made all the more potent by the fact that this process has to take place in a common, public, domestic space.
Meanwhile, Walt is at Jesses house preparing to kill Krazy-8. He chooses against a gun and settles on a plastic bag to suffocate Krazy-8, a decision indicative of his desire to contain the violencesuffocation being less messy than a gunshot. He opens the door to the cellar and is shown in silhouette, khakis, button down shirt (his outfit from teaching earlier in the day) and a yellow plastic bag by his side. Although he has chosen against the revolver, the bag now hangs loosely at his side in the position one would expect to see a gun. He enters the basement ready to kill, but when Krazy-8 wakes up and begs for water, the part of Walt trying to be a killer (as he was in the desert) transforms into a father and caretaker who brings Krazy-8 water and a sandwich. The show highlights the awkward contrast between the caretaker role and the image of Krazy-8. Krazy-8s neck is locked to a metal column in the basement and from the side of the frame items begin to slide toward Krazy-8: a water jug, another water jug, a sandwich on a plate with chips, a bucket (presumably to use for the bathroom) followed by toilet paper. The scene puts a fine point on the grotesque nature of this moment of overlap as the toilet paper falls slightly short of arms reach from Krazy-8 and he awkwardly reaches with his hand and foot with his neck uncomfortably bound by the bicycle lock. Finally, the camera cuts to Walt, who holds the final item, a bottle of hand sanitizer, which he then pushes across the concrete floor toward the would-be murder victim and drug distributor. Walt
21


imports the domestic behavior of being a caretaker and a father to this utterly nondomestic scene, simultaneously bringing violence into Jesses home and bringing humanity to a scene born from Walts savagery.
The contamination of Jesses house continues to an extreme. Jesse pulls the bagged body out of the RV and laboriously drags it upstairs, calling attention to his slowly decaying domestic space in an imagined dialogue between himself and Walt:
Let's go to your house, yo! Makes perfect sense. Let's completely screw up your house so you never wanna spend another night in it. Sure. You know, why not?... And then, the killer in the basement? The one who's completely my responsibility? Hell, let's just let him live down there. Just,
I don't know, make sure to feed him, like three times a day. Sure, why not? That would be amazing. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I always dreamt about, I don't know, melting bodies.24
Jesse frequently expresses interest in keeping his home space separate from drug production, but despite Jesses frustration at the infiltration of his domestic space, the catastrophic reality of the violent frontier occurs moments later when the mostly dissolved corpse of Emilio falls through the upstairs floor and into the main hallway of Jesses house. The camera shows Jesse and Walt looking up through the dissolved base of the tub, smeared with blood and acid. Physically and figuratively Jesses house is marked by violence, forecasting that this frontier will be violent and unpredictable and will certainly not preserve the domestic space.
Ensley Guffeys essay Buying the House: Place in Breaking Back chronicles the use of spaces such as the various meth labs, Jesses house, and Walts house in the
24 Cats in the Bag, Breaking Bad
22


series.25 As he explains, Jesses house is initially a connection to a healthier time for Jesse when he was caretaker for his aunt. Guffey notes that the house is largely untouched by Jesses decor, and that this is indicative of his desire to keep the house in the same state it was in when it provided him safety and security.26 Walts influence on Jesse has a negative impact on Jesses life, an impact metaphorically represented in the erosion of Jesses home.
Jesses psychological erosion is also played out metaphorically in his home space. When analyzing the murder of Krazy-8 and the disincorporation of the body, Guffey points out that according to phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, the basement, the site of Krazy-8s murder, is a kind of special manifestation of the subconscious, and of nightmares. Of course for Jesse, the violence he and Walt brought to his home is not contained in the basement and seeps uncontrollably through the house as Emilios body, mostly dissolved, melts through the floor. This is further of evidence of what Guffey claims signals the rapidly growing influence of the chaotic and immoral over Jesses lifeand his home.27
Jesses house is representative of the inability of Walt and Jesse to contain evidence of their violence. Any action, domestic or wild, can occur in any space. After the hyper-violent murder scene in which Walt kills Krazy-8 by strangulation as Krazy-8 repeatedly stabs him in the leg with a piece of plate, the next images are of domestic goings on in Jesses neighborhood: birds chirp in the background, a man empties groceries from his trunk, a sprinkler waters a lawn, and two elderly ladies exercise across
25 Ensley Guffey, Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad in Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series, ed. P. David Pierson (New York:
Lexington Books, 2014), 155.
26 Guffey, Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad 157.
27 Guffey, Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad 158.
23


the street. Jesse looks around in shock at the calm neighborhood scene knowing the violence and horror that await him back in his house. He returns to his house, the RV emptied of the gear from the meth lab, his basement empty of Krazy-8, and only the bicycle lock set aside as a reminder of the savage murder in the basement in his home. This is not a frontier narrative in which the violence is justified or has a constructive quality.
Rhetoric of Necessity and Walter Whites Empire of Innocence
The result of a frontier narrative that denies the regenerative quality of violence, for Breaking Bad, is an antihero who does not have the qualities that justified the violence for classic Western anti-heroes. Painting violence with an acceptable veneer is not only a problem Vince Gilligan struggled with in the development of Walts character, but also a common theme in the ongoing conversation about the cultural history of the West. Again we can return to Patricia Limerick to understand some of the complex ways in which violent and abhorrent behavior has been historically justified.28
Limericks text, among many things, redefined the frontier conversation in a perhaps far too long anticipated direction that analyzed the impact of the American people on the frontier, rather than simply the frontier on the American people. Limerick explains that it was an occupied wilderness, and therefore necessarily needs to be
28 The use of ideological overtones to veil morally questionably behavior is a common part of the conversation about the American West. R. Philip Loys Westerns in a Changing America: 1955-2000 explores the development of characters such as Jesse James and Billy the Kid as populist heroes. Loy explains that the fictional ideological overtones of the novels and cinema complicated the historical understanding of the frontiers peoplethe myth overshadows the reality. Through narratives such as Breaking Bad, the frontier is a space for these same ideological processes to occur. Pioneers went west and committed atrocities to the native people and land but under the veil of manifest destiny found themselves not only justified in their pursuits but compelled to fulfill them.
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analyzed in terms of conquest.29 Limericks concept of conquest is not simply one of a dominating force; her argument is complicated by frontier mythology, manifest destiny, and a historic reevaluation of the psyche of the pioneer. She describes the conquerors perceptions of themselves in terms of an empire of innocence, guided by an innocence of intention. Limerick argues that the pioneers did not knowingly or willingly conquer -they simply did what they thought they should do: white Americans went west convinced that their purposes were as commonplace as they were innocent.30 Limerick believes that Turner, as well as the westering pioneers, either chose to ignore the conquest over native populations and the landscape, or believed so deeply in the myth and the drive of manifest destiny that they were convinced moving west and settling was simply part of the natural order of things. Limericks empire of innocence is thematically at work in Breaking Bad and helps elucidate the nature of Walts development.31
Walt manages to do the unspeakable, lie and deceive his family, fail as a father,
convince others to do equally heinous acts, and yet remain largely in the favor of fans of
the show.32 As a protagonist, he fits into a role that makes audiences want him to succeed.
Gilligan repeatedly tries to understand this phenomenon:
I have kind of lost sympathy for Walt along the way.. .1 find it interesting, this sociological phenomenon, that people still root for Walt. Perhaps it says something about the nature of fiction that viewers have to identify on some level with the protagonist of the show, or maybe he's simply interesting because he is
29 Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest.
30 Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest, 41.
31 Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest, 35-55.
32 The Guardian, John Plunkett Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan: 'How long can anyone stay at the top?', 18 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/18/breaking-bad-vince-gilligan-waiter-white
25


good at what he does. Viewers respond to people who are good at their job, even
when they are bad.33
While this defines frontier antiheroes and how audiences tend to receive them, it is what Gilligan says next that defines Walt: We needed an actor to play a character who was very dark and nasty but at the end of the hour you had to feel sorry for him.34 Gilligan uses pity to keep a fan base for a questionable protagonist who is very good at doing bad things. Walts identity as a victim is, as it turns out, exactly how he keeps his family and other parts of his empire in control and how he justifies his behavior to himself. His diagnosis of cancer immediately defines him as a victim of a force far outside of his control. He is diagnosed in the pilot episode, the same episode in which we see him partner with a meth-using ex-student and convert an RV into a mobile meth lab using stolen equipment from his school. All of this behavior is justified under the purview of Walts victimization and innocent intentions. He is terminally ill and wants to provide money to his family before he dies.
Arguably until his final moments, Walt bases his actions on a false necessity; much to Skylars annoyance he iterates some version of Everything I did, I did for this family throughout the series. Walts rationalization muddies the space between tyrannical villain and loving father. He loves his family, as evidenced by the panicked kidnapping of his daughter in the final season, and his attempts to be a father to Walt Jr., but the complications arise in the type of father Walt wants to be. He craves admiration as a provider and protector of his wife and children but is willing to place them at great risk to achieve that admiration. This contradiction cannot be sustained. The decisions he
33 Plunkett. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan: 'How long can anyone stay at the top?'
34 Plunkett. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan: 'How long can anyone stay at the top?'
26


makes that put his family in danger are veiled in a rhetoric of necessity which he uses to justify his actions when he believes, at times, he has no choice.35 Walts likeability relies, partly, on an innocence of intention that hearkens back to Limericks critique of the idealistic view of early westering pioneers. Gilligan himself expresses this conflict in Walt:
He is an extremely self-deluded man. We always say in the writers room, if Walter White has a true superpower, its not his knowledge of chemistry or his intellect; its his ability to lie to himself. He is the worlds greatest liar. He could lie to the pope. He could lie to Mother Teresa. He certainly could he to his family, and he can lie to himself, and he can make these lies stick. He can make himself believe, in the face of all contrary evidence, that he is still a good man. It really does feel to us like a natural progression down this road to hell, which was originally paved with good intentions.36
Throughout the series there is an evolution of what Walt perceives as necessary and how he uses the concept of necessity to influence others. By perceiving himself as a victim, Walt places himself as a victim of circumstance, a circumstance for which he does not take responsibility. By lying to himself in this way, he does not, at least initially, perceive himself as a conqueror, intruder, or villain. Limerick's descriptions of the innocent victimhood of the pioneers could be describing Walter White: Even though they were trespassers, westering Americans were hardly, in their own eyes, criminals; rather, they
35 This is a piece of what Carlo Nardi explores (Carlo Nardi, Liquid identification in Breaking Bad in Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series, ed.
P. David Pierson (New York: Lexington Books, 2014). He explores the likeability of Walt as an antihero and argues the discomfort of helplessly watching unpleasant facets of Walts personality and the catastrophic consequences of his actions might cause moral dissonance and problematize identification processes in the viewer. Nardi does not explore the western underpinnings of Walts character and his capacity to elicit the viewers sympathy.
36 Vulture.com, Lane Brown, In Conversation: Vince Gilligan on the end of Breaking Badf 12 May 2013, http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/vince-gilligan-on-breaking-bad.html.
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were pioneers...Innocence of intention placed the course of things in a bright and positive light; only over time would the shadows compete for our attention.37
In Breaking Bad, the shadows immediately compete for our attention. While Walt may believe that cooking meth is necessary and paint it in a positive light because he is providing money to his family, the trail of violence and horror he leaves is always present: in the pilot episode he maniacally drives with two dead bodies in his RV (his victims), one which Jesse ends up melting in hydrofluoric acid in a bathtub; in season three he runs over two drug dealers in the street to save Jesses life; in season four he blows up an ex-cartel member and Gus Fring with a suicide bomber in a home for the elderly; and he consistently lies and deceives his wife and son.38 In this way, Breaking Bad is a frontier narrative that revises the empire of innocence by denying Walt the ability to justify violence with innocent intentions. Walts willingness to ignore and hide the dark motives behind his actions comes to a head when, in the final episode, the show offers a moment of lucidity and clarity (which perhaps puts an all too neat bow on the shows ending) between Walt and his wife Skylar where he admits that he enjoyed the power. He ceases his argument that everything he has done, he has done exclusively and necessarily for his family. In the final episode, Walt confesses to Skylar what has been true throughout the entire seriesthat he likes the power and that he may not have acted for the best interest of his family:
Walt: Skyler. All the things that I did, you need to understand...
Skylar: If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family...
Walt: I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.. .1 was alive.39
37 Limerick The Legacy of Conquest 36
38 Pilot,; Half Measures,; Face Off
39 Felina
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In order to create a character who does unspeakably violent things to everyone around him, but generates sympathy from the audience, Gilligan has Walt treat his participation in the meth trade as an inevitable outcome of life events. Yet Gilligan reminds us that in the fourth episode Walt is offered a solution to his seemingly impossible problem that he turns down:
Walt has a chance to be a man in the fourth episode of the first season, when his former business partners offer to pay for his chemotherapy treatments. He's offered a way out that doesn't involve being a criminal, doesn't put his family at risk and doesn't break the law. In this deus ex machina moment, he gets offered an out; but in his mind, it means eating a little humble pie by accepting money from people he feels betrayed him. He turns down their offer for reasons of ego. He basically says, No, I'd rather cook crystal meth than take this free money.40
Prior to this moment, while his actions were not excusable, they seem compelled by circumstance. He wants to provide for his family and has an accelerated timeline due to his grim diagnosis in which he wants to build wealth to leave to his family. This desire fits the norms of his society. He is dying and the mounting bills seem to leave him no choice. If his motives were entirely to pay for his treatment and provide for his family, the series would have come to a rapid close with his acceptance of the help from his expartner. Instead, the alternative driving motives behind Walts decisions begin to surface and define his transformation. He wants power over his life and death that is in proportion to his ability to cook meth and build an empire.
The series provides a catalogue of moments when Walt chooses to re-enter the
world of meth production despite the absence of any real necessity: Once his cancer is in
remission and the necessity of having to make money recedes, he chooses to continue;
once he is out of the industry, Gus brings him into the super-lab and convinces him to
40 Rolling Stone, Rob Tannenbaum, Walt is not Darth Vader, 25 September 2013, Http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/vince-gilligan-walt-is-not-darth-vader-20130925
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cook by leaning on Walts insecurities as a man; once he has so much money that Skylar can no longer launder it, he continues to cook.41 In fact, in the fifth season episode Gliding Over All, Skylar calls this to attention. At this point she has been persuaded to help Walt by laundering the vast amount of wealth he has accrued, another act of necessity as she feels she must intervene to keep her family safe. She takes Walt on a drive to a storage unit where she has kept the money she cannot launder:
Walt: How much is this?
Skylar: I have no earthly idea, I truly dont. There is more money here than I could spend in ten lifetimes. I certainly cant launder it... Walt I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me how much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?42
In the beginning of the series Walt has to justify his behavior to himself, but as the show develops he must justify it to others. His first murder in the RV is conceptually defensible because he is under immediate threat. Framing Walts violence in this way invites comparison to other modern television antiheroes like Tony Soprano whom Brett Martin describes as a character whose violence, initially in the series, had to be carefully strategized. In both cases, the shows work to justify murder so that the audience does not see the protagonist as a senseless villain.43 In Breaking Bad, the second murder of Krazy-8 is utterly different from the first.44 Walt makes a list to weigh his options, a comically humane method for considering the much heavier and complicated decision of murder. While his list to let Krazy-8 live is much longer, the one item on the side arguing for the
41 4 Days Out; Mas; Gliding Over All.
42 Gliding Over All
43 Brett martin, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Made Men and Breaking Bad (New York: The Penguin Press, 2013).
44 Linda Holmes does a similar but less extensive analysis of this murder in her article cataloguing the effects of each murder in the show (Linda Holmes, NPR.org, Death And Walter White, 3 August 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/08/03/208599847/death-and-walter-white). Her point is also that the murder of Krazy-8 is different, but her primary purpose is to look at how each murder sets Breaking Bad apart from how other shows such as The Wire deal with murder and death.
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murder is Hell kill your entire family if you let him go.45 This argument is not enough to convince Walt to murder and we get the idea that he may release Krazy-8. Things change, however, when Walt finds a missing piece of plate that allows him to believe he is under a direct threat from Krazy-8murder becomes a necessity, but a necessity he creates. The threat is of course coming from a man who is defenselessly locked to a pole, and thus a complete fabrication. On the one hand, Krazy-8 represents a threat to Walts survival, but on the other hand, that threat depends on Walts invention.
The justification for each murder, and the evolution of the destruction after each murder, elucidate much about Walt and Jesses characters as they confront a frontier in which they cannot possibly contain the violence or justify it innocently. In her analysis of the catalogue of murders that Jesse and Walt commit, Linda Holmes tracks the development of Walt and Jesse through the lens of murder.46 She notes, Walt will sit with his conscience again and again, and he will find its leaky valves again and again, and he will give himself permission to ignore it, then conclude it's a weakness, then stop hearing it speak at all.47 Alongside this observation she briefly notes the detriment that the murders have on Jesse. Walt emotionally masters the fallout of his murderous conquest in a way that Jesse is never able to.48 Holmes concludes that one of the many reasons Breaking Bad will be remembered the way it will, eulogized the way it will, and missed the way it will is that its killings always mean something. This is a universe in
... And the Bags in the River
46 Linda Holmes, Death and Walter White
47 Linda Holmes, Death and Walter White
48 Walts murderous trail includes but is not limited to the moments he is able to: convince Jesse to kill Gale, allow Jane to die before his eyes as she lay next to Jesse, kill two drug dealers to save Jesses life, nearly kill a child with poison to play Jesse onto his side, and blow up an ex-Mexican drug cartel kingpin (Hector Salamanca) to kill Gus Fring.
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which killing a person changes you. It matters, always,49 While Holmes mentions how each murder means something in the show, she does not analyze the impact on Walt in much detail, or consider what more rightly could be argued is his empowerment through murder. There is an inverse evolution in Walt with murder. What is most haunting about this idea is that in the world of Breaking Bad, and specifically in the case of Walter White, killing a person will change you, but it might not change you in the way that it ought to.
The impact death and murder have on Jesse acts as a foil to Walts transformation. For Walt, murder is an empowering choice he makes on his maniacal quest to build an empire; for Jesse, each death erodes his life. While the nature of the murders change as the show progresses, for Walt, a rhetorical use of necessity remains constant. Unlike Walts murder of Krazy-8, when Jesse is confronted with the murder of a relative innocent like Gale, the meth-lab technician who Walt convinces Jesse he has to kill, he is dramatically affected in a way that audiences will find much more human.50 Committing murder does not bother Walt, but causes Jesse to spin utterly out of control.
One such death that has an indelible mark on Jesses character is the death of his girlfriend Jane, a girl who represents a productive move away from the drug world for Jesse and toward domesticity. Jane is the first person in whom Jesse finds a positive loving relationship. Jesse blames himself for her fatal heroin overdose, a death that Walt watches happen and in which he chooses not to intervene.51 Subsequently, Jesse blames himself for the death of airline passengers who died because of Janes fathers mistake as an air traffic controller. He carries a false guilt, a guilt that rightfully belongs to Walt, but for Jesse the responsibility lies on his shoulders alone. While Walt chooses to allow
49 Linda Holmes, Death and Walter White
50 See generally Full Measure and Jesses fallout in the following fourth season.
51 Phoenix
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Janes death and believes it was a necessary decision for himself and his empire, Jesse is crushed by the weight of it.
After the murder of Gus Fring, again the show presents a difference between how Jesse and Walt justify, and therefore contain, their violence. Late in the third season,
Jesse has been desperately worried about Brock, the boy Walt poisoned as leverage to convince Jesse that Gus Fring needed to die. Here necessity is a means of control for Walt. Walt believes that he needs to kill Gus to save his own life and the life of his family. To complete this murder, Walt poisons a child, Brock, to whom Jesse is attached, thereby motivating Jesse toward vengeance. Although the initial plan fails, Walt ultimately does succeed in having Gus killed. When Jesse finds out that Gus did not poison Brock he questions Walts motives:
Jesse: So Gus didn't poison him after all. Still, hehe had to go, right?
Walt: You're damn right. Gus had to go.52
Jesse is concerned with their choice to blame Gus for a crime he did not commit, but Walt allays his doubt by validating the false necessity surrounding the murder: Gus had to go. While, for Walt, Gus had to go, for Jesse, Gus may not have had to go. The rhetoric of necessity surrounding the murder of Gus Fring is composed of justifications that pertain to Walts ability to veil violence in innocence and necessity. His repeated use of the concept of having to do something places him in a rhetorically passive position, that of a victim of circumstance. He exploits the rhetoric of necessity to control the various pawns in his empire and self-victimizes to accomplish his goal of conquest but also to remain innocent.
;Face Off
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While the murders of Gus Fring and Gale Boetticar nearly destroy Jesse and his attempts at healthy relationships, they seem to catalyze Walts energy and desire for power. As Jesse returns to Andrea and Brock, a woman and her child who represent a second movement toward a healthy domestic relationship for Jesse, Walt calls Skylar and moves further away from his family, cherishing his conquest:
Skylar: Walt?
Walt: How are you doing?
Skylar: How am I doing? How are you doing?
Walt: I'm, uh...I'm doing quite well. I'm good.
Skylar: Jesus, Walt, the news here. Gus Fring is dead. He was blown up along with some person from some Mexican cartel, and the DEA has no idea what to make of it. Do you know about this? Walt? I need you to
Walt: It's over. We're safe.
Skylar: Was this you? What happened?
Walt: I won.53
After he claims victory he hangs up the phone. As he passes Gus car in the parking garage he smirks with satisfaction. The camera then reveals the Lily of the Valley plant in Walts backyard leaving no doubt around the question of what happened to Brock. His satisfaction for having committed violent murder and successfully poisoning a boy makes his obvious lie Its over even more foul. Not only is this not over, it is far worse than the audience could have imagined. He is happy that his grab for power was successful and that he was also able to keep his family safeonce again Walt is regenerated through violence but also by his ability to serve as protector of his family.54 This is a violence that incidentally further emotionally distances his wife from him. While he physically protects his family from danger, he has exerted great emotional violence on them because he rescues them from danger that he has created.
53 Face Off
54 This refers to Slotkins thesis of cultural and personal regeneration through violence in the mythology of the American west.
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Walts evolution from protagonist to potential villain is marked by reactions in which he changes or evolves from each death in ways that are decreasingly human symbols of his inability to veil the violence in innocence and of the increasingly dark intentions he has. When Walt endangers his brother in law Hank, he calls Jesse and we see the same motif: Jesse coping with the past and Walt pushing forward, unaffected by the past. Jesse tells Walt that he is currently broke, but Walts concern is selfish and driven by a desire to keep producing meth:
Jesse: The plan worked. They bought it. I got bills due, man. I'm screwed.
Walt: Did he mention my name?
Jesse: No. Thanks for caring.
Walt: What about the basement?
Jesse: It's clean.
Walt: And the RV?
Jesse: Badger's cousin took it to his garage. It's safe.
Walt: Can he get it running again?
Jesse: Why?
Walt: So we can cook.
Jesse: So you still wanna cook? Seriously?
Walt: What's changed, Jesse?55
Walt says that nothing has changed because he has to believe that it is still necessary for him to cook. If providing for his family is the innocent intention that he uses to justify his violence, then endangering his brother in law and nearly being killed in the desert by a major drug trafficker might cause him to hesitate in his plan to move forward; he might hesitate as Jesse does. He responds to Jesses doubt about more meth production with the troubling question, Whats changed, Jesse? The answer to this question for everyone except Walt is a lot. The endangerment of his family does not affect his drive to cook because he believes that he is protecting them by necessarily growing his empire. His empire and the violence it necessitates are actually the forces destroying the very family
55 Bit by a Dead Bee
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he claims to protect. For Walt, nothing has changed: he remains the protector of his family as well as the sole individual able to venture out into a savage world of drug production and provide for them. He has pulled his family into a world where they are both subjected to constant threat and dependent on him for protection.
Violence and the Contamination of the House
As Walt gets deeper into the drug empire, his relationship with the architectural space of his home becomes less traditional as the demands of his criminal activity pressure him to use his home for behaviors utterly non-domestic. Starting in the pilot episode, Walt hides evidence of his criminal activity in his home. The secrecy in the home begins in the nursery, metaphorically aligning with his desire to provide for his family, as well as his inability to keep his domestic space safe. He dries chemical and blood soaked money in his clothes dryer, and hides it in the heat vent in the nursery.56 Once makes too much money for the dryer vent, he moves his money into the walls of his garage57, and eventually, once Skylar has joined him in his criminal ventures, he hides bags of money in the space beneath his house. As his drug empire demands more from him, instead of changing his relationship with crime to save his family, he becomes more poisonous toward his domestic space. Walts violent nature poisons the physical aspect of his home so much that it becomes a space in which his identity is not resident, but intruder.
In one such moment, Walt brings a gun into his home in order to protect himself from Tuco Salamanca, a wildly unpredictable and violent drug distributor. He walks into his house holding the gun while his pregnant wife bathes in the tub, and after running to
56 Pilot
57 Phoenix
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the heat vent and grabbing all of his cash, he hides the cash and his gun in a diaper box nearby.58 The nursery, far from a place of peace for the newborn, becomes a private space where Walt hopes to keep secrets from his family. As he is hiding the cash and the weapon in his daughters diaper box, Jesses car arrives with Jesse at gunpoint and Tuco in the backseat, reminding the audience that it is the drug empire that has transformed Walts home.
The second season is marked by episodes of reentry into the domestic space, each moment irrevocably damaging his family. This damage is played out with the material architecture of the house. After narrowly escaping from Tuco in the desert, Walt attributes his absence to a fugue statea period of complete memory loss. When he reenters the domestic sphere, he is no longer a husband or father, but rather a criminal and prisoner. He secretly enters his home to retain the hidden gun and cash from his daughters nursery, sneaking into the house at night as an intruder would. He watches as his son meets his wife in the kitchen and they share an intensely personal moment from which he is absent as a father. Walt then returns to the hospital and glances up at the painting in the room which depicts a man on a boat rowing away from the shore where his wife and daughter stand waving.59 In this rare moment, Walt takes the time to consider the effects of his choices on the domestic space without being blinded by the fear, greed, and power that have descended upon his personality. His re-entry from the wilderness marks a shift in his domestic space given the severe nature of his immersion into the wilderness.
58 Bit by a Dead Bee
59 Bit by a Dead Bee
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A second moment of re-entry begins with Walt and Jesse escaping deep into the desert to spend four days cooking meth. The RV dies and they have no communication, limited resources, and over a million dollars worth of meth. They are in a space that is private enough for production, but is so remote that the space overwhelms them. Walt gives in to death, and begins to lament his decisions, insisting that he deserves to die. When confronted with the isolation of the vast desert, Walt passively buckles at the enormity of the problem and level of exposure in the desert. The space dwarfs the RV and meth cooking operation. Luckily, using Walts knowledge of chemistry they are able to construct a makeshift battery charger that allows them to escape the desert. They do not tame the wilderness in which they stand, but instead control nature barely enough to ensure survival.
This is a unique moment in the show because Walt and Jesse have cooked so much meth that the wilderness does not immediately demand their attention, and the show takes an episode to explore how Walt operates in his domestic space upon reentry from this epic experience in the desert. The result is Walt in a state of unrest; he behaves as a caged prisoner, but one who must exert change and power over his house. Walt begins by replacing the water heater, trying to fix the physical house and improve the space of the home, while of course further neglecting the needs of his family. He discovers rotten wood on the floor of the closet that quickly escalates into him replacing and repairing most of the underside of the house. The house is a space that needs to be fixed and improved. Its as if Walt believes that he can root out and repair all of the dysfunction that he has introduced. The crawl space beneath the house turns into a place to stash bags of money. The physical domestic space is no longer a space where he is
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trying to build a family, but more a space that allows for his wilderness behavior.
By the fifth season the house has become an abandoned wasteland for vandals and skateboarders who use the empty swimming pool as a skate park.60 The house is surrounded by chain link fence and police tape. On the wall of his living room in bright yellow is painted the word Heisenberg, a symbolic mark on the home evoking the violence his alter ego brought to his family. The walls are destroyed while trash and filth cover the floors. Appropriately, he is there to get the pill-sized portion of Ricin, a highly poisonous chemical he creates and uses twice in the series, that he has hidden behind an outlet cover in what used to be his bedroom. In this final moment in the White home, the space is abandoned, ruined, and stands as a permanent scar in the quiet Albuquerque suburb. A once idealistic starter home in which Walt and Skylar dreamt of raising their family is indelibly destroyed by Walts violence, and its final purpose for Walt is as a hiding place for a deathly poison.
Violence at Home or Domestic Violence
As previously suggested, Walts behavior in the borderlands systematically contaminates his relationship with Skylar. This idea befits a frontier narrative trope that Handley explains: Violence between familiars in these novels compels us to rethink the binary of savagery and civilization upon which Manifest Destiny and Turners historiography relied in order to justify Western conquest.61 In Breaking Bad, violence
60 Blood Money
61 Handley, Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West, 7. Handley further categorizes this violence as perhaps the most unexpected thing we find at home in the west.61 While in the formula Western, Handley explains, violence is most often between whites and Indians, there is much textual evidence that denies this concept of violence in the west.61 The result of violence at home, or violence between familiars is that in novels by writers like Zane Grey, the ethnic and religious differences that seem to structure his novels increasingly blur, to the point that enemies and families, strangers and lovers become difficult to distinguish meaningfully according to group identity.61 Handley takes issue with
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with familiars, both physical and emotional, is a key driving force behind the dissolution of Walts family. This violence begins on a small scale, but amplifies as the series progresses. Early in the series at an ultrasound appointment, Skylar calls Walt out about his lack of communication: you are gone all night and dont tell me where youve been. In his response, he again calls attention to his two conflicting personalities and quickly resorts to aggression: I havent been myself, but I love you, nothing about that has changed, and it never will, so right now, what I need, is for you to climb down out of my ass. Can you do that? Will you do that for me honey? Will you please, just once, get off my ass? I would appreciate it, I really would.62 His tone here is complicated by his desire to assert himself without directly damaging his relationship with Skylar. He speaks in a tone that is not full of the confidence he has in the desert, but is instead tempered by a desire to contain the anger bom in the wilderness.
While Walt and Skylars marriage is complicated throughout the show, in the first two seasons the show present a slowly dissolving relationship. Their relationship falls apart as Walt fails to fulfill his role as husband in the domestic space. This dissolution is represented through Skylars fmstration with Walt, her affair with Ted Beneke, Walts lies, and Skylars insistent demands that he communicate with herdemands he does not obey. Walts need to feel the power he has while cooking meth forces the domestic space to begin to dissolve.
Walt and Skylars sexual relationship serves as one the most salient reminders of
the impact of Walts violence. Walt and Skylar only have sex four times in the series and
Gilligan uses each time as an opportunity to show the strange domestic transformation
the reliance on the myth of the masculine individual when the idea of the masculine individual who thrives out West has had a longer cultural life that his actual, brief history.
62 The Cats in the Bag...
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and destruction.63 While he is simultaneously killing people in the underground meth world, he is also exerting extreme violence on familiars at home.
In the pilot episode Walt returns home after his cook and it is clear that Skylar is uncomfortable with his lack of communication. Instead of talking to Skylar, however, Walt has sex with her in a surprisingly aggressive way. After they have sex, he walks to the bathroom and passes out on the bathroom floor where he sleeps until the morning. From this moment on there is a sense that no matter the sexual relationship between Walt and Skylar prior to his moment, it is most certainly going to be something different now. He does not sleep next to her throughout the night in the place he is expected to be as a husband, but instead lies on the bathroom floor unconscious from a coughing fit traceable to his (at this point) secret lung cancer.
The next time Skylar and Walt have sex is in a moment motivated by illegal behavior. At a PTA meeting, Walt clearly looks bored and fed up with the concerned parents. Sitting in a crowd of people as a criminal whom no one suspects, he begins to rub Skylars leg in the middle of the room. As the other parents complain about the fears and difficulties in the school, Walt and Skylar have a sexual moment together. He not only disregards the fact that a janitor has been fired for a crime Walt committed, he is actually sexually aroused by having gotten away with something. As he becomes less willing to abide by the rules that are impressed upon him, he becomes more able to impress his own laws on the environment around him. He does what he wants. He and Skylar leave and have sex in the car after the meeting. Skylar says to Walt: where did
63 The moments of complicated intimacy are: after Walt returns from the first cook at the end of the pilot episode, in their car outside of the high school after Walt becomes unexpectedly aroused during a PTA meeting, when Walt comes to the house wearing the Heisenberg hat and forces himself on Skylar in a way that evokes rape, and finally, in a moment of false intimacy, when Skylar misinterprets a desperate phone message from Walt as his behaving affectionately.
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that come from and why was it so damn good? to which Walt replies because it was illegal.64 Walt is motivated and inspired by his illegal behavior and sexually aroused by the illegality and power. While this sexual moment was consensual, it was most certainly not within Walts domestic norm before cooking meth. Their sex life is being transformed by his time in the wilderness into something completely dictated by Walts desire and prompted by his enjoyment of power and crime.
The violence Walt brings home in the first season culminates in a moment of sexual aggression toward Skylar in the kitchen of their home. This comes in a heightened moment of juxtaposition and overlap of the two worlds that complicates the sexual encounter. Walt and Jesse make a trade with Tuco in the junkyard, and due to a short altercation, Tuco beats his employee to death. Walt and Jesse are disgusted and terrified by the sheer surprise and volatility of the violence. They return to the car and Walt calculates exactly how much money he needs to provide for his family before he can get out of the business $737,000. Confronted with this violence he seems scared by the brutality of the drug economy. At this point he naively believes that the wilderness and domestic spaces are separate; he believes he will be able to go to the wilderness and return to the domestic without the contamination of the latter.
The show cuts directly from them leaving a dead body in the junkyard, to Skylar rubbing lotion on her pregnant stomach. This juxtaposition places the ultra-violent and unpredictable wilderness next to icons of the domestic sphere. Walt comes home and Skylar repeatedly says his name as she walks out of the bathroom wearing a robe and a facial mask. She walks to the living room where Walt clicks through the stations on the
64 A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal
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television, still wearing his Heisenberg hat. It is clear that he cannot hear her because he is still shocked by the violence. Skylar touches him and they have a short exchange where she mentions his hat. After she offers to make him something to eat, he turns off the television, takes off his hat, and walks to the kitchen where she is preparing lunch. She asks him where have you been? to which he does not reply, but walks up behind her with what appears to be tears in his eyes, seeking to be consoled as he puts his head on her shoulder. He begins to cry and, hugging her from behind, transitions from needing consolation to starting a sexual encounter. Skylar initially seems interested and almost humorously curious at his sexual excitement. The scene quickly turns dark, however, and the encounter ends with Skylar, bent over, hitting her head against the refrigerator and yelling Stop it! at which point Walt finally relents with a look of complete horror on his face. He is ashamed and walks out of the house. Skylar comes to him as he weeps and says, I know youre scared and youre angry and youre frustrated, and I know none of this is fair. But you cannot take it out on me.65 Immediately after she says this we hear Walt Jr. says Hey Im home, and he walks into the house to see the kitchen in disarray and the mark of Skylars facial lotion smeared on the fridge.
Walts range of emotions, combined with the complicated framing of this scene with the encounter with Tuco in the junkyard foreground the effects of the modern frontier on the protagonist. It seems that he is almost aware that his behavior is not acceptable, and given the emotions ranging from fear and weeping to sexual aggression and deflated embarrassment, Walt is clearly a protagonist who is overwhelmed by the overlap of these two worlds. When confronted with the violence in the wilderness his
65 Seven-Thirty Seven
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reaction is to decide on an exit plan, but as he enters the domestic space, the domestic space he purportedly is attempting to save, he fails to behave in a way that will preserve that space. The wilderness and violence change him and overlap into his home space at the constant detriment of the domestic. He can no longer fulfill his role as husband because he has been altered by the violent wilderness, a violence that does not restore his family, but destroys it.
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CHAPTER II
BREAKING BADS CULTURAL MOMENT: A CRISIS OF MASCULINITY AND THE
AMERICAN EMPIRE
Amanda Marcottes article How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity catalogues the recent trend in television shows exploring masculinity. 66 She argues the trend is to focus on modem man struggling with the limitations of his outlook in a world full of complexity and changes that prevent survival through simple reliance on old gender norms.66 67 She places Breaking Bad in this tradition, but explains that the series sets itself apart from shows like Mad Men and The Sopranos by not having the protagonist begin as a traditionally masculine figure like the business advertising tycoon Don Draper or the iconic Mafioso Tony Soprano. Instead, Walt begins as the oppositean emasculated sickly man who cannot fulfill his role as husband, father, or provider in a way that he sees fitand spends the series fighting his way toward a traditional image of manhood.68
Walts choices are often motivated by the masculine power he commands as his violent alter ego Heisenberg. The myth of the frontier hero has always lived in the imagination, but it becomes real through characters like Walt who embrace the ideals of that mythviolence, masculinity, progress, and conquest. Breaking Bad looks at how the myth of the frontier hero shapes the modern psychological landscape. The role of myth in
66 Amanda Marcotte, How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity, Jezebel.com, 9July 2011. http://jezebel.com/5837945/how-to-make-a-critically-acclaimed-tv-show-about-masculinity; Brian Faucette, Taking Control: Male Angst and Re-Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad in Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series, ed. P. David Pierson (New York: Lexington Books, 2014.
67 Marcotte How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity
68 Marcotte How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity
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Breaking Bad is evident in Walts perceptions of his actions and how the Mexican drug cartels and the D.E.A see Heisenberg. The show puts Walter White, the man, in direct comparison with Heisenberg, the myth. He is simultaneously a high school teacher, father, husband, murderer, and burgeoning drug kingpin. Heisenberg is even mythologized in song, and gives Walt a gravitas that he utterly lacks in his non-drug manufacturing existence.69 He uses the pseudonym and the myth to his advantage, but in the end his pursuit of the myth and its ultimate failure offer an exploration of the impact of the myth of the frontier as well as the erosion of that myth in a modern landscape.
The Hat and the Gun: Walt and Mythic Masculinity
While much of the series invokes common visual tropes of the Western, most essential to the development of the character are the use Heisenbergs hat and the development of Walt as a gunslinger. The hat he wears as Heisenberg at once summons Western imagery and calls forth the impact the mythic Western hero has on Walt.
Cowboy hats play an essential role in the cinematography of the westerncutting the frame in iconic close-ups in Sergio Leones The Good, The Bad, and The Uglyand also serve a very pragmatic purpose for the heroes in the Westernit keeps them from being exposed in the harsh landscape of the frontier. In the epic final three-way shootout in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, the montage consists of close-ups where each mans hat cuts the top of the frame and their eyes peer beneath the brim menacingly. In addition to being part of the visual tradition, the hat serves another purpose. At one point in the film, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) loses his hat as Tuco (Eli Wallach) takes him into the desert. This marks a moment of exposure and allows for him to appear much more vulnerable.
69 Negro y Azul
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Stripped of his gun and his hat, he walks through the desert as a disempowered version of himself. The hat, for Walt, serves to give him confidence. He relies on the hat to summon the confidence of a classic Western gunslinger and by doing so makes the myth of the individual cowboy central in his development into Heisenberg.
Breaking Bad does not belong to the Outlaw anti-hero tradition of the Western but it relies on the archetype of the outlaw who has a clear place in the Western. In the episode Full Measure, certain scenes transport us to the Western film tradition by using Western iconography. The episode opens with a flashback of Walt and Skylar looking at their house as a young couple far before Walt cooked meth. This moment serves to set up the construction of their family as a frame to the narrative we already know. While many of the Westerns discussed earlier begin with some amount of family unity (Once Upon a Time in the West, Unforgiven, High Noon, The Searchers) similarly, in this flashback, the family unit is unbroken. After the flashback, we see Walt sitting in his car in the desert waiting to meet Gus he watches as a car peaks over the horizon. He puts on his hat and walks across the high plane. The camera tracks behind him and visually we are transported to a Western film. Various plateaus and the Sandia Mountains make up the distant horizon. He walks up to meet Mike, a hit man and Gus employee, and they step into frame from either side, summoning the visual rhetoric of an Old-West shootout. The silhouette of his hat on a far off horizon alone owes its visual history to the Western.
The series is careful to deny the idea that Heisenberg, or the personality traits within Walt that surface as he is playing that part, can be turned on and off with the use of the hat. His iconic Pork-Pie hat makes an appearance in the first episode of the second season when Walt and Jesse are meeting the unpredictable and hyper-violent Tuco
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Salamanca (a name with a likely allusion to Eli Wallachs character Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly) in a junkyard. Walt has adopted the pseudonym Heisenberg in the drug world and already has begun to gain some fame, and in this scene the hat enters the visual language to represent his transformation. Immediately following a murder in the junkyard, Walt wears the hat home and Skylar comments on it. He removes the hat, the visual representation of Heisenberg and the violence we associate with the world in which Heisenberg participates, but his attack on Skylar as described earlier shows that Walt does not leave the violence with the hat. He goes to Skylar and sexually attacks her in the kitchen. While the hat does help Walt gain the confidence to behave as a more extreme version of himself, it is clear that the violence is within Walt and bom from a desire to fulfill a masculine ideal of the frontier hero. Summoning the myth of the John Wayne archetype, he believes the hat gives him confidence, power, and the ability to commit acts of violence. In this early use of the hat it both defies use as a traditional image of the independent man, and denies the classic frontier role of the independent loner as a force that restores the family.
The hat takes on a mystical quality as it motivates moments of extreme confidence or violence within Walt, as if he is using the hat to connect himself to the myth of the Western hero. In episode Fifty One, an episode marking a year after his grim diagnoses of cancer and using his birthday as a marking point to showcase his transformation and the dissolution of his family, the hat comes back to transform Walts behavior. He sells his car, the Aztek, to a mechanic for $50. This SUV has operated as an iconic image that visually kept Walt as a father figure or a family man. He sells the car,
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but reaches into the back seat and takes his hat. He then buys himself and Walt Jr. sports cars.70 The hat allows him to embrace the type of independent masculinity he desires.
In the fourth season, Walts failed transformation into the mythic Western hero is
furthered with a movement toward being a gunslinger. If the hat gives him confidence by
making him feel as if he can play the part of a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood style hero,
then the gun would, psychologically for Walt, complete the package. Everything about
the acquisition of the weapon denies his ability to play that role. When he buys an illegal
gun, he looks uncomfortable and awkward with the weapons and it is evident that he does
not know much about guns. The gun salesmen calls attention to Walts ignorance about
weapons only furthering Walts inability to have the masculine identity and power of an
archetypal John Wayne style protagonist:
General ruleYou don't want to cross draw, not unless you're going to be sitting, you know, store clerks, card gamers and such. Either way you're going to want to practice your draw...a lot...because if you're all fingers, well, it might could be him keeping a piece instead of you. Catch my drift?71
Complete with hat and gun, the series denies Walt the successful transformation into the myth he is attempting to replicate. Walt goes to Gus house to kill him and, sans hat, sits nervously in his car looking at Gus house. As he puts the hat on, there is an obvious transformation. He takes on his signature Heisenberg grimace and seems to brim with confidence as the hat cuts the top of the frame and Walt menacingly stares directly at the camera. With his concealed 38 snub nose wheel gun he walks toward Gus house intent to kill. For a brief moment, in the middle of a suburban area of Albuquerque the camera tracks behind Walt over his shoulder. The frame, like Walts state of mind, is narrowly
70 Fifty One
71 Thirty-Eight Snub Nose
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focused. Walt, of course, is not a lone gunman with a single mission, and the show once again denies the hat as a vehicle to completely transform Walt. It has transformative qualities, but it does not allow him to escape entirely. Mike calls Walt and tells him to go home. Walt stops an assassination attempt to answer his cell phonea behavior that denies a transformation into a lone gunman. As he takes the call, the camera cuts out to a much wider shot, revealing Walt, awkwardly standing in an intersection looking around for Mike. The visual language breaks from that of Western cinema because while Walt is a frontier protagonist and speaks to that tradition, the show denies his complete submersion into the myth of the individual violent gunslinger. Walt can neither inhabit the identity of the gunslinger convincingly nor can he shed it entirely in the tradition of the family-Westem.
Myth of Manhood: Masculinity, Fatherhood, and The Role of the Provider
Brian Faucette explores the cultural fear about masculinity in Breaking Bad as a crisis of conscious and perceived crisis of masculinity.72 He argues Walts transformation is defined by the two types of masculinity that creator Vince Gilligan put forth. Gilligan explains that with Walt, he wanted to show the transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface. If masculinity in the Western has always been tied to a cultural or political moment of change as theorists repeatedly claim, then Michael Kimmels 2013
72 Faucette, Taking Control: Male Angst and Re-Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad, 73-74. This is a transformation from a passive, smart, sensitive father figure into a violent and intimidating male role. The crisis of masculinity Faucette describes in America is one that must embrace older models of masculinity based on violence, intimidation, and control in order to re-masculinize themselves and their lives. Walt returns to a model of violent masculinity that the frontier myth created and perpetuated, but this is complicated also by the shows, and Citing Kimmels earlier works of cultural history, Faucette says a man who is not a provider... doesnt feel like much a man at all. The myth of the individual violent man and the modem understanding of men as providers are present in Walts transformation as he, a modem American male, returns to a violent cultural image of frontier manhood in order to fulfill the role of the modem provider.
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work of cultural history Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era can give us a perspective into the current cultural moment that Breaking Bad (and other shows confronting the issue of masculinity) is reacting to.73 74 A follow-up to his 1996 text Manhood in America in which he tracked the creation and dissolution of the idea of the self-made man f14 Angry White Men argues that the era of unquestioned and unchallenged male entitlement is over and that the outcome of this cultural moment and the subjects of his book are men who either dont yet know it or sense the change in the wind and are determined to stem the tide.75 While Walter White is not a character who actively and purposefully rejects the changing times, I do believe he is representative of and a reaction to the crisis of masculinity and changing roles of white men in America that Kimmels work presents. Walt psychologically suffers from the stresses and tensions Kimmel finds in white American men and is surrounded by some of the same diverse powers that are imagined to threaten the long-standing tradition of dominant white men.
Much of the frustration Kimmel discovered is rooted in the perceived dissolution of benefits that white men gain through entitlement and privilege. He says that feeling
73 Alexandra Keller Historical Discourse and American Identity in Westerns since the Reagan Era in Hollywoods West, ed C. Peter Rollins and E. John OConnor (The University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 239-260. The idea that the Western is a reaction to historical moments of change is not unique to Baker and is echoed in many scholars including Alexandra Keller. She explores many films as reactions and representations of a changing cultural or political climate.
74 Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America (New York: Free Press, 1996); Brian Baker Masculinity in Fiction and Film (London: Continuum, 2006). Brian Baker explains that crises of masculinity in narratives have historically occurred during crucial historic and cultural moments. Baker argues for a particular relationship between the ideology of the nation-state and the ideologically sanctioned [hegemonic] form of masculinity at the time. He looks to show how fictional iterations of masculinity help to renegotiate masculinity in a way that represents various aspects of the non-fictional cultural and political atmosphere. His readings explore representations of masculinity in post-war frameworks (particularly post WWII and the Cold War) because post-war eras tend to mark moments in cultural change when modes of violent masculinity are perhaps no longer necessary and society must look at other definitions of masculinity with which they have to reconcile the violent past. While the crisis in Breaking Bad is not situated as post-war with relation to wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, it uses the modem dmg wars as a backdrop and is perhaps reacting to the perceived war on white men at a moment when the traditional privileged and dominant position of the white male in America is being questioned.
75 Michael Kimmel Angry White Men (New Yrk: Nation Books, 2013) xii.
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entitled by race or gender distorts ones vision,76 a distortion that Walt is guilty of as he repeatedly sacrifices the very family unit he set out to preserve. His masculinity as a father is threatened in his home while he believes that his prowess as a drug producer sets him apart from the violent non-white participants in the drug economy. He believes that his superior intellect somehow privileges and justifies his violent actions. In a move that summons Kimmels cultural crisis in angry white men, the series uses the Chilean-born Gus Fring, who is able to manage a business in a way that Walt is never able to replicate, as one of the greatest oppositions to Walts empire. In Gus empire, employees are paid and taken care of, a business model that Walt can never replicate and actively resists. The business created by a non-white immigrant in America is the more successful empire (albeit violent and illegal), an idea further explored in the next section.
The show repeatedly returns to masculinity as an area of insecurity and driving force in Walts decisions to remain in the meth business. Once he is successfully filtering his drug money into his family through his sons website Savewalterwhite.com, he is not satisfied because he is still not known as the provider. His son is credited for the money that Walt made cooking meth, replacing Walt as the provider for the family, a displacement that angers Walt. He refuses to genuinely congratulate his son.77 It is not enough for Walt to provide; he must be known as the provider and he cannot stand the thought that his family perceives him as a dependent. This comes from insecurities about his masculinity, an insecurity that becomes amplified in moments he cannot be the provider for his family.
76 Kimmel Angry White Men xii.
77 Mandala
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It is not only his son that displaces Walt as the provider throughout the series, but most of the people in his life. His ex-partner Elliot Schwartz offers to pay for his treatment with the abundant wealth he gained with the company he and Walt formed together with Walts research. Walt chose to leave the company before it was successful and become a teacher, a move that he secretly resents Elliot and Gretchen for. Grey Matter represents a huge missed opportunity for Walt, and is another moment when Walts role as a man and provider failed. He was, at Grey Matter, Gretchens lover and a highly skilled chemist. When he left the company, Gretchen and Elliot became lovers and wildly wealthy. Walt refuses to be emasculated by Elliot once again.
His wife Skylar, his students, and his brother-in-law Hank systematically emasculate Walt at the beginning of the series. After turning down the job at Grey Matter, and telling his wife he will not do chemotherapy (another attempt to control his life and mortality), his family holds an intervention, during which Walt openly discusses his unhappiness as a passive player in his own life in an attempt to gain some level of control as a man. During the intervention Walt is only allowed to speak when he is holding the speaking pillow, a microcosm of the rules and regulations that have driven him from this lifestyle and into behavior outside of these norms. Once he has the pillow, Walt speaks tellingly though cryptically about his desires: What I want, what I need...is a choice... Sometimes I feel like I never actually make any of my own choices, I mean, my entire life, it just seems I never, you know, had a real say about any of it. Now, this last one cancer, all I have left is how I choose to approach this.78 He continues to say that the worst part is the fact that Skylar and Walt Jr. would only remember him as a sick and
78 Gray Matter
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dying man. In this moment, he seems to be concerned with the quality of his life, the control he has over his life, and the legacy that he will leave behind for his family. Unfortunately, Walts failure to balance his idea of masculinity with the actual needs of his family drives him to compromise his familys welfare in favor of the control over his life and empire. He wakes the next morning and tells Skylar that he will do the treatment, but as she hugs him and is relieved that he has ceded to her desire, the look on his face is conflicted. It is obvious that he has made a choiceto fulfill Skylars desires, but also his own. He denies the money from his ex-partners once again as the episode comes to a close and he walks up to Jesses house and says: Wanna cook?79 He is going to try to survive cancer on his own terms and in a way that would situate him as the provider for the family, not a passive recipient of another mans wealth.
Ironically, his effort to attain masculinity by cooking meth often pushes the power he pursues out of his grasp. When he returns from the fugue state discussed earlier, any sense of choice or control he once had as a father and husband is gone. Skylar tells him to stay home and not go back to work, and to do specifically nothing while she goes to her new banking job.80 Walts position as a provider for his family is displaced by Skylars job at the bank. Not only this, but her job sets the stage for her affair.
He continually grasps at various kinds of masculinity. While his construction on the house was indicative of metaphoric domestic erosion, the same scene serves to displace his masculinity as well. After completing days of potentially unnecessary renovations on the house, he is still restless. He is fixing the house, but his behavior around Skylar lacks any sense of the confidence and focus that he has doing chemistry
79 Gray Matter
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and exerting control as Heisenberg. The show ends this sequence of domestic unrest with a moment of assertion and overlap that reminds us that Walt is a character for whom the constraints of domesticity have become unbearable, and for whom the savage conditions of the borderlands have become a meth-like addiction. Back at the home improvement store he sees a cart full of gear that he immediately recognizes as ingredients and equipment for cooking meth. Shopping for the supplies is a young guy (doppelganger for Jesse Pinkman) whom Walt initially tries to help out, explaining that he does not have the correct supplies and that he should buy some supplies from all over town in order not to raise suspicion. While Walt is in the checkout line holding two gallons of primer, the camera zooms in on Walts face sequentially with the beeping of the checkout scanner. Walt puts down the two cans of primer and walks to the parking lot with a physical conviction we have only seen him display as Heisenberg. The way he moves across the parking lot with single-minded purpose, as well as the metaphoric leaving behind of the home improvement store marks a moment of decisive transition back into the aggressive masculine identity he has created in the drug world. This is an identity that can and will protect what he believes is rightfully his. His turf is being threatened, and he walks up to the two men, stares down the older man, leans in, and says Stay out of my territory.81 He looks happy for the first time since he stopped cooking; he got his fix because he is now in a space in which he confidently has control.82 His use of the word territory invokes Walts identity as a sovereign power over a specific space, but his invocation of
81 Over
82 The sequential placement of this moment prior to a murder that brings Jesse and he back into the wilderness as explored earlier in the rhetoric of necessity. The show has this moment occur before the murder in order to make sure it is clear that Walt wants back in to the wilderness of meth cooking before it is actually necessary.
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it in a home improvement store parking lot raises questions to where this masculine energy resides.
His masculinity is also challenged by his brother in law Hank at Walts house, a space where Walt desires the same level of respect that he gets in his second home, the RV, as a master meth cook. Their relationship puts Walt in the passive and less traditionally masculine role. During a party at his house, Walt sits at a table by the pool with Walt Jr. and his brother in law Hank drinking tequila shots. Hank, a DEA agent, regales Jr. with stories from the field, and Walts demeanor becomes angry and unresponsive. This is not the first time that Walt has felt his manhood threatened by Hank with regard to Jr., but this time Walt decides to take control of the situation, an action uncharacteristic for Walt. He gives Walt Jr. a series of tequila shots, and when Hank tries to slow him down, he becomes even more insistent saying My son! My bottle! My house!83 Walt Jr. gets sick and vomits into the pool. As his son vomits and Skylar and Hank rush to his aid, Walt sits down with a smirk on his face and finishes his tequila shot. Walt later apologizes to Skylar in a voicemail that she listens to at Ted Benekes home, the space where she has been having an affair with her boss. Walts role as a father has been displaced by Hank, and as a husband, by Skylers boss Ted Beneke.
Another such moment that places Walt at odds with Hank with relation to his son Walter Jr. is during Walts birthday party. Walt Jr., as Brian Faucette points out, idolizes Hank. In this scene, Hank hands Walt his gun and makes fun of how awkward Walt looks while holding it.84 The gun validates Hanks masculinity and challenges Walts because a man like Walt is not comfortable wielding a gun.. .for men like Hank the gun is an
83 Over
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extension of their masculinity and their authority.85 Hank is a hero who embodies masculine authority where Walt is a passive, unhealthy, highly educated man. Walts life as a meth cook allows him to chase the type of masculinity his child idolizes.
Other characters notice that Walts vulnerability is his insecurity about his role as a man and a father. Gustav Fring, for example, is a man who has successfully built an empire and in many ways represents the type of masculinity-as-provider that Walt desires. Gus relies on Walts insecurity to persuade him to continue to cook in the meth super-lab despite the fact that Walt has enough money to support his family and his cancer is in remission. Gus takes him for a drive to show him the super-lab at the laundry, and it is at this point that Gus exploits Walts insecurities about being a provider for his family. During this sequence in the show, Walts masculinity is figuratively and literally displaced. As Walt is taken to the subterranean meth super-lab, Skylar goes to Teds house to continue her affair while Walts daughter is being taken care of by Marie.86 While Skylar undermines the sexual foundations of Walts manhood, Gus challenges it through his speech:
Gus: I need 200 pounds per week to make this economically viable. You would choose your own hours, of course, come and go as you please, so long as the quota is met.
Walt: Sorry. The answer is still no. I have made a series of very bad decisions, and I cannot make another one.
Gus: Why did you make these decisions?
Walt: For the good of my family.
Gus: Then they weren't bad decisions. What does a man do, Walter? A man provides for his family.
Walt: This cost me my family.
Gus: When you have children, you always have family. They will always be your priority, your responsibility. And a man... A man provides. And he does it
85 Faucette, Taking Control: Male Angst and Re-Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad, 76
86 A A A
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even when he's not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up, and he does it, because he's a man.87
Gus describes a kind of man that Walt cannot ever be, the kind of man to provide and not be appreciated or respected. Walt has a desire for a very specific type of manhood that is defined by recognition and appreciation. He wants the power he holds as the mythic Heisenberg, but he wants to experience that power in the context of his family. He wants to act outside the law and publically reap the benefits of those actions in a structure governed by the law. The result is that his desire to fulfill the myth of the gun-slinging cowboy conflicts with and supersedes his identity as a good father. As Faucette points out, Walt is able to reclaim his masculine authority but at the expense of his marriage, his children, his character and perhaps his own humanity.88 The temptation of the super-lab and the wealth it represents to Walt proves to be too much and he decides to continue to cook. His desire to provide an unimaginable amount of wealth to his family pushes him to try to fulfill the role of the provider while also continuing to work in the illegal drug world where his violence is regenerative.
Walts crisis of masculinity is complicated further because the type of manhood he desires is generated from Western archetypal protagonists. He simultaneously desires to leave a legacy as a father and as the mythological identity Heisenberg. Breaking Bad presents us with a Western protagonist defined by fatherhood, manhood, and masculinity, a mixture that many of the protagonists in the Western tradition did not have to fulfill. In films like High Noon, True Grit, The Searchers, and even the revisionist Western Unforgiven, the protagonists are allowed a violent masculine life that protects ideals of
87 Mas
88 Faucette, Taking Control: Male Angst and Re-Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad, 80
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domesticity such as marriage (High Noon) and the family (Unforgiven, True Grit, The Searchers). Unforgiven, a film that actively and purposefully engages and resists the cultural myth production of the West, allows Munny to leave his children to exact his revenge through murder and return to settle successfully. He plays a masculine father/provider at home and a violent masculine gunslinger away from home. Breaking Bad uses this myth of masculinity to frustrate Walt as a character chasing his desire to fulfill a mythic masculine ideal in a frontier that will not allow it. Walt fails to fulfill his concept of manhood as a father but embraces the traditional, violent, male conquest in the illegal world of drug production.
Brian Bakers Masculinity in Fiction and Film describes the role of the frontier and representations of masculinity within the aging Western genre. This can help place masculinity in Breaking Bad into the tradition that it is revising. In the aging Western, the protagonist exists as an outdated version of masculinity and the narratives serve to give them one final showdown before stepping off the stage of history.89 In this Western tradition, as the government, law, industrialization, and other tropes of settlement arrive in the Wild West, the violent forms of masculinity that existed must leave to make room for the new society. Baker closely examines Unforgiven and John Waynes last film The Shootist, among others, to exemplify cowboys who represented antiquated modes of masculinity.90 For Baker, these serve to reread the development of the USA as a rites-of-passage narrative for white-male America [in which] the young
89 Baker, Masculinity in Fiction and Film, xi.
90 Baker, Masculinity in Fiction and Film ,134.
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must reject the values of the old while nostalgically reinscribing the authority of the frontiersman as a validating father figure, gone but not forgotten.91
While aspects of the series place it into the aging Western tradition, its conflict and final resolution to issues of masculinity point toward a frontier narrative that rejects the ability for the violent male archetype to defend or participate in peaceful domestic fatherhood. So, in Breaking Bad we are presented with a troubled masculinity that fails both in its efforts to generate and maintain an empire as well as its efforts to protect the family. For Walt, violence is clearly a driving component of his progress, but he has not outlived his time and his violent nature directly threatens his family as he tries to concurrently exist within a modern society while also holding on to the violent nature necessary to survive the landscape of the drug trade. Walt cannot let go of his violent masculinity and does not escape after his final showdown because his violence has real and lasting effects on his family. While Walt is allowed a violent final showdown in which he mechanizes an automatic weapon to kill a room full of men, he is fatally injured in the shootout.92 He does not return to his family or restore any level of domestic ideal; rather, in his final moments, he enters the last iteration of the meth lab and, after nostalgically walking around the equipment, dies alone.
91 Baker, Masculinity in Fiction and Film 136: Baker concludes that Westerns like Unforgiven allow for the violent masculine male to be re-incorporated into society rather than rejected from it: This is the inverse of the Turner myth. Rather than the frontier and the West being the crucible of democracy, in Unforgiven they are the locus of violence. Rather than disavowing progress in favour of nostalgia for the individual ethos of the frontiersman, the violence of the frontiersman is implicated in progress.91 Munny exerts a violent masculine will over the injustice he sees (from outside of the law) only to go west and settle as a business owner. What Baker misses is that Unforgiven is still consistent with the myth because it still emphasizes the triumphal settlement.
92 Felina
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Walt fails to understand masculinity in a way that would allow for a happy marriage.93 One might say that Walter White is himself a product of the Western myth, even as the narrative situates him squarely within his family. Part of Walts failure to provide for his family in the way he so desires comes form his failure to reconcile his desire for masculine individualism with the conflicting desire to be admired as a provider for his family.
His masculine authority is defined by his genius in the lab as well as his exertion of force over others. In the first season episode entitled Crazy Handful of Nothin, Walt asserts his authority through a violence he did not initially want to participate in, but one that he stepped into in the interest of building his empire. The episode opens with Walt telling Jesse that if they are to continue to cook, he wants nothing to do with the customers. As he says to Jesse No matter what happens, no more bloodshed, no violence we see Walt, now bald, walking away from a building amidst chaotic surroundings that signify an explosion. Walt carries a bloodstained bag full of money through the confused scene on the street. He is the lone figure walking away from the exploded building that captures everyone elses attention.94 The scene around him indicates his return and use of a violent traditional model of masculinity to provide for his family. He carries the bag of money as the prize of his violence, representative of his goal as a father and provider. His initial reluctance, paired with the extreme use of violence, shows Walts desire to provide for his family using any means necessary, but also his efforts to fulfill a role of manhood
93 His conflict fits into William Handleys analysis of marriage in the American West and frontier narratives. The issue that modem critics (Handley among them) have found in historical and literary writing about the west is that it tends to favor the myth of the individual rather than the family and community networks that actually drive many of the narratives. Handley argues that frontier narratives have always incorporated marriage as an essential ingredient, and that the masculine individualism so common in the cultural imagination is more a product of the myth rather than the literary texts (or historical reality) of the frontier
94 Crazy Handful of Nothin
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that the violent and hyper masculine drug dealers like Tuco Salamanca will respect. After the explosion in Tucos fortress like office, Tuco tells Walt, you got balls, signifying that the violence figuratively masculinizes Walt.
Walts effort to be the provider for his family takes the series all the way to the final episode of the series. The white supremacists, who Walt hired to commit extreme acts of violence in the interest of his empire, have taken most of his money, and his family has let him go. He has been isolated in the mountains but his desire to financially provide for his family remains and is one of his final actions. In a sequence that finalizes Walts failure as a provider and his failure to understand the damage he brought onto his house, Walt secretly calls his son in an effort to sneak him money. In the phone conversation Walt Jr. is disgusted that after everything Walt has done he still wants to give them money. He tells Walt that he does not want the money and that he wishes Walt were dead. Walt, bent on getting the wealth he amassed for his family to them, cannot directly give the money to his family so he uses his ex-partner to do it. He enters their house and threatens to kill Elliot and Gretchen if they do not get the money to his son. Even in his final moments, although the money will be given to Walt Jr., Walt will still not be recognized as the provider. It will publically come from the company he used to work for. His legacy as a father is a broken family with a son who wishes his father was dead.
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The Garden in the Machine95
Walts masculinity is certainly in crisis, and much of this crisis in evidenced in his figurative impotence and his obsessive pursuit of conquest, a conquest over others in the frontier, but also a conquest over his own nature. Where cowboys were confronted with vast landscapes and formidable geographies and the nature they were out to conquer consisted of wild animals and American Indians, for Walt, the nature is on a microscopic level. Walter is a master chemist, an identity perhaps at one extreme end of conquest over nature, and his profession dictates that the space in which he works be as far removed from the unpredictable natural world as possible. While the series does not consistently or dominantly rely on Leo Marxs classic trope of the Machine in the Garden, the artistic and uncharacteristically cerebral episode The Fly translates this trope into the world of Breaking Bad by allowing nature to interrupt the industrialized space of the lab. While the industrial interruption of the pastoral motivated many narratives considering the impact of such rapid industrialization on the development of the land, the inverted use of the trope as nature interrupts the lab opens a space in the series for Walt to pause and reflect upon his choices and his existence in the meth industry, and also to exemplify Walts impotent and struggling conquest.
When Walt moves to Gus super-lab, he is at first a master of the spacea space full of expensive industrial equipment. The subterranean super-lab is a pristine space in
95 Probably one of the most well known tropes regarding wilderness and settlement is the Machine in the Garden. Leo Marxs The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America explores the recurring image in American Frontier narratives of the interruption of pastoral spaces by icons of industrialization such as the steam engine. Marx argues that this perennial trope in American literature is evidence of the cultural effect that the rapidity of the development of the West had on the American people: Its influence upon our literature is suggested by the recurrent image of the machines sudden entrance into the landscape. This iconic concept is revised in Breaking Bad, a frontier narrative that takes place in the modem space of New Mexico and in an age of modem industrialization and production. Industrialization, along with violence, is also an aspect of the conquest of the West, and Walts placement in an industrialized locale likewise shapes his conquest over nature.
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which all chemicals, components, and steps are precisely measured. It is a contained industrialized space where Walt can control all aspects of production without variables. As opposed to the pastoral image evolving due to industrialization, the lab is a space that resists variable nature. In the episode The Fly, the lab, and Walts psyche, are interrupted by nature in the form of a single fly. This episode comes as Walt loses control over his lab and his relationship with Gus Fring. The empire that cost him his family is crumbling. It is appropriate that given Walts chemical mastery over nature that it would be a small component of nature, a fly, that mocks him.
Walt desires a clean separation between outside nature and inside production. He views them as necessarily separate concepts to be contained and ordered. He explains the situation to Jesse: I have turned the ventilation up to keep the outside out. Theres uh, been a contamination. Something got into the lab,96 to which Jesse replies So its not dangerous? and sheepishly Walt answers Not to us, particularly as he holds a wimpy looking plastic contraption wrapped in tape that he poorly put together, another physical symbol of Walts impotence. Obviously the physical interruption in the space is small, but the psychological interruption it causes is enormous. In this scene it feels to Jesse, and the audience, that nothing can happen in the lab without Walt knowing about it. Walt simultaneously hunts the fly and thwarts Jesses attempts to continue the cook. The fly moves around the lab with a freedom and unpredictability that Walt is impelled to dominate. Walt will sacrifice the batch of meth and his own well being to ensure that the freedom that this fly enjoys is stamped out.
96
;Fly
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This is indicative of Walts desire to have choice over his own nature and
mortality. Walt wants to dictate the death of the fly just as he wants to dictate the terms of his own death. Walt goes so far as to define the fly as a contamination and claims that it is by no means a misuse of the word...If we want to keep our lab and our cook clean, we need to take this very seriously.. .This fly is a major problem for us. It will destroy our batch. Failing that, were dead. There is no more room for error. Not with these people.97 Walts mental collapse, brought on by the interruption of the space by a minute form of nature, is a form of madness and an obsession with a mastery over his death and his concern about the choices he has made.
Jesse, afraid for his and Walts well being, drugs Walt so he will fall asleep. In his exhausted and drugged state, Walt confronts, in a rare, genuine moment of reflection and regret, the consequences of his choices and comes to accept, after much meditation, the unpredictability of life, accepting a figuratively emasculated position. His obsession with the fly, and its insistence on surviving despite all of Walts efforts to kill it, allow the interruption of the space of the lab to operate as a reflective moment in which Walt confronts his ruined legacy as a father and his inability to control his own mortality. In the monologue, he searches his past for when he missed the perfect moment to die. He believes that had he died at a specific and planned moment, it would have saved his family:
I missed it. There was some perfect moment and it passed me right by.. .I'm saying I've lived too long. I mean you want them to actually miss you, you know?...I know the moment. It was the night Jane died. Yeah, I was at home and we needed diapers and so I said I'd go, but it was just an excuse... The universe is random. It's not inevitable. It's simple chaos. It's subatomic particles in endless aimless collision. That's what science teaches us. That was the moment. That
97
;Fly
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night. I should never have left home.. .1 was at home watching TV.. .and Skyler and Holly were in another room. I could hear them on the baby monitor. She was singing a lullaby. If I had just lived right up to that moment and not one second more, that would have been perfect.98
Walt generally wants order and resists the chaos of nature. He wants to control his own nature but the moment he would have liked to die has past he must go, regretfully, forward. Jesse kills the fly as Walt falls asleep. The next day Walt goes home and is laying in bed. A fly buzzes above him as he sleeps and it wakes him. Nature has interrupted Walts life and its resistance to his control troubles his state of mind. For Breaking Bad, nature interrupts the industrialized space and overcomes Walt with the reality of his random, uncontrollable mortalitynature challenges his masculine desire for conquest.
Myth of Heisenberg and the End of an Empire
Criticism about frontier narratives tries to break the various myths of the west in order to understand a more culturally competent frontier.99 The myths of the west are ideas that exist in the imagination but persist, in certain ways, as truth. Breaking Bad
99 See generally Handley, Rollins and OConner, Rebecca Johnson, Slotkin, Limerick, Sultze. Critics agree that because fictional narratives about the west and its pioneering characters preceded the historical documents, history was indelibly influenced by fiction. Many historians, like William Handley, argue for a synthesis of history and literature when talking about the American West. He believes that given the nature of how frontier mythology and frontier history have developed, it is counterproductive to separate the two. Because of this, fictional representations of the West have always been complicated by a need to place the narratives into historical moments or with historic backdrops like the Civil War. By doing so, the frontier has been a space for narratives that might offer criticism about contemporary cultural concepts by filtering the fiction through the historic moment. Similarly, Peter Rollins and John OConner, in their text Hollywoods West: The American Frontier in Film, television, and History establish that Westerns have, and remain to, act as a touchstone to the understanding the nations concerns. Because of this, they maintain that the study of the evolution of the Western in not a detached, academic endeavor; it is a chance to look at the potentials of our nation as they have been explored by some of our best literary and visual artists. In Rebecca Johnsons essay Living Deadwood: Imagination, Affect, and the Persistence of the Past, her analysis of Deadwood as a Shakespeare meets The Sopranos style Western, summarizes a similar sentiment in her research: [a western] tells us less about that past than about the cultural attitudes of the present.
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participates in this myth creation by generating Walts alter-ego Heisenberg and the mythic level it gains in the show. This myth, however, is built amidst the construction of Walts empire. This series was created during a period of ongoing drug production and transport from Mexico to the United States and the subsequent drug warsthe backdrop of the series. In 2013, it was reported that a single Mexican cartel controlled 80% of the meth business in the United States.100 Breaking Bad represents a fear of entrepreneurial invasion that is taking place both in the legal and illegal economies. It comes in a moment of displaced power and the crumbling myth of the ethnocentric American Dream and American empire.
In a recent (May 2014) editorial for the New York Times, Anand Giridharadas explored the changing power dynamic between immigrants and native-born Americans. He begins his article by saying if you want to die a successful American, especially in the heartland, it helps to be born abroad.101 He goes on to explain what he terms the immigrant advantage that seems to pervade all aspects of life in America from marriage, to professional success, to education. He describes an immigrant victim of a racially charged post-9/11 attack who forgave his attacker because the native Texan hadnt had the same shot at the American dream as the foreigner hed tried to kill.102 Giridharadas explains that naturalized citizens have an advantage because they have a mixture of rugged individualism and the ability to use a community for support, the second of which he claims most native born Americans lack. While on one end Breaking
100 Santiago Wills ABC News This Mexican Cartel Controls 80 Percent of the U.S. Meth Trade, Study Finds. This is also discussed in Jim Salters article on the Huffington Post Mexico Drug Cards Flood Cheap Meth Into U.S. and the St. Louis Associated Press article by Mark Stevenson and Christopher Sherman Mexico Cartels fill demand for meth in USA.
101 Anand Giridharadas The Immigrant Advantage, New York Times, 24, May 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/opinion/sunday/the-immigrant-advantage.html?_r=0
102 Giridharadas, The Immigrant Advantage.
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Bad represents a cultural crisis of masculinity, on the other it explores the erosion of the myth of the American Dream and entrepreneur. Asa result, Breaking Bad can be viewed as a response to the changing identity of the American empire.
The stress of the shifting structure of America as described by Giridharadas is present in many ways in the series, not the least of which is Walts various employers. The principle at his school is a Hispanic-American woman, and at his second job at the car wash, where he is constantly taken advantage of and has no authority, he works as the cashier under a man named Bogdan Wolynetz (Marius Stan), a Romani an-American. Later in the series Skylar and Walt decide that they want the car wash for themselves as a vehicle for laundering the incredible amount of wealth that Walt accrues cooking meth. After failing to ascertain the car wash legally through negotiation with Bogdan, Skylar and Walt resort to deceit in order to steal the business from Bogdan. Not only does an immigrant own and run a successful and legal business, a white native-born family deceives him and runs him out. The series presents a setting in which the fears that Kimmel and Giridharadas present come to life. With the exception of Hank, most positions of authority and power are held by non-white, often immigrant characters.
Perhaps the most prevalent of such characters is Gus Fring, a Chilean-born citizen who employs Walt as a meth cook for several seasons of the show. Again, Walt is an employee in a successful (illegal) business started and run by an immigrant, a business he acquires by killing Gus with a suicide bomb strapped to an ex-cartel member. He kills his immigrant boss by playing him against another immigrant. Interestingly, the meth empire goes into complete decline with Walt at the helm, and eventually leads to Walts inclusion of a white-supremacist group into the business. This results in Jesses eventual
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slavery. Under Walt, the strength of Gus empire dissolves into a corrupted murderous business commanded by white-supremacists who enslave Jesse to produce meth. Far from the American Dream, Walt remains as either subservient in the empire, or as the driving force behind its destruction.
It is important to point out that much of Walts violence is toward men of color. Kimmels cultural history unearths the blame that white men are placing on women and men of color as the culturally dominant privilege of being a white man dissolves. Immigrant men and men of color dominate the borderland drug world that Walt steps into. They have cross-border connections and ties that somehow facilitate the construction of illegal empires that Walt can never replicate. Not until the final season is Walt forced into a violent battle against other white men who are othered by their status as white supremacists, and who also represent the ideology and anger that Kimmel found in many of the men he met writing his book.
Walt chases the crumbling myth of the self-made man in an attempt to provide for his family while also fulfilling an ideal of masculinity born, and persistent, in American frontier narratives. As Kimmel claims, American white men bought the promise of self-made masculinity, but its foundation has all but eroded.103 The show confronts this crisis in Walts search for the American Dream outside of Americas legal boundaries and Walts inability to accept the richness of his family life as having a value enough to satisfy him. He chases the dissolving American Dream of the self-made man in the illegal drug economy as a result of his failure to fulfill the multiple kinds of masculinity he believes are necessary. He looks outside of the law because he is representative of the
103 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 15.
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frustrated men who currently believe that the system is directly oppressing them. These men believe that it is necessary to take the law into their own hands.104 Ultimately, Kimmel establishes a men-as-victims philosophy in which men blame others for the confused tension between the traditional violent and empowered view of masculinity, and the liberated view of masculinity that would allow men to be fathers with more productive relationships with their children.105 Just like the frustrated men Kimmel describes in his book, Walt wants both.
In the wake of Gus death, Walt is confronted with the freedom to pursue the meth empire and the harsh realities of the cost of the meth business without Gus infrastructure. The dwindling supply of methylamine (a primary ingredient in Walts specialized cook) and ongoing costs to keep Gus men (now imprisoned) quiet, continually frustrate Walt and he becomes increasingly sovereign in how the business is run. While Gus relied on fear and violence to maintain his empire, the violence Walt employs is of an entirely different ilk. Kimmel s cultural history works through many different types of angry white men but the overall claim is that white men point their anger toward women or non-white men, but the real enemy is an ideology of masculinity that we inherited from our fathers, and their fathers before them, an ideology that promises unparalleled acquisition coupled with a tragically impoverished emotional intelligence.106 Walt killed the head of the empire and believed that he would be able to simply take Gus place on top. He confronts this myth head on and the writers of the
104 This comes in his third chapter entitled White Men as Victims: The Mens Rights Movement in which he uses Den Hollander as an exemplaran educated, wealthy white male who feels that it is necessary to take a stand to keep men categorically out of the servitude into which he feels feminazis are putting men. While Hollander is specifically angry at women, his philosophy that men must act outside of normal structures in order to resist this ideology, and the sociological victimization of men is apt.
105 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 108-109
106 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 9
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show summon classic Western ideology as Mike says Listen Walter, just because you shot Jesse James, does not make you Jesse James.107 This moment frustrates Walt because he believed that by displacing Gus he would have access to unparalleled acquisition, but he is not able to fulfill the same sovereign role as Gus.
Walt feels in this moment much like Kimmel defines as he points to the multiple roles that define masculinity and the dissolving privilege afforded to white men: [white men] are feeling emasculatedhumiliated. The promise of economic freedom, of boundless opportunity, of unlimited upward mobility, was what they believed was the terra firma of American masculinity, the ground on which American men have stood for generations. Today, it feels like a carpet being snatched from under their feet.108 Desperate to build his own empire and relieve himself of Gus shadow, Walt pays a group of neo-Nazi ex-cons to coordinate the murder of ten imprisoned men linked to Gus empire who are costing Walt too much money. Walt blames his financial woes on someone other than himself. In this highly organized and violent scene, Walt, the man behind the murders, sits safely and distant from the violence he brings upon the men.
His is an empire built on, and led by, the mythic violence of his alter ego Heisenberg. Despite the inevitable failure of Walts empire, his attempt to create and build it makes up the majority of the series. In the fifth season episode entitled Buyout, Walt says to Jesse, You asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I'm in the empire business.109 He builds his empire alongside the development of his mythical alter ego Heisenberg. From early in the series the idea of Heisenberg is larger than life, but the show calls attention to the myth. During a briefing about the blue
107
108 109
Hazard Pay
Kimmel, Angry White Men, 13
Buyout
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meth that Hank is giving at the DEA he says we have a new kingpin, immediately after which we see Walt brushing his teeth, a domestic behavior unrelenting in its contrast to the idea of a drug kingpin.110
One of the most obvious moments of myth production in the series comes after
Tucos death and a sketched image of Heisenberg, with the hat, is seen in Mexico. The
episode Negro y Azul opens with a music video of a narco-corrido, a genre of Mexican
ballad that focuses on drug smugglers, performed by the band Los Cuates de Sinaloa
singing a song about Heisenberg and his reputation. The song places the myth of
Heisenberg and the threat he represents in direct contrast to the violent Mexican drug
cartels. Even as the myth spreads across the border it competes with more violent,
powerful, and fearful enterprises. The frontier in Breaking Bad is not an unsettled
wilderness in which Walt can freely exert his power, it is one that is populated by drug
cartels, drug users, and other forces that he has to contend with. The lyrics of the song
frame New Mexico in terms of a dominant Mexican presence, displacing the dominant
force of Heisenberg and therefore, the dominant force of white men. One verse reads:
Now New Mexico's name is well suited.
Now it looks just like Mexico 'Cause of all the drugs it's hiding,
Except there's a gringo boss
And as "Heisenberg" they know him.111
New Mexico is represented here not in terms of white men pioneering conquest, but in terms of a subversive conquest of a drug culture brought up from Mexico. This is not a space occupied and dominated by white men, but rather a space subversively identified
110 Cancer Man
111 Negro y Azul
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and controlled by the Mexican drug cartels. The mythical power of the cartels
overpowers the myth of Heisenberg in the song:
Heisenberg's fame
Has reached down to Michoacan.
From way over there they want to come Only to taste that crystal.
That blue stuff has gone international...
From the fury of the cartel No one has ever escaped.
This homie's already dead He just doesn't know it yet.
While Walt is high on power as Heisenberg, unbeknownst to him the Mexican drug cartel is sending men to kill him. These two men exemplify a kind of relentless violence and infiltration that knows no boundaries. In the show, they rarely speak and they act with complete focus and disregard for their own safety. They do not fear death and look to revenge the death of their cousin Tuco Salamanca by killing Heisenberg. If confronted by these two men Walt would most certainly not have survived. Luckily for him, they are redirected at the command of Gus Fring to go after Walts brother in law Hank instead. Gus is the head of a huge meth empire and not only employs Walt but is also the only force that can save him from relentless violence of the cartels. Walt, far from the head of an empire, cannot protect himself from the violence his actions bring to him.
The relationship of myth to the construction of empire in the series is something
that Gilligan and the shows creators purposely invoke by alluding to Percy Shelleys
Romantic poem Ozymandias, a name used for an episode of the series, as well as the
driving force behind a teaser for the final season of the show.112 The teaser exemplifies
the series conversation that intertwines myth, empire, and the American West. It opens
112 Ozymandias As Read by Bryan Cranston: Breaking Bad, YouTube video, 1:10, posted by AMC, July 29, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3dpghfRBHE&feature=kp.
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with a time-lapsed sunset over the New Mexican desert. A barbed wire fence on the left
side of the frame interrupts the wide horizon. The montage then cuts to another time-
lapse of sun rising and electrical lines cut sharply into the sky over the desert; a desert
landscape that is pierced by development and industrialization. Following this is a series
of familiar images showcasing desert plateaus and landscapes, locations that while not
visibly interrupted by wires or fences, have a history of violence created in the series. The
montage then cuts to a shot of the RV framed as if it is a plateau cutting across the sky.
Shots of the landscape are crosscut with scenes of Albuquerque and familiar sites from
the series. For the viewers, these locations have unique histories and the visual montage
juxtaposes the settled industrialized modern cityscape with the vast desert landscape.
These spaces make up the shows frontier for empire building and violence. Over the
montage Bryan Cranston reads Percy Shelleys sonnet Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
The teaser ends with a low tracking shot over the sand that reveals the pork pie hat
synonymous with Walts transformation and identity as the mythological meth producer
with the pseudonym Heisenberg. His hat lay solitary in the desert. Shelleys poem tells
two conflicting stories: that of an emperor of great power and the boundless and bare
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wreckage that remain. The desert scene puts the remains of the empire in a space that contrasts the past glory of Ozymandias whose empire was built, at least in part, on self glorification. A giant statue of himself proclaiming his name sets up the wonderful dual meaning Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair. Despair initially at the fearful thought of a king or empire with such power, and now, despair at the appearance of the remains that serve to remind any traveler that even the greatest of empires will fall. As Cranston reads the final words, we see his hat in the sand, and just as the poem claims, The lone and level sands stretch far away. Walter White, like Ozymandias, builds a fearful empire, but unlike Ozymandias legacy that is relegated to a second hand story from one traveler to another, Walts empire, and myth, will not only survive in wreckage and remains in the desert, but also in the lasting violence he exerts on his family.
In the fifth season, the episode Ozymandias explores the fading empire by juxtaposing the dream the empire was initially built upon and the reality of the violent empire on his family.113 The episode opens with a flashback of Walt and Jesse cooking in the R.V; Walt has hair, Jesse looks young, and the mood reminds the audience of the humble and almost fun relationship they had at the start of the series. Walt is trying to teach Jesse about chemistry, which reminds us of Walts identity as a teacher and of their seemingly innocent beginnings. Walt steps outside in his underwear and steps away from the RV to call Skylar. This flashback serves to show the extent of Walts dissolution, and the extent of the horrible empire he has created. Before he calls Skylar he practices his lie, and while he speaks to her over the phone, far off behind him Jesse jumps off of rocks and plays with sticks by the RV. There is playful innocence to Jesse and despite Walts
113 Ozymandias
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deceit to his wife, here we see the Walter White who began so innocently hoping to provide money for his family. This is the character who decided to go into business for himself (albeit illegally) in order to pay for his cancer treatment and provide for his family after his death. Walt visually fades from the frame, followed by Jesse and the RV. The sound of automatic gunfire echoes through the desert as the flashback closes and the current scene fades in. The White supremacist group ceases fire as we see Hank, wounded, and his partner Steve Gomez, dead in the sand. The violence Walts empire brought to his family is exposed.
Walts empire and compassion fall apart in many ways in this sequence as we see the empire Walt built, and the extraordinary wealth he accrued dissipate. The moment invites a recollection of Shelleys poem. This desert space holds with it the complete narrative of Walter White. By the end of the scene, having just been reminded of the innocence and playfulness Walt and Jesse had at the start of the series, all that remains is despair. Hank is fatally shot and Walt falls into the sand weeping. As the white supremacists find the $80 million in cash buried in the desert, Walt does not move, but lies in the sand staring at Hanks corpse. The words nothing beside remains take a particularly poignant meaning as Hank and Gomez are dragged and buried in the hole where Walt hid his money.
This exact desert space is where Jesse and Walt first cooked, committed their first murder, where Walt committed the first major lie to his wife, buried the money his empire gained him, and now, where Walt watches his brother in law be buried and gives Jesse up for torture and execution. Despite all of this, once the hole is filled, there are only small and seemingly insignificant pieces of evidence that any of this occurred. If a
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traveler were to find this space they might find bullet shells in the sand and bullets in the rocks, but with a quick glance, nothing remains here of the horror that has taken place. The desert space in Breaking Bad represents the space where empire both begins and ends.
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CONCLUSION
In his comprehensive genre based text entitled The Western, David Lusted explains that the production of Westerns is less frequent now than in any other point in the twentieth century.114 He explains that the skillset in actors, stuntmen, and cinematographers dwindled, and the direct connection to the frontier dwindled as well. John Ford claimed to have direct connections and inspirations for moments in his films giving them a sense of authenticity, but as Lusted points out, No one today can boast of such personal relationships, however fanciful.115 He goes on to discuss the many cultural and political factors that perhaps have influenced the decline in the frequency of narratives in the Western genre, but importantly he argues that the purpose of studying the Western lies in coming to understand the complex popular memory of this resonant film history. Each new Western film produced adds to the layers of meanings around the Western from years of previous association. Each adds to a body of work of immense cultural substance and historical longevity.116
Breaking Bad takes part in this tradition by revising the mythic Western narrative. It has a particular resonance right now because it operates as a kind of meta-Western in which to explore the influence of the Western on the American imagination at a moment of imperial decline. Walt is a protagonist who actively and unsuccessfully chases the mythological masculine and heroic identity of the Western hero. By the final episode, Walt moves through Albuquerque as a ghost, impossibly avoiding law enforcement and
114 David Lusted, The Western (New York: Pearson Longman, 2003), 4.
115 Lusted, The Western, 5
116 Lusted, The Western, 10
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passing in and out of spaces as he wills, but with extremely limited power. The allegoric entrepreneurial genius who created the mythic and imperially dominant identity Heisenberg, says goodbye to his family and dies alone in a meth lab.
The frontier in Breaking Bad is a space that allows for behavior that transgresses societal ethics but denies the regenerative myth of this transgression. The modern frontier in Breaking Bad is a space where the crumbling myth of the American individual and the American empire is exposed. The relationship of empire to the state in the series is one of ethically and legally transgressive violencea violence that is vilified rather than justified in the name of conquest. Breaking Bad participates in a movement in the Western genre that deals with the lasting ill effects of violence and conquest as well as the cultural crisis of masculinity. Walts empire, and the cultural crisis of the American empire it is a response to, is troubled by violence and motivated by money in an era of shifting cultural norms and identities in which war and violence are not specifically located, but rather infiltrate every area of domesticity through terrorism, drug use, and the borderland drug wars. Once believed to be the beginning of a long and prosperous American empire, the frontier, through Breaking Bad, is a theoretical and physical space where we see the myth of that empire collapse, and with it the mythological ideologies on which it was founded.
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Full Text

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BREAKING BAD AS A MODERN WESTERN: REVISING FRONTIER MYTHS OF MASCULINITY, SAVAGERY, AND EMPIRE by J.J. CLARK B.A., Colorado State University, 2004 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment Of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts English 2014

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ii 2014 J.J. CLARK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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iii This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by J.J. Clark has been approved for the English Program by Philip Joseph Chair Rodney Herring Sarah Hagelin

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iv Clark, J.J. (M.A. English) Breaking Bad as a Modern Western: Revising Frontier Myths of Masculinity, Savagery, and Empire Thesis directed by As sociate Professor Philip Joseph. ABSTRACT This paper offers an analysis of the AMC television series Breaking Bad by placing it directly into the tradition of frontier narratives and the Western film. It looks to understand the aspects of the Western genre that the series revises as well as understand Breaking Bad as both a revisionist Western that redefines certain tropes common to the family centered Western, as well as a Meta Western that calls attention to the impact of the frontier myth on modern characters like Walter White. It finds that to make a "contemporary Western as creator Vince Gilligan termed it, the show revises the traditional West ern narrative by denying a regenerative quality to violence and demanding a multicultural, complicated, and ongoing understanding of the American frontier. The paper concludes by analyzing how the show's cultural allegorie s are a reaction to and a critique of a modern crisis of masculinity and the American empire. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Philip Joseph

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v DEDICATION This thesis was simultaneously the most exciting type of research I have ever done and the most difficult. There are many people without whom this thesis, and this degree, would not have been possible. First of all I want to thank the love of my life, my wife Emily. Not only was she accepting about the idea of me going to graduate school but she was excited, positive, supportive, and always willing to say yes when I needed yet another Friday or Saturday night to read or write. Without her at home driving me and pushing me to write, think, and converse about philosophy, literature, and sometimes just bad television, I would not have survived the research process. Thank you Emily, I owe this paper and this degree to you. Thank you Philip Joseph for saying yes to this project and meeting me with such great excitement and ideas. Thank you for hounding me on campus when I was not writing enough, pushing my ideas past their rough first draft infancy, and challenging both the way I write and the way I think about texts. The first course I took for thi s degree was yours, and I was exceptionally happy that I could bookend my experience here with you. You brought an inspired perspective to the project that surely it would have failed without. Thank you Rodney Herring for saying yes to the initial indepen dent study that inspired this project. I loved the American West and wanted to learn more, and that was enough for you to say yes to spending a semester reading Turner, Limerick, Twain, Smith, and many others on my path in discovering the literature and ph ilosophy surrounding the American Frontier. Thank you for so many great conversations and positivity.

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vi Thank you Sarah Hagelin for saying yes to being on my committee despite the fact that we had never met before. You did not even flinch at my request, and your input and expertise was wonderful. You reminded me how inspiring it is to have professors who are simply excited about ideas and willing to watch them develop. Thank you Selena Dickey for so many wonderful conversations at coffee shops, and for allowing me to watch you through your process. Thank you to Justin Bain, Drew Bixby and the entire crew at the UC Denver Writing Center You gave me a job and a space when I began this degree that taught me the methods of composition that I needed to complete this thesis. Thank you Jolon Clark and Jeff Shoemaker for employing me part time during my degree. I have, and always will continue to love what the Greenway Foundation does, and I am in debt to you for employing me for the majority of my life in such ways that made my life choices possible. Thank you so much. Thank you Matt Murphy, Chris Faller, Evan D urland, and all of my friends for swimming with me and making sure that my academic and critical conversations did not end in the classroom. You created a state of mind in which I could excitedly pursue this research. Thank you Jana and Joe Clark, m y pare nts, who have always valued education and always asked about my course reading lists because of the unending curiosity that drives the inspi red personalities you have. I owe you my love of learning and ideas, and without you watching my newborn daughter, w ho was the biggest and most welcome distraction to my writing, I surely would never have finished. Thank you for loving her and watching her when I needed time to draft.

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vii Finally, I want to thank my daughter Olive who came into my life the semester I drafted the majority of this thesis. Thank you for giving me a drive to complete this degree and a perspective on my life that allowed me to revise and compose more efficiently Editing and revising major sections with you sleeping on my chest in between changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking you to sleep is the only way I would have ever wanted to complete a Master's thesis. I love you.

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viii CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ .......................... 1 CHAPTER I. THE COLLAPSE OF THE DOMESTIC AND WILDERNESS ................................ ................ 6 Placing Breaking Bad in the Western Tradition ................................ ................................ 6 Rethinking the Domestic and the Wilderness: Space and Behavior ................................ 12 Overlap of The Domestic and the Wilderness ................................ ................................ .. 16 Rhetoric of Necessity and Walter White's Empire of Innocence ................................ ..... 24 Violence and the Contamination of the House ................................ ................................ 36 Violence at Home or Domestic Violence ................................ ................................ ......... 39 II. BREAKING BAD 'S CULTURAL MOMENT: A CRISIS OF MASCULINITY AND THE AMERICAN EMPIRE ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 45 The Hat and the Gun: Walt and Mythic Masculinity ................................ ........................ 46 Myth of Manhood: Masculinity, Fatherhood, and The Role of the Provider ................... 50 The Garden in the Machine ................................ ................................ ............................... 63 Myth of Hei senberg and the End of an Empire ................................ ................................ 66 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................. 78 BIBLIOGRAPHY ................................ ................................ ................................ ......................... 80

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1 INTRODUCTION In an interview with Bill Nevins in March 2013, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan said: "Gradually, after the first Breaking Bad episode, it started to dawn on me that we could be making a contemporary Western So you see scenes that are like gunfighters squaring off, like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef." 1 Breaking Bad chronicles the story of the emasculated genius high school chemistry teacher Walter White ( Bryan Cranston) who is diag nosed with terminal lung cancer. Over the course of the series he is transformed into a h yper violent international meth producing drug kingpin his alter ego "Heisenberg." Walt is accompanie d in this transformation by Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a meth producer, user, and ex student of Walt's. The cast of characters and this five season plot might not immediate ly invoke the Western tradition, so this thesis works to understand what, exactly, is contemporary or modern about Breaking Bad 's portrayal of the frontier. It looks to understand the aspects of the Western genre that the series revises as well as place Breaking Bad as both a r evisionist Western that redefines certain tropes common to th e family centered Western, as well as a M eta Western that calls attention to the impact of the frontier myth on modern characters like Walter White. The modern conversation about the frontier is one that is always working to understand and revise t he century old theoretical discussion inspired by Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 Frontier Thesis The Significance of the Frontier in American History In the Thesis, Turner argues that the frontier was a meeting place betw een 1 LocalIQ, Contemporary Western: An interview with Vince Gilligan ," 27 March 2013, http://www.local iq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3019

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2 savagery and civilization. The frontier, for Turner, was a place in which the westering pioneers were transformed by the savage laws of the natura l frontier but ultimately tamed those laws and settled the land. 2 Theorists have since tro ubled this theory by accepting t he real and lasting effects of violence on the frontier and redefining the frontier in more culturally responsible ways 3 In her influential and essential works of cultural history The Legacy of Conquest and The Frontier in American Culture American historian Patricia Lim erick works to revise the pervasive (and idealistic) Turnerian frontier into a modern frontier that is more historically accurate and culturally and theoretically competent She defines this frontier as "la frontera": There is the much more familiar, English, usage of the frontier as the place where white settlers entered a zone of free' land and opportunity. But there is the much less familiar, but much more realistic, usage of la frontera the borderlands between Mex ico and the United States. This is not simply a place where two groups meetIn the twentieth century with conflicts over the restriction of immigration, with disputes over water flow and environmental pollution, and with a surge of industrial development a nd population growth from American owned businesses (maquiladoras) operating in northern Mexico, conditions along the border remain far from tranquil. In the idea of la frontera there is no illusion of vacancy, of triumphal conclusions, or of simplicity. 4 The frontier as a borderland where countries, peoples, and armies meet in an ongoing process of cultural import is exactly the frontier that Gilligan g enerate s in Breaking Bad Limerick goes on to redefine the frontier as a space consisting of multiple borders between countries, between peoples, between authorities, sometimes between armies." 5 In a move that challenges Turner's "closing" of the frontier, Limerick argues that the 2 Frederick Jackson turner, The Frontier in American History (Lexington, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2013). 3 See generally: Henry Nash Smith Virgin Land ; Richard S lotkin Gunfighter Nation and The Fatal Environment ; Patricia Limerick Legacy of Conquest The Frontier in American Culture ." 4 Patricia Limerick "The Frontier in American Culture" in In American Culture ed. R. James Grossman (University of California Pre ss, 1994), Kindle File. Emphasis original 5 Limerick The Frontier in American Culture

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3 frontier remains to be a complex, populated and evolving borderland. Breakin g Bad generates just such a multicultural borderland that threatens the traditional ethnocentric understanding of the historic and current frontiers. Much like Turner's belief that the frontier was a wide, free, savage land meant to be conquered and tamed, Walter White sees the meth industry as wild, savage, and unsophisticated a space that he can tame with his superior understanding of chemistry. Following the criticism of Turner's claims that the frontier movement was not a purely positive development of civilization in an empty land, but instead a conquest, 6 Walt finds that the wilderness (meth production and sales) is in fact inhabited by a developed and org anized system that he must conquer In this modernized frontier space, Breaking Bad modifies the family centered tradition of Western cinema Many Westerns rely on a tradition of protecting, restoring, or creating the family unit through violence ( John Ford's Stagecoach The Searchers ; Fred Zinneman's High Noon ; Henry Hathaway's True Grit ) Breaking B ad denies many of the narrative traditions common to family centered Westerns by not allowing violence to be a groundwork on which Walt's family can be maintained or saved It contemporizes the Western genre by presenting a violent protagonist who also has a family he is not a lone gunman but a modern, highly skilled entrepreneur searching the lawless space of the frontier for a kind of masculinity that he does not have as a father. He sets out like many great Western protagonists, to keep his family whol e but unlike the Westerns in the tradition, his violence tears them apart. 6 See generally: Patricia Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest (New York: Norton & Company, 1987) ; Richard Slotkin Gunfighter nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1998); Richard Slotkin The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization 1800 1890 (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1998).

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4 The first chapter places Breaking Bad into a specific tradition of the family centered W estern that explores the role of the family unit on the frontier by placing it next to various films in order to establish its identity as a revised Western Specifically I explore John Ford's Stagecoach and The Searchers aspects of Fred Zinneman's High Noon and finally, Clint Eastwood's revisionist Unforgiven This collection of Westerns serves to provide a sampling of the narrative tradition as well as comparative protagonists with which to put Walter White. Primarily, it looks to establish one of the key elements of the series that denies the re generative quality of violence in its unrelenting collapse of the domestic and wilderness spaces. I offer an in depth analysis of how the series denies the traditional relationship between domesticity and violence by analyzing how the series places domesticity and wilderness into an ongoin g and inseparable relationship that contaminates the domestic space. In this chapter I look closely into the violence Walt exerts over his fami ly and others in order to exemplify the series' denial that violence can serve to maintain the domestic. Rather, in the series, we see a more realistic dynamic in which violence destroys the family. Additionally, this chapter argues that Walt, confronted with a failure to keep the savage violence away from his family, rhetorically places himself as a victim of circu mstance in order to justify his use of violence This discussion ends by considering the irrevocable damage Walt's violence does to his family, and how that is metaphorically and literally played out in the material nature of his home and his domestic rela tionships. The second chapter adds another classic western archetype to the conversation by analyzing how the myth of the masculine Western gunslinger in spaghetti westerns like Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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5 invoke a modern crisis of masculinity in Walt through a use of familiar icons like the cowboy hat and the gun. This chapter goes on to explore the role of masculinity in the show as representative of a current cultural fear about the dissolution of th e dominant role of white American men Walter White, as well as many other leading male roles in recent popular television dramas is in a crisis of masculinity. This chapter explores Walt's crisis as it juggles a myth of manhood and the role of the father as a provider, as well as the role of violent aggression in defining masculinity. The chapter concludes by exploring the current cultural fear about the decline of the American empire. T he paper concludes by briefly iterating the concept of Breaking Bad a s a meta Western and the cultural import of such a narrative to the Western tradition. This explains that Walt as a repre sentative white American male, becomes a specter of American manhood and the American Dream.

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6 CHAPTER I THE COLLAPSE OF THE DOMESTIC AND WILDERNESS I believe it is possible for a man, Walter White, to go out and to kill a rival of his, and yet wash his hands and gently and lovingly pick up his baby daughter and caress her and love her as a father. We are capable of that, of those wide swings as human beings. It is frightening in a way. 7 Bryan Cranston on his c haracter Walter White Placing Breaking Bad in the Western Tradition The above quote is indicative of the character the series creates with Walter White but the show revises the relationship between the domestic sphere and the violent wilderness because both exist within Walt but the outcome of this coexistence is destructive to his family In order to see what Breaking Bad revises with regards to the family tradition in the Wes tern and ideals of domesticity on the frontier, we can look at the relationship between the family unit and violence in a few classic family centered Westerns. In John Ford's Stagecoach and The Searchers we see traditional Western archetypes and values played out. In Stagecoach a group of white pioneers venture out into a vast unsettled landscape under the constant threat of the violent and dehumanized American Indians. In the frontier landscape we meet a collection of archetypes, the prostitute, the man of the law, the drunken doctor, the lover trying to get to her husband, and the protagonist "criminal with a good heart" played by John Wayne. They survive the violence of the wilderness in a climactic a ttack on the stagecoach by the American Indians, an attack finally saved by the military cavalry. In the end, after much death and other acts of violence including a fatal shootout in which John Wayne 's character kills three men in an act of revenge, all p ossible family units are restored and the wilderness is 7 "Episode 707: Bryan Cranston Exclusive ," YouTube video, 31:45, posted by New Mexico In Focus, a Production of KNME TV ," August 16, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ULfCtRz82k

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7 settled both physically and metaphorically. The Ringo Kid (John Wayne ) the criminal, is allowed to settle his revenge through violence and murder, and yet both he and the prostitute ride off into th e sunset to his ranch in Texas, escaping their wild beha vior and choosing to be settled In a process that aligns with Turner's description of the frontier, p ast crimes are forgiven and balance is restored through settlement and family. The law forgives The Ringo Kid under the principle that he is now going to be settled. The family unit holds a metaphoric power that a llows the law to forgive murder if the act of violence was done to restore domesticity. While The Searchers came later in Ford's career and th e shape of the protagonist changes, it continues the importance of the family unit. 8 It relies on similar concepts that favor settlement and view violence as necessary if only to restore the family. In the film, American Indians kidnap a girl from a white pioneer family in an act of savagery The entire film is dedicated to the search for the girl in order to bring her back and restore the family. Here, the protagonist is not directly part of the family unit, but he is also not an outlaw. He is an ex confed erate officer who fits into the independent masculine cowboy archetype, but he is still driven by restoring certain values. He spends five years searching for the girl and saves her in a violent climax in which he scalps her captor, the American Indian Sca r. She is saved through violence. The different shape of the protagonist (when compared to the end of Stagecoach ) is obvious in the epic final shot. He carries the girl to the porch of the family, restoring the family unit and ideals, but rather than fitti ng into the family, he turns away as they enter the house and returns alone back to the dusty, windy desert. T he violent individual can still help to restore the family, 8 The Searchers directed by John Ford (1939; Santa Clarita, California: Walter Wanger Productions), S treaming video.

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8 but is no longer, as in Stagecoach able to find that settlement himself. This kind of principled narrative is repeated countless times in the Western tradition. 9 This anti hero role paved the way for the protagonists in Westerns such as True Grit and Unforgiven. In Unforgiven Will Munny (Clint Eastwood) is called away from his family ranc h (where his two children reside and a gravestone marks the burial site of his deceased wife) in order to take revenge on a band of violent cowboys on behalf of a disgraced and wounded prostitute. The film, therefore, allows for varying levels of acceptabl e violence there is a code of honor that Munny acts to uphold. Unforgiven differently tha n Stagecoach twists the protagonist into a character who is not entirely untouched by the violence of the frontier It calls in to question the myth of the violent gunman and allows the protagonist to feel guilt and sadness for his past violence A fter a mythic shootout where he survives a fight in which he was wildly outnumbered, Munny returns to his children and stan ds by the gra ve of his wife. His image fades out and a n epilogue explains that the mother of his wife would never know why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition." 10 Munny is a revised protagon ist, one who is affected by the violence he performs but still uses violence to defend domestic ideals His act of violence is defensible because it serves as revenge for another, more grotesque violence. Even anti heroes in the Western play a role to res tore the family unit (as John Wayne's characters do in both The Searchers and True Grit ), but the modern landscape of the frontier narrative in Breaking Bad does not allow Walt this restoration. His actions are irreversible and his violence (physical and e motional) so extreme that the family unit 9 This theme can be seen in Henry Hathaway's True Grit Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and many others. 10 Unforgiven directed by Clint Eastwood (1992; Alberta, Canada: Warner Bros.), Streaming video.

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9 falls apart in spite of his desire to save it The savagery he employs does not allow a regenerative settlement. While Munny in Unforgiven is psychologically distressed by his past violence, the violence still allo ws him to move on and settle with his children. Walt simultaneously plays the role of the violent outsider and father, but instead of restor ing the family he is the agent of its dissolution. Walt cannot go into the lawless space of the frontier, scalp his enemy, and return victorious as John Wayne did. In fact, when he does succeed in killing Gus Fring, the most pronounced opposition to Walt in the series, the violence only serves to intensify his wife's fear of him. He cannot, like Munny, violently kill a room full of gunslingers only to return to his children and move away. After Walt's final shootout, he dies alone and leaves a severely damaged family behind. 11 The once principled and regenerative relationships between family, settlement and savagery in W estern narratives are, in Breaking Bad destructive. This is in part because Breaking Bad does not take place in the same culturally mythic space of the west where threats to family, and therefore the role of the hero to protect it, fulfill archetypes. T he aforementioned westerns are set in the past, and as such the culturally limited archetypes of the savage American Indian and the nobly violent white cowboy persist. The threat to the family unit not only comes from outside of the family, but it comes from people who are outside of society either because of their culture or because of their behavior outside of the law. In Stagecoach and The Searchers the threat is the archetypal "othered" American Indian, while in True Grit Once Upon a Time in the West and High Noon the threat is a group of lawless men of various degrees. Even in Unforgiven a revisionist western seemingly set apart, the threat to the family unit 11 "Felina," Breaking Bad created by Vince Gilligan (2013; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High Bridge Productions), Streaming video.

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10 comes from outside of the family in the form of, initially, a group of bandits, and finall y, a group of men led by a corrupt sheriff. In all of these narratives, the violent hero es and anti hero es protect and restore domestic relationships Breaking Bad then, inverts the nature of the threat toward the family by defining Walt the father who be lieves himself to be the protector as a threat In the fourth season of the show in the episode "Cornered," the conversations between Walt and his wife Skylar serve to finalize what is already evident to the audience : that Walt is, in addition to the prot ector of the family, also its most imminent threat. This scene is a defining moment as Skylar feels the family is under threat and begs Walt to do what is necessary to save the family. S he is calling on him to fulfill the role of the classic Western hero but his response indicates the series' denial of that role for Walt: Skylar: Walt, I've said it before. If you are in danger, we go to the police. Walt: I don't wanna hear about the police. Skylar: I do not say that lightly. I know what it could do to this family. But if it's the only real choice we have, if it's either that or you getting shotYou're not some hardened criminal, Walt. You are in over your head. That's what we'll tell them, the truth. Walt: That is not the truth. Skylar: Of course it is: a s choolteacher, cancer, desperate for moneyRoped into working; unable to quit. You told me that yourself, Walt. Jesus, what was I thinking? Walt, please. Let's both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you're in danger. Walt: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn't believe it. You know what would happen if I decided to stop going in to work?No. You clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks. 12 12 "Cornered" Breaking Bad created by Vince Gilligan (2011; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High Bridge Productions), Streaming video. Emphasis added

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11 Quite a few essential things happen in this sequence. Skylar attempts to paint Walt as the prot ector of the family and even persuade him to believe the story himself. She tell s him that he is "not some hardened criminal" and that he is ultimately a victim of circumstance. Walt, rather than fulfilling the role of protector, interprets himself as the danger that Skylar fears. Walt metaphorically denies the frontier myth that would allow his past actions to be justified in the service of protecting his family. This moment warrants a more specific comparison to the denial of my thic identities that takes place in Unforgiven When the young gunslinger "The Schofield Kid" (James Woolv ett) discusses Munny's violent past with him, Munny denies the myth of a glorious kind of violence and establishes Munny's past behavior as psychologi cally damaging Here, Munny denies the myth of the gun slinging cowboy in lieu of a man who has committed violent acts for which he cannot forgive himself. This places Munny as a tragic character who, because of his seeming alignment with some kind of just ice, still remains in the favor of the audience and can act as the protecting agent of his family. Breaking Bad furthers t his movement toward a deconstructed hero and a reinterpretation of the impact of violence Skylar wants to paint Walt with a narrative that allows the violence to be justified, but the frontier in Breaking Bad does not allow a protagonist to have that kind of ideal finish. Not only does the violence a ffect Walt, it is something that he embraces, a choice that accounts for Walt's failure to fulfill the role of the traditional frontier hero by saving or protecting the family unit. At the end of the same episode the destructive impact of Walt's fearful identity on his family is solidified. This moment comes af ter Walt irresponsibly purchase s a

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12 sport s car for his son, an action that could put serious suspicion on their family as publically, and legally, they do not have much money: Skylar: And if you're so invested in protecting this family it means protecting the story. What do you think th e neighbors are gonna say, Walt? What about Hank and Marie? How about the IRS? What were you thinking, Walt? Walt: I was thinking that I wanted to do something nice for my son. Look. I just worry that he'll blame you for this. Skylar: Oh, he will. Once aga in, he'll blame his bitch mother for taking away what his loving father has given him. So thanks for that. But you know what, Walt? Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family. This scene denies a favorable interpretation of W alt, and puts Skylar, Walt's wife, in the position to play the role of the protector while Walt is simultaneously the protector and aggressor. His actions endanger his family by potentially raising suspicion and also force Skylar into a position that will serve to harm her relationship with her son. She is tasked with upholding the lie that they have created in order to keep secret the illegal wealth Walt amasses cooking meth. Walt maintains the appearance of protecting the family and unjustly reaps the adu lation of his son. Rethinking the Domestic and the Wilderness: Space and Behavior T he conceptually productive relationship between the savage wilderness and the domestic sphere began with Turner. He insisted that the development of America was a result of "the history of colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development." 13 By describing the relationship as one of settlement, and one w here the "free land" continually receded, he set up a relationship between civilization and untamed land that productively served to help create the American character. What 13 Turner, T he Frontier in American History 1.

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13 complicated this relationship was that Turner did not believe it to be one sided; he believed that it was the interrelationship between these two worlds that defined American development in terms of adaptation and not exclusively domination. Tu rner hides the violence of the W est and treats settlement as a regenerative process that gives life to civilization. Breaking Bad places the violence at the forefront of the narrative, a move that aligns with contemporary thought on the historic and literary significance of the American W est that attempts to understand the violent and destructive nature of the frontier in American history. In Breaking Bad the conquest that classically allow ed for settlement destroys civilization rather than protecting it. Gilligan utilizes Walt's profes sion as a chemistry teac her to provide the show with a metaphor to help frame Walt's transformative relationship with savage ry In the pilot episode, Walt gives a brief lecture on Chemistry in which he explains that chemistry is, after all, the study of ch ange: Walt: Chemistry is the study of what? Student: Chemicals (! Snickers from the smart kids) Walt smiles. Walt: Chemicals. No. Change. Chemistry is the study of change. (a beat) Think about it. Electrons change their orbits, molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. That's all of life, right? The constant (shrug)! The cycle. Solution, dissolution, over and over. (Walt seems to be talking mostly to himself. A pep talk.) Growth, decay. Transformation. It's fascinating, really 14 Walter White is a man who rapidly oscillates between the wilderness and the domestic in a way impossible in previous frontier narratives and classic W esterns. In classic Westerns the savagery in the landscape often takes place at a geographical distan ce from the domestic space Walt does not simply venture out into the wild and 14 "Pilot," Breaking Bad created by Vince Gilligan (2008; Albuquerque, New Mexico: High Bridge Productions), Streaming video.

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14 immediately return a completely changed man, or succeed in changing the wilderness as a tradit ional Western protagonist might. T he nature of his change is defined by his ability to live simultaneously in both worlds, a reality that defines his change as the process of allowing the more violent persona to take over He simultaneously exists as a high school teacher who bites his lip when a student acts out, a nd a meth cook who will kill men and dispose of the evidence to survive. 15 His evolution is defined by the rapid movement back and forth in which he develops, and is eventually conquered by, his lust for power. He transforms from a humble, quiet, easily man ipulated father and teacher, to a relentless power hungry emperor of the meth industry. He does so within New Mexico's remote desert landscape, but also urban sprawl and the geographic and cultural reality of the borderland between the United States and Me xico. What allows for the close proximity and rapid movement back and forth over the border between wilderness and domestic are modes of transportation (the RV), technology (cell phones), and the modern reality of the American West as a vast land seeded wi th areas of dense urban development. If American culture has persistently figured the frontier as a space of dynamic change and evolution then Breaking Bad brings that evolution into a modern reality and explores its consequences. In another interesting r evision of the frontier threat to the family, b oth Walt's diagnosis with cancer, and the parts of Walt's personality that choose to do detrimental things to his family, come from within him rather than an othered savage culture The initial enemy to Walt, his own mortality, is not an outside force that he can conquer through physical violence. As a result, in the series, we see t he wilderness space and 15 "Pilot," Breaking Bad

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15 Walt's behavior in that space bleed into the domestic, motivating a domestic dissolution and transformation D omesticity and wilderness in Breaking Bad are spaces and behaviors that seem to defy a classic relationship that would empower one over the other The first two seasons of the show explore Walt's failure to contain these two spaces and beh aviors This breakdown of the dynamic between viol ence and the domestic sphere calls forth William Handley's revision of frontier protagonists and relationships. Handley looks to move the Western conversation away from archetypes: "The concomitant tendenc ies to romanticize the good folks and divide them from the demonized bad folks are a legacy of the Western itself (if not the Western world). It is that dualistic tendency I want to resist and rethink." 16 He uses marriage as a way to revise the frontier conversation and the language and methods employ ed when discussing Western stories: "Literary concerns with Western marriage in settings both before and after the end' of the frontier and in both formula Westerns and more high brow' Western fiction, cou nter the prevailing cultural myth that the frontier chiefly produced the masculine individual." 17 He further specifies this concept of family through the lens of violence: "While violence is the traditional preserve of masculinity in formula Westerns, the p ervasive theme of female domesticity versus male lawless freedom breaks down in other twentieth century 16 William Handley Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 6 17 Handley Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West 2. Here Handley also argues that the frontier narratives commonly p ut forth a "dysfunctional family." This idea warrants much more interpretation with regards to modern westerns as well as the western genre as a whole, but was not appropriate for this discussion.

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16 Western texts, in which marriage does not serve to civilize the savage male violence of the frontier but rather serves to bring that violence home." 18 Do mesticity is something that throughout the series Walt defends and, to some extent, is the driving force behind his behavior. While this fits with a family centered Western narrative in which the savage wilderness is settled in order to keep the domestic f amily together, Breaking Bad fulfills Handley's modern frontier as Walt brings the violence home and contaminates the very domesticity he believes he is trying to defend. Violence takes place in the New Mexican desert but is also contained within Walt and motivates the continual contamination of his family despite his best efforts. The domestic, as it is explored and developed in Breaking Bad is both a space and a behavior befitting that space. Overlap of The Domestic and the Wilderness As the show progres ses, the domestic and wilderness become less defined by their physical locale, and more defined by what Walt does in those spaces. 19 B efitting the frontier tradition, Walt's transformation occurs in the frontier between the domestic and wilderness T he show explores this frontier through Walt's attempts to contain the two identities and behaviors, and the slow contamination of his family. This is done through images and narrative sequences of crossover where Walt's violence enters his home causing a s ystemic destruction of his family Jesse and Walt's respective houses are stages for visual and narrative representations of the overlap. Jesse's house is an epicenter of the confrontation between 18 Handley Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the America n Literary West 5. 19 The dissolution of his relationship with Skylar and how it is motivated by the wilderness is much more fully explored later in this section

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17 the domestic and wilderness, and is used to bring that con flict into the lexicon of the show. This is most salient in the sequence of events leading up to, during and after Walt's first murders, the murder of Krazy 8 and Emilio, local meth distributor s in the first season episodes "The Cat's in the Bag" and "a nd the Bag's in the River." In these early episodes, the show confronts the frontier by alternating between violence, the family, and the idea of home as guiding principles of the cinematography. The murder of Krazy 8's partner Emilio takes place in a remo te location in the desert Even though the violence occurs in geographic wilderness, the show denies the possibility that the violence will remain there. It comes home as soon as Walt and Jesse park the RV outside of Jesse's house. Recall for a moment Etha n's (John Wayne) scalping of the American Indian in The Searchers or Munny's epic shootout in Unforgiven when the violence takes place in a locale distant from the home space it hopes to protect. This is not the case in Breaking Bad Both Walt and Jesse ha ve some sense that the significance of carrying bodies in the RV is amplified by bringing them back to a neighborhood dictated by laws and expectations of safety. They both want some kind of separation between the business of cooking meth and the lives the y intend to live outside of drug production. There is a sense that any crossover will poison the latter. Once they leave the desert, the show introduce s the conflicts that arise due to their choice to bring evidence of their violence back with them. Althou gh the RV/Mobile meth lab and the two bodies are at Jesse's house, Walt's domestic space is also under attack by Jesse's phone calls. At one point, Walt is on the phone in his home next to his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) listening to Jesse scream about a body moving around in the RV outside of his house. Walt whispers to Jesse to calm down as Skylar walks up behind him.

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18 While Skylar does not trust Walt in this moment, the gravity of Walt's violent behavior is clear when contrasted with his role as a father. Both Walt and Jesse's domestic worlds are threatened by the violence they inflict The show uses Walt's lectures on chemistry to push the synthesis of frontier ideas that is so essential to understanding the show's effort to represent the causti c relationship between violence and domesticity: So the term chiral derives from the Greek word hand. Now the concept here being that just as your left hand and your right hand are mirror images of one another, right, identical and yet opposite, well so two organic compounds can exist as mirror image forms of one another all the way down at the molecular level. But although they may look the same, they don't always behave the same. 20 His lecture describes a chemical concept that has very clear rules; the opposing sides of a chiral compound may "look the same" but as Walt points out, "they don't always behave the same." This lecture comes in a moment of rising crisis and introduces Walt's conflict between the mirror images within himself. Just like the exam ple of the hands, while they may look the same, they are not in fact superimposable. This tension is caused because Walt wants these two personae to coexist, but somehow stay separate. The nature of the frontier will not allow such complete and clear separ ation he finishes his lecture at school, all the while knowing that he is responsible for one dead man, and one severely injured man, lying in an RV in a suburban neighborhood. Jesse and Walt cannot contain the evidence of the violence and it rapidly begin s to contaminate Jesse's home and neighborhood. Visually, as Walt drives to Jesse's house, 20 Cat's in the Bag ," Breaking Bad created by Vince Gilligan ( 2008 ; Albuquerque, New Mexico: H igh Bridge Productions), Streaming video.

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19 the fusion of violence and domesticity becomes strikingly apparent and the hard and fast chemical laws of chirality are absent. Walt drives his SUV through quiet sub urban streets past ranch style houses with bright green manicured yards as Clyde McPhatter's classic "You r e Moving me" plays on his stereo. This seemingly domestic moment is broken as he glances down at the Hydrofluoric acid he has stole n from the school with which he is going to dissolve a dead body, and as he turns the corner, shambling like a zombie up the middle of the road is the severely ill Krazy 8. As Walt swerves around the stumbling man, the camera cuts to a shot outside of the car, McPhatter's song still audible but drowned out by the sounds of Walt's screeching tires and Krazy 8's labored breathing. Walt pulls up to Krazy 8 who tries to run and ends up knocking himself out on a tree. Walt then gets out of the car, looks around to see if anyone is watching him, and, with a two car garage visible in the background, he pulls the unconscious body into the back of the car as McPhatter's voice croons over the soundtrack once again. 21 This sequence, and the events leading up to Krazy 8's murder establi shes a few important things: Walt cannot contain the violence, Jesse and Walt are overwhelmed, and their violence will not restore the domestic Jesse's domestic space is under siege because evidence of his savagery physically infiltrates his home that phy sically and metaphorically begins to fall apart. Walt refuses to understand the detriment of bringing the violence home when it comes to someone else's house. Walt is dealing with a severely injured man whom he tried to kill, and he asks Jesse: "What is hi s reputation for violence?" to which Jesse responds, "Well, um he did try to kill us both yesterday, so there's that." Walt tries to find 21 Cat's in the Bag ," Breaking Bad

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20 a way out of the situation that will not necessitate murder: "What I'm trying to say is that he's a distributor, right ? He's aHe's a businessmanhe's a man of business. It would therefore seem to follow that he is capable of acting out of mutual self interest, yes? Do you think he is capable of listening to reason?" Jesse quickly responds to this far too logical concept: "What kind of reason? Like Dear Krazy 8, listen, if I let you go, will you promise not to come back and waste my family? No Colombian neckties.' You mean that kind of reason? No, man, I can't say as I have high hopes where that's concerned." 22 Walt wants to contain the violence, and now that they are in a suburban neighborhood, he does not think in terms of violence alone. He is not willing to resort to violenc e when he is not directly threatened, but insists on a peaceful way out of a situation that is bo rn from violence. 23 Jesse's home is irrevocably contaminated by their efforts to erase the evidence of their violence. Walt emphasizes that they have to deal with the body "in a way that no one will ever find it." He then suggests "chemical disincorporatio n," which disgusts Jesse. Moments after Walt attempts to have a business conversation with Krazy 8, he is willing to dispose of a body chemically He oscillates between the two sides of his metaphoric chirality but d espite his desire to keep the worlds se parate, everything leading up to the murder defines the frontier as a space of destructive violence. Having brought the evidence of their violence home, Walt and Jesse depend on the resources of the city to erase the evidence. Whereas the vast landscape of the reservation would have offered plenty of places to bury a body, again, the show refuses to allow that kind of separation. Jesse has to shop in a home improvement store for a 22 Cat's in the Bag ," Breaking Bad 23 This is a part of Walt's rhetoric of necessity explored later in this chapter.

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21 container in which he can melt Emilio's corpse. Jesse pulls the container off of the shelf and moves it to a private aisle away from the eyes of the other customers so he can try to fi t it into the container. He sits in the container with his legs and arms pouring out. The fact that he is sizing up the container for a dead body is made all the more potent by the fact that this process has to take place in a common, public, domestic spac e. Meanwhile, Walt is at Jesse's house preparing to kill Krazy 8. He chooses against a gun and settles on a plastic bag to suffocate Krazy 8 a decision indicative of his desire to contain the violence suffocation being less messy than a gunshot He opens the door to the cellar and is shown in silhouette, khakis, button down shirt (his outfit from teaching earlier in the day) and a yellow plastic bag by his side. Although he has chosen against the revolver the bag now hangs loosely at his side in the posit ion one would expect to see a gun. He en ters the basement ready to kill, but when Krazy 8 wakes up and begs for water, the part of Walt trying to be a killer (as he was in the desert) transforms into a father and caretaker who brings Krazy 8 water and a sa ndwich. The show highlights the awkward contrast between the caretaker role and the image of Krazy 8. Krazy 8 's neck is locked to a metal column in the basement and f rom the side of the frame items begin to slide toward Krazy 8: a water jug, another water jug, a sandwich on a plate with chips, a bucket (presumably to use for the bathroom) followed by toilet paper. The scene puts a fine point on the grotesque nature of this moment of overlap as the toilet paper falls slightly short of arm's reach from Krazy 8 and he awkwardly reaches with his hand and foot with his neck uncomfortably bound by the bicycle lock. Finally, the camera cuts to Walt, who holds the final item, a bottle of hand sanitizer, which he then pushes across the concrete floor toward the would be murder victim and drug distributor. Walt

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22 imports the domestic behavior of being a caretaker and a father to this utterly non domestic scene, simultaneously bringing violence into Jesse's home and bringing humanity to a scene born from Walt's savagery. The contamination of Jesse's house continues to an extreme. Jesse pulls the bagged body out of the RV and laboriously drags it upstairs calling attention to his slowly decaying domestic space in an imagined dialogue between himself and Walt: Let's go to your house, yo! Makes perfect sense. Let's completely screw up your house so you never wanna spend another night in it. Sure. You know, why not?'' And then, the killer in the basement? The one who's completely my responsibility? Hell, let's just let him live down there. Just, I don't know, make sure to feed him, like three times a day. Sure, why not? That would be amazing. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I always dreamt about, I don't know, melting bodies. 24 Jesse frequently expresses interest i n keeping his home space separate from drug production, but des pite Jesse's frustration at the infiltration of his domestic space, the catastrophic reality of the violent frontier occurs moments later when the mostly dissolved corpse of Emilio falls throug h the upstairs floor and into the main hallway of Jesse's house. The camera shows Jesse and Walt looking up through the dissolved base of the tub, smeared with blood and acid. Physically and figuratively Jesse's house is marked by violence, forecasting tha t this frontier wi ll be violent and unpredictable and will certainly not preserve the domestic space. Ensley Guffey's essay "Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad chronicles the use of spaces such as the various meth labs, Jesse's house, and Walt's hous e in the 24 Cat's in the Bag ," Breaking Bad

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23 series 25 As he explains, Jesse's house is initially a connection to a healthier time for Jesse when he was caretaker for his aunt. Guffey notes that the house is largely untouched by Jesse's dÂŽcor, and that this is indicative of his desire to keep the house in the same state it was in when it provided him "safety and security." 26 Walt's influence on Jesse has a negative impact on Jesse's life, an impact metaphorically represented in the erosion of Jesse's home. Jesse's psychological erosion is also played out metaph orically in his home space. When analyzing the murder of Krazy 8 and the disincorporation of the body, Guffey points out that according to phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, "the basement," the site of Krazy 8's murder, "is a kind of special manifestation o f the subconscious, and of nightmares." Of course for Jesse the violence he and Walt brought to his home is not contained in the basement and seeps uncontrollably through the house as Emilio' s body, mostly dissolved, melts through the floor. This is furth er of evidence of what Guffey claims signals "the rapidly growing influence of the chaotic and immoral over Jesse's life and his home." 27 Jesse's house is representative of the inability of Walt and Jesse to contain evidence of their violence. Any action, domestic or wild, can occu r in any space. After the hyper violent murder scene in which Walt kills Krazy 8 by strangulation as Krazy 8 repeatedly stabs him in the leg with a piece of plate, the next images are of domestic goings on in Jesse's neighborhood: birds chirp in the background, a man empties groceries from his trunk, a sprinkler waters a lawn, and two elderly ladies exercise across 25 Ensley Guffey, "Buying th e House: Place in Breaking Bad in Breaking Bad : Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series ed. P. David Pierson (New York: Lexington Books, 2014), 155. 26 Guffey, "Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad 157. 27 Guffey, "Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad 158.

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24 the street. Jesse looks around in shock at the calm neighborhood scene knowing the violence and horror that await him back in his house. He returns to his house, the RV emptied of the gear from the meth lab, his basement empty of Krazy 8, and only the bicycle lock set aside as a reminder of the savage murder in the basement in his home. This is not a frontier narrative in which the violence is justifie d or has a constructive quality Rhetoric of Necessity and Walter White's Empire of Innocence The result of a frontier narrative that denies the regenerative quality of violence, for Breaking Bad is an antihero who does not have the qualities that justified the violence for classic Western anti heroes. P aint ing violence with an acceptable veneer is not only a problem Vince Gilligan struggled with in the development of Walt's character, but also a common theme in the ongoing conversation abo ut the cultural history of the W est. Again we can return to Patricia Limerick to understand some of the complex ways in which violent and abhorrent behavior has been historically justified. 28 Limerick's text, among many things, rede fined the frontier conversation in a perhaps far too long anticipated direction that analyzed the impact of the American people on the frontier, rather than simply the frontier on the American people. Limerick explains that it was an occupied wilderness, a nd therefore necessarily needs to be 28 The use of "ideological overtones" to veil morally questionably behavior is a common part of the conversation about the American West. R. Philip Loy's Westerns in a Changing America: 1955 2000 exp lores the development of characters such as Jesse James and Bil ly the Kid as "populist heroes." Loy explains that the fictional ideological overtones of the novels and cinema complicated the historical understanding of the frontier's people the myth overshadows the reality. Through narratives such as Breaking Bad the frontier is a space for these same ideological processes to occur. Pioneers went west and committed atrocities to the native people and land but under the veil of manifest destiny found themselves not only justified in their pursuits but compelled to fulfill them.

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25 analyzed in terms of conquest. 29 Limerick's concept of conquest is not simply one of a dominating force; her argument is complicated by frontier mythology, manifest destiny, and a historic reevaluation of the psyche of t he pioneer. She describes the conqueror's perceptions of themselves in terms of an "empire of innocence guided by an "innocence of intention." Limerick argues that the pioneers did not knowingly or willingly conquer they simply did what they thought they should do: "white Americans went west convinced that their purposes were as commonplace as they were innocent." 30 Limerick believes that Turner, as well as the westering pioneers, either chose to ignore the conquest over native p opulation s and the landscape, or believed so deeply in the myth and the drive of manifest destiny that they were convinced moving west and settling was simply part of the natural order of things. Limerick's "empire of innocence" is thematically at work in Breaking Bad and helps elu cidate the nature of Walt's development 31 Walt manages to do the unspeakable, lie and deceive his family, fail as a father, convince others to do equally heinous acts, and yet remain largely in the favor of fans of the show. 32 As a protagonist, he fits into a role that makes audiences want him to succeed. Gilligan repeatedly tries to understand this phenomenon: I have kind of lost sympathy for Walt along the wayI find it interesting, this sociological phenomenon, that people still root for Walt. Perhaps it says something about the nature of fiction that viewers have to identify on some level with the protagonist of the show, or maybe he's simply interesting because he is 29 Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest 30 Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest 41. 31 Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest 35 55. 32 The Guardian John Plunkett Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan: 'How long can anyone stay at the top?' ," 18 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/18/breaking bad vince gilligan walter white

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26 good at what he does. Viewers respond to people who are good a t their job, even when they are bad. 33 W hile this defines frontier anti heroes and how audiences tend to receive them, it is what Gillig an says next that defines Walt : "We needed an actor to play a character who was very dark and nasty but at the end of the hour you had to feel sorry for him." 34 Gilligan uses pity to keep a fan base for a questionable protagonist who is very good at doing bad things. Walt's identity as a victim is, as it turns out, exactly how he keeps his family and other parts of his empire in control and how he justifies hi s behavior to himself. His diagnosis of cancer immediately defines him as a victim of a force far outside of his control. He is diagnosed in the p ilot episode, the same episode in which we see him partner with a m eth usin g ex student and convert an RV into a mobile meth lab using stolen equipment from his school. All of this behavior is justified under the purview of Walt's victimization and i nnocent intentions. He is terminally ill and wants to provide money to his family before he dies Arguably until his final moments, Walt bases his actions on a false necessity; much to Skylar's annoyance he iterates some version of "Everything I did I did for this family" throughout the series. Walt's rationalization muddies the space between tyrannical villain and loving father. He love s his family, as evidenced by the panicked kidnapping of his daughter in the final season, and his atte mpts to be a father to Walt Jr., but the complications arise in the type of father Walt wants to be He craves admiration as a provider and protector of his wife and children but is willing to place them at great r isk to achieve that admiration. This contradiction cannot be sustained. T he decisions he 33 Plunkett. Breaking Bad cr eator Vince Gilligan: 'How long can anyone stay at the top?' 34 Plunkett. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan: 'How long can anyone stay at the top?'

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27 makes that put his family in danger are veiled in a rhetoric of necessity which he uses to justify his actions when he believes, at times, he has no choice. 35 Walt's likeability relies, partly, on an innocence of intention that hearkens back to Limerick's critique of the idealistic view of early westering pi oneers. Gilligan himself expresses this conflict in Walt: He is an extremely self deluded man. We always say in the writers' room, if Walter White has a true superpower, it's not his knowledge of chemistry or his intellect; it's his ability to lie to himse lf. He is the world's greatest liar. He could lie to the pope. He could lie to Mother Teresa. He certainly could lie to his family, and he can lie to himself, and he can make these lies stick. He can make himself believe, in the face of all contrary eviden ce, that he is still a good man. It really does feel to us like a natural progression down this road to hell, which was originally paved with good intentions. 36 T hr oughout the series there is an evolution of what Walt perceives as necessary and how he uses the concept of necessity to influence others. By perceiving himself as a victim Walt places himself as a victim of circumstance, a circumstance for which he does not take responsibility. By lying to himself in this way, he does not, at least initially, perceive himself as a conqueror, intruder, or villain Limerick's descriptions of the innocent victimhood of the pioneers could be describing Walter White: "Even though they were trespassers, westering Americans were hardly, in their own eyes, criminals; rather, they 35 This is a piece of what Carlo Nardi explores (Carlo Nardi, L iquid identification in Breaking Bad in Breaking Bad : Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series ed. P. David Pierson (New York: Lexington Books, 2014). He explores the likeability of Walt as an antihero and argues "the discomfort of helplessly watc hing unpleasant facets of Walt's personality and the catastrophic consequences of his actions might cause moral dissonance and problematize identification processes in the viewer." Nardi does not explore the western underpinnings of Walt's character and hi s capacity to elicit the viewer's sympathy 36 Vulture.com Lane Brown, "In Conversation: Vince Gilligan on the end of Breaking Bad 12 May 2013, http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/vince gilligan on breaking bad.html

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28 were pioneers...Innocence of intention placed the course of things in a bright and positive light; only over time would the shadows compete for our attention." 37 In Breaking Bad th e shadows immediately compete for our attention. While Walt may believe that cooking meth is necessary and paint it in a positive light because he is providing money to his family, the trail of violence and horror he leaves is always present: in the pilot episode he maniacally drives with two dead bodies in his RV (his victims) one which Jesse ends up melting in hydrofluoric acid in a bathtub; in season three he runs over two drug dealers in the street to save Jesse's life; in season four he blows up an ex cartel member and Gus Fring with a suicide bomber in a home for the elderly; and he consistently lies and deceives his wife and son. 38 In this way, Breaking Bad is a frontier narrative that revises the empire of innocence by denying Walt the ability to jus tify violence with innocent intentions Walt's willingness to ignore and hide the dark motives behind his actions comes to a head when, in the final episode, the show offers a moment of lucidity and clarity (which perhaps puts an all too neat bow on the sh ow's ending) between Walt and his wife Skylar where he admits that he enjoyed the power. He ceases his argument that everything he has done, he has done exclusively and necessarily for his family. In the final episode Walt confesses to Skylar what has bee n true throughout the entire series that he likes the power and that he may not have acted for t he best interest of his family: Walt: Skyler. All the things that I did, you need to understand... Skylar: If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family Walt: I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at itI was alive. 39 37 Limerick The Legacy of Conquest 36 38 "Pilot,"; "Half Measures,"; "Face Off" 39 "Felina"

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29 In order to create a character who does unspeakably violent things to everyone around him, but generates sympathy from the audience, Gilligan has Walt treat his participation in the meth trade as an inevitable outcome of life events. Yet Gilligan reminds us that in the fourth episode Walt is offered a solution to his seemingly impossible problem that he turns down: Walt has a chance to be a man in the fourth episode of the firs t season, when his former business partners offer to pay for his chemotherapy treatments. He's offered a way out that doesn't involve being a criminal, doesn't put his family at risk and doesn't break the law. In this deus ex machina moment, he gets offere d an out; but in his mind, it means eating a little humble pie by accepting money from people he feels betrayed him. He turns down their offer for reasons of ego. He basically says, No, I'd rather cook crystal meth than take this free money.' 40 Prior to t his moment, while his actions were not excusable, they seem compelled by circumstance. He wants to provide for his family and has an accelerated timeline due to his grim diagnosis in which he wants to buil d wealth to leave to his family. This desire fits t he norms of his society. He is dying and the mounting bills seem to leave him no choice. If his motives were entirely to pay for his treatment and provide for his family, the series would have come to a rapid close with his acceptance of the help from his ex partner. Instead, the alternative driving motives behind Walt's decisions begin to surface and define his transformation. He wants power over his life and death that is in proportion to his ability to cook meth and build an empire. The series provides a catalogue of moments when Walt chooses to re enter the world of meth production despite the absence of any real necessity: Once his cancer is in remission and the necessity of having to make money recedes, he chooses to continue; once he is out of the in dustry, Gus brings him into the super lab and convinces him to 40 Rolling Stone Rob Tannenbaum, "Walt is not Darth Vader," 25 September 2013, H ttp://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/vince gilligan walt is not darth vader 20130925

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30 cook by leaning on Walt's insecurities as a man ; once he has so much money that Skylar can no longer launder it, he continues to cook. 41 I n fact, in the fifth season episode "Gliding Over All," Skylar calls this to attention. At this point s he has been persuaded to help Walt by laundering the vast amount of wealth he has accrued, another act of necessity as she feels she must in tervene to keep her family safe. S he takes Walt on a drive to a stora ge unit where she has kept the m oney she cannot laun der: Walt: How much is this? Skylar: I have no earthly idea, I truly don't. There is more money here than I cou l d spend in ten lifetimes. I certainly can't launder it Walt I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me how much is enough? How big does this pile have to be? 42 In the beginning of the series Walt has to justify his behavior to himself, but as the show develops he must justify it to others. His first murder in the RV is conceptually defensible because he is under immediate threat. Framing Walt's violence in this way invites comparison to other modern television antiheroes like Tony Soprano whom Brett Martin describes as a character whose violence, ini tially in the series, had to be carefully strategized. In both cases, the shows work to justify murder so that the audience does not see the protagonist as a senseless villain. 43 In Breaking Bad the second murder of Krazy 8 is utterly different from the fi rst. 44 Walt makes a list to weigh his options, a comically humane method for considering the much heavier and complicated decision of murder. While his list to let Krazy 8 live is much longer, the one item on the side arguing for the 41 "4 Days Out"; "M‡s"; "Gliding Over A ll." 42 "Gliding Over All" 43 Brett martin, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Made Men and Breaking Bad (New York: The Penguin Press, 2013). 44 Linda Holmes does a similar but less extensive analysis of this murder in her article cataloguing the effects of each murder in the show (Linda Holmes, NPR.org Death And Walter White ," 3 August 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/08/03/208599847/death and walter white ). Her point is also that the mu rder of Krazy 8 is different, but her primary purpose is to look at how each murder sets Breaking Bad apart from how other shows such as The Wire deal with murder and death.

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31 murder is "He'll kill y our entire family if you let him go." 45 This argument is not enou gh to convince Walt to murder and w e get the idea that he may release Krazy 8. Things change, however, when Walt finds a missing piece of plate that allows him to believe he is under a direct threat from Krazy 8 murder becomes a necessity but a necessity he creates The threat is of course coming from a man who is defenselessly locked to a pole, and thus a complete fabrication. O n the one ha n d, Krazy 8 represents a threat to Walt's survival, b ut on the other hand, that threat depends on Walt's invention The justification for each murder and the evolution of the destruction after each murder elucidate much about Walt and Jesse's characters as they confront a frontier in which they cannot pos sibly contain the violence or justify it innocently In her analysis of the catalogue of murders that Jesse and Walt commit, Linda Holmes tracks the development of Walt and Jesse through the lens of murder. 46 She notes, "Walt will sit with his conscience again and again, and he will find its leaky valves again and again, and he will give himself permission to ignore it, then conclude it's a weakness, then stop hearing it speak at all." 47 Alongside this observat ion she briefly notes the detriment that the murders have on Jesse. Walt emotionally masters the fallout of his murderous conquest in a way that Jesse is never able to. 48 Holmes' concludes that "one of the many reasons Breaking Bad will be remembered the wa y it will, eulogized the way it will, and missed the way it will is that its killings always mean something. This is a universe in 45 "And the Bag's in the River" 46 Linda Holmes, Death and Walter White 47 Linda H olmes, Death and Walter White 48 Walt's murderous trail includes but is not limited to the moments he is able to: convince Jesse to kill Gale, allow Jane to die before his eyes as she lay next to Jesse, kill two drug dealers to save Jesse's life, nearly kill a child with poison to play J esse onto his side, and blow up an ex Mexican drug cartel kingpin (Hector Salamanca) to kill Gus Fring.

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32 which killing a person changes you. It matters, always," 49 While Holmes mentions how each murder means something in the show, she does not analyze the impact on Walt in much detail or consider what more rightly could be argued is his empowerment through murder. There is an inverse evolution in Walt with murder. What is most haunting about this idea is that in the world of Breaki ng Bad and specifically in the case of Walter White, killing a person will change you, but it might not change you in the way that it ought to. The impact death and murder have on Jesse acts as a foil to Walt's transformation. For Walt, murder is an empo wering choice he makes on his maniacal quest to build an empire; for Jesse, each death erodes his life. While the nature of the murders change as the show progresses, for Walt, a rhetorical use of necessity remain s constant. Unlike Walt's murder of Krazy 8 when Jesse is confronted with the murder of a relative innocent like Gale, the meth lab technician who Walt convinces Jesse he has to kill he is dramatically affected in a way that audiences will find much more human. 50 Committing murder does not bother Walt, but causes Jesse to spin utterly out of control. One such death that has an indelible mark on Jesse's character is the death of his girlfri end Jane, a girl who represents a productive move away from the drug world for Jesse and toward domesticity. Ja ne is the first person in whom Jesse finds a positive loving relationship. Jesse blames himself for her fatal heroin overdose a death that Walt watches happen and in which he chooses not to intervene. 51 Subsequently, Jesse blames himself for the death of a irline passengers who died because of Jane's father's mistake as an air traffic controller. He carries a false guilt, a guilt that rightfully belongs to Walt, but for Jesse the responsibility lies on his shoulders alone. While Walt chooses to allow 49 Linda Holmes, Death and Walter White 50 See generally "Full Measure" and Jesse's fallout in the following fourth season. 51 "Phoenix"

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33 Jane's death and believes it was a necessary d ecision for himself and his empire, Jesse is crushed by the weight of it After the murder of Gus Fring, again the show presents a difference between how Jesse and Walt justify, and therefore contain, their violence Late in the third season, Jesse has been desperately worried about Brock, the boy Walt poisoned as leverage to convince Jesse that Gus Fring needed to die. Here necessity is a means of control for Walt. Walt believes that he needs to kill Gus to save his o wn life and the life of his family. To complete this murder, Walt poisons a child, Brock, to whom Jesse is attached, thereby motivating Jesse toward vengeance. Although the initial plan fails, Walt ultimately does succeed in having Gus killed. When Jesse f inds out that Gus did not poison Brock he questions Walt's motives: Jesse: So Gus didn't poison him after all. Still, he -he had to go, right? Walt: You're damn right. Gus had to go. 52 Jesse is concerned with their choice to blame Gus for a crime he did no t commit, but Walt allays his doubt by validating the false necessity surrounding the murder: "Gus had to go." While, for Walt, Gus had to go, for Jesse, Gus may not have had to go. The rhetoric of necessity surrounding the murder of Gus Fring is composed of justifications that pertain to Walt's ab i lity to veil violence in innocence and necessity His repeated use of the concept of "having to do something" places him in a rhetorically passive position, that of a victim of circumstance. He exploits the rhetoric of necessity to control the various pawns in his empire and self victimizes to accomplish his goal of conquest but also to remain innocent. 52 "Face Off"

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34 While the murders of Gus Fring and Gale Boetticar nearly destroy Jesse and his attempts at healthy relationships, they seem to catalyze Walt's energy and desire for power. As Jesse returns to Andrea and Br ock, a woman and her child who represent a second movement toward a healthy domestic relationship for Jesse, Walt calls Skylar and moves further away from his family, cherishing his conquest: Skylar: Walt? Walt: How are you doing? Skylar: How am I doing? How are you doing? Walt: I'm, uh...I'm doing quite well. I'm good. Skylar: Jesus, Walt, the news here. Gus Fring is dead. He was blown up along with some person from some Mexican cartel, and the DEA has no idea what to make of it. Do you know about this? W alt? I need you to -Walt: It's over. We're safe. Skylar: Was this you? What happened? Walt: I won. 53 After he claims victory he hangs up the phone. As he passes Gus' car in the parking garage he smirks with satisfaction. The camera then reveals the Lily o f the Valley plant in Walt's backyard leaving no doubt around the question of what happened to Brock. His satisfaction for having committed violent murder and successfully poisoning a boy makes his obvious lie "It's over" even more foul. Not only is this n ot over, it is far worse than the audience could have imagined. He is happy that hi s grab for power was successful and that he was also able to keep his family safe once again Walt is regenerated through violence but also by his ability to serve as protect or of his family. 54 This is a violence that incidentally further emotionally distances his wife from him. While he physically protects his family from danger, he has exerted great emotional violence on them because h e rescues them from danger that he has cr eated. 53 Face Off" 54 This refers to Slotkin's thesis of cultural and personal regeneration through violence in the mythology of the American west.

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35 Walt's evolution from protagonist to potential villain is marked by reactions in which he changes or evolves from each death in ways that are decreasingly human symbols of his inability to veil the violence in innocence and of the increasingly dark intentions he has When Walt endangers his brother in law Hank, he calls Jesse and we see the same motif: Jesse coping with the past and Walt pushing forward unaffected by the past. Jesse tells Walt that he is currently broke, but Walt's concern is selfi sh and driven by a desire to keep producing meth: Jesse: The plan worked. They bought it. I got bills due, man. I'm screwed. Walt: Did he mention my name? Jesse: No. Thanks for caring. Walt: What about the basement? Jesse: It's clean. Walt: And the RV? Jes se: Badger's cousin took it to his garage. It's safe. Walt: Can he get it running again? Jesse: Why? Walt: So we can cook. Jesse: So you still wanna cook? Seriously? Walt: What's changed, Jesse? 55 Walt says that nothing has changed because he has to believ e that it is still necessary for him to cook. If providing for his family is the innocent intention that he uses to justify his violence, then endangering his brother in law and nearly being killed in the desert by a major drug trafficker might cause him t o hesitate in his plan to move forward; he might hesitate as Jesse does. H e responds to Jesse's doubt about more meth production with the troubling question, "What's changed, Jesse?" The answer to this question for everyone except Walt is "a lot." The enda ngerment of his family does not affect his drive to cook because he believes that he is protecting them by necessarily growing his empire. His empire and the violence it necessita tes are actually the force s destroying the very family 55 "Bit by a Dead Bee"

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36 he claims to protect. For Walt, nothing has changed: he remains the protector of his family as well as the sole individual able to venture out into a savage world of drug production and provide for them. He has pulled his family into a world where they are both subjected to con stant threat and dependent on him for protection. Violence and the Contamination of the House As Walt gets deeper into the drug empire, his relationship with the architectural space of his home becomes less traditional as the demands of his criminal activity pressure him to use his home for behaviors utterly non domestic. Starting in the pilot episode, Walt hides evidence of his criminal activity in his home. The secrecy in the home begins in th e nursery, metaphorically aligning with his desire to provide for his family, as well as his inability to keep his domestic space safe. He dries chemical and blood soaked money in his clothes dryer, and hides it in the heat vent in the nursery. 56 Once makes too much money for the dryer vent, he moves his money into the walls of his garage 57 and eventually, once Skylar has joined him in his criminal ventures, he hides bags of money in the space beneath his house. As his drug empire demands more from him, inst ead of changing his relationship with crime to save his family, he becomes more poisonous toward his domestic space. Walt's violent nature poisons the physical aspect of his home so much that it becomes a space in which his identity is not resident, but in truder. In on e such moment Walt brings a gun into his home in order to protect himself from Tuco Salamanca, a wildly unpredictable and violent drug distributor. He walks into his house holding the gun while his pregnant wife bathes in the tub, and after r unning to 56 "Pilot" 57 "Phoenix"

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37 the heat vent and grabbing all of his cash, he hides the cash and his gun in a diaper box nearby. 58 The nursery, far from a place of peace for the newborn, becomes a private space where Walt hopes to keep secrets from his family. As he is hiding t he cash and the weapon in his daughters' diaper box, Jesse's car arrives with Jesse at gunpoint and Tuco in the backseat, reminding the audience that it is the drug empire that has transformed Walt's home. The second season is marked by episodes of reentry into the domestic space, each moment irrevocably damaging his family This damage is played out with the material architecture of the house After narrowly escaping from Tuco in the desert, Walt attributes his absence to a "fugue state" a period of comple te memory loss. When he reenters the domestic sphere, he is no longer a husband or father, but rather a criminal and prisoner. He secretly enters his home to retain the hidden gun and cash from his daughter's nursery, sneaking into the house at night as an intruder would. He watches as his son meets his wife in the kitchen and they share an intensely personal moment from which he is absent as a father. Walt then returns to the hospital and glances up at the painting in the room which depicts a man on a boat rowing away from the shore where his wife and daughter stand waving. 59 I n this rare moment Walt takes the time to consider the effects of his choice s on the domestic space without being blinded by the fear, greed, and power that have descended upon his pe rsonality. His re entry from the wilderness marks a shift in his domestic space given the severe nature of his immersion into the wilderness. 58 "Bit by a Dead Bee" 59 "Bit by a Dead Bee"

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38 A second moment of re entry begins with Walt and Jesse escaping deep into the desert to spend four days cooking me th. The RV dies and they have no communication, limited resources, and over a million dollars worth of meth. They are in a space that is private enough for production, but is so remote that the space overwhelms them. Walt gives in to death, and begins to l ament his decisions, insisting that he deserves to die. When confronted with the isolation of the vast desert Walt passively buckles at the enormity of the problem and level of exposure in the desert. The space dwarfs the RV and meth cooking operation. Lu ckily, using Walt's knowledge of chemistry they are able to construct a makeshift battery charger that allows them to escape the desert. They do not tame the wilderness in which they stand, but instead control nature barely enough to ensure survival. This is a unique moment in the show because Walt and Jesse have cooked so much meth that the wilderness does not immediately demand their attention, and the show takes an episode to explore how Walt operates in his domestic space upon reentry from this epic exp erience in the desert The result is Walt in a state of unrest; he behaves as a caged prisoner, but one who must exert change and power over his house Walt begins by replacing the water heater, trying to fix the physical house and improve the space of the home, while of course further neglecting the needs of his family. He discovers rotten wood on the floor of the closet that quickly escalates into him replacing and repairing most of the underside of the house. T he house is a space that needs to be "fixed" and improved It's as if Walt believes that he can root out and repair all of the dysfunction that he has introduced. The crawl space beneath the house turns into a place to stash bags of money. The physical domestic space is no longer a space where he is

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39 trying to build a family, but more a space that allows for his wilderness behavior. By the fifth season the house has become an abandoned wasteland for vandals and skateboarders who use the empty swimming pool as a skate park 60 The house is surrounded by chain link fence and police tape. On the wall of his living room in bright yellow is painted the word "Heisenberg," a symbolic mark on the home evoking the violence his alter ego brought to his family The walls are destroyed whi le trash and filth cover the floors. Appropriately, he is there to get the pill sized portion of Ricin, a highly poisonous chemical he creates and uses twice in the series, that he has hidden behind an outlet cover in what used to be his bedroom. In this f inal moment in the White home, the space is abandoned, ruined, and stands as a permanent scar in the quiet Albuquerque suburb. A once idealistic starter home in which Walt and Skylar dreamt of raising their family is indelibly destroyed by Walt's vio lence, and its final purpose for Walt is as a hiding place for a deathly poison. Violence a t Home or Domestic Violence As previously suggested, Walt's behavior in the borderlands systematically contaminates his relationship with Skylar. This idea befits a frontier narrative trope that Handley explains : Violence between familiars in these novels compels us to rethink the binary of savagery and civilization upon which Manifest Destiny and Turner's historiography relied in order to justify Western conquest. 61 In Breaking Bad violence 60 "Blood Money" 61 Handley, Marriage, Violence, and the Nation in the American Literary West, 7. Handley further categorizes this violence as "perhaps the most unexpected thing we find at home in the west." 61 While in the formula Western, Handley explains, violence is most often betwe en whites and Indians, there is much textual evidence that denies this concept of violence in the west. 61 The result of violence at home, or violence between familiars is that in novels by writers like Zane Grey, "the ethnic and religious differences that s eem to structure his novels increasingly blur, to the point that enemies and families, strangers and lovers become difficult to distinguish meaningfully according to group identity." 61 Handley takes issue with

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40 with familiars, both physical and emotional, is a key driving force behind the dissolution of Walt's family. This violence begins on a small scale, but amplifies as the series progresses. Early in the series at an ultrasound ap pointment, Skylar calls Walt out about his lack of communication: "you are gone all night and don't tell me where you've been." In his response, he again calls attention to his two conflicting personalities and quickly resorts to aggression: "I haven't bee n myself, but I love you, nothing about that has changed, and it never will, so right now, what I need, is for you to climb down out of my ass. Can you do that? Will you do that for me honey? Will you please, just once, get off my ass? I would appreciate i t, I really would." 62 His tone here is complicated by his desire to assert himself without directly damaging his relationship with Skylar. He speaks in a tone that is not full of the confidence he has in the desert, but is instead tempered by a desire to co ntain the anger born in the wilderness. While Walt and Skylar's marriage is complicated throughout the show, in the first two seasons the show present a slowly dissolving relationship Their relationship falls apart as Walt fails to fulfill his role as hus band in the domestic space. This dissolution is represented through Skylar's frustration with Walt, her affair with Ted Beneke, Walt's lies, and Skyl ar's insistent demands that he communicate with her demands he does not obey. Walt's need to feel the power he has while cooking meth forces the domes tic space to begin to dissolve. Walt and Skylar's sexual relationship serves as one the most salient reminders of the impact of Walt's violence Walt and Skylar only have sex four times in the series and Gilligan uses each time as an opportunity to show the strange domestic transformation the reliance on the myth of the masculine indiv idual when "the idea of the masculine individual who thrives out West has had a longer cultural life that his actual, brief history." 62 "The Cat's in the Bag"

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41 and destruction. 63 While he is simultaneously killing people in the underground meth world, he is also exerting extreme "violence on familiars" at home. In the pilot episode Walt r eturns home after his cook and it is clear that Skylar is uncomfortable with his lack of communication. Instead of talking to Skylar, however, Walt has sex with her in a surprisingly aggressive way. After they have sex, he walks to the bathroom and passes out on the bathroom floor where he sleeps until the morning. From this moment on there is a sense that no matter the sex ual relationship between Walt and Skylar prior to his moment, it is most certainly going to be something different now. He does not slee p next to her throughout the night in the place he is expected to be as a husband, but instead lies on the bathroom floor unconscious from a coughing fit traceable to his (at this point) secret lung cancer. The next time Skylar and Walt have sex is in a mo ment motivated by illegal behavior. At a PTA meeting, Walt clearly looks bored and fed up with the concerned parents. Sitting in a crowd of people as a criminal whom no one suspects, he begins to rub Skylar's leg in the middle of the room. As the other par ents complain about the fears and difficulties in the school, Walt and Skylar have a sexual moment together. He not only disregards the fact that a janitor has been fired for a crime Walt committed, he is actually sexually aroused by having gotten away wit h something. As he becomes less willing to abide by the rules that are impressed upon him, he becomes more able to impress his own laws on the environment around him. He does what he wants. He and Skylar leave and have sex in the car after the meeting. Sky lar says to Walt: "where did 63 The moments of complicated intimacy are: after Walt returns from the first cook at the end of the pilot episode, in their car outside of the high school after Walt becomes unexpectedly aroused during a PTA meeting, when Walt comes to the house wearing the Heisenberg hat and forces himself on Skylar in a way that evokes rape, and finally in a momen t of false intimacy when Skylar misinterprets a desperate phone message fro m Walt as his behaving affectionately.

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42 that come from and why was it so damn good?" to which Walt replies "because it was illegal." 64 Walt is motivated and i nspired by his illegal behavior and sexually aroused by the illegality and power. While this sexual moment was consensual, it was most certainly not within Walt's domestic norm before cooking meth. Their sex life is being transformed by his time in the wilderness into something completely di ctated by Walt's desire and prompted by his enjoyment of power and crime. The violence Walt brings home in the first season culminates in a moment of sexual aggression toward Skylar in the kitchen of their home. This comes in a heightened moment of juxtapo sition and overlap of the two worlds that complicates the sexual encounter. Walt and Jesse make a trade with Tuco in the junkyard, and due to a short altercation, Tuco beats his employee to death. Walt and Jesse are disgusted and terrified by the sheer sur prise and volatility of the violence. They return to the car and Walt calculates exactly how much money he needs to provide for his family before he can get out of the business $737,000. Confronted with this violence he seems scared by the brutality of the drug economy. At this point he na•vely believes that the wilderness and domestic spaces are separate; he believes he will be able to go to the wilderness and return to the domestic without the contamination of the latter The show cuts directly from them leaving a dead body in the junkyard, to Skylar rubbing lotion on her pregnant stomach. This juxtaposition places the ultra violent and un predictable wilderness next to icon s of the domestic sphere Walt comes home and Skylar repeatedly says his name as she walks out of the bathroom wearing a robe and a facial mask. She walks to the living room where Walt clicks through the stations on the 64 "A No Rough Stuff Type Deal

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43 television, still wearing his Heisenberg hat. It is clear that he cannot hear her because he is still shocked by the vio lence. Skylar touches him and they have a short exchange where she mentions his hat. After she offers to make him something to eat, he turns off the television, takes off his hat and walks to the kitchen where she is preparing lunch. She asks him "where h ave you been?" to which he does not reply, but walks up behind her with what appears to be tears in his eyes seeking to be consoled as he puts his head on her shoulder. He begins to cry and, hugging her from behind, transitions from needing consolation to starting a sexual encounter. Skylar initially seems interested and almost humorously curious at his sexual excitement. The scene quickly turns dark, however, and the encounter ends with Skylar, bent over, hitting her head against the refrigerator and yell ing "Stop it!" at which point Walt finally relents with a look of complete horror on his face. He is ashamed and walks out of the house. Skylar comes to him as he weeps and says, "I know you're scared and you're angry and you're frustrated, and I know none of this is fair. But you cannot take it out on me." 65 Immediately after she says this we hear Walt Jr. say s "Hey I'm home, and he walks into the house to see the kitchen in disarray and the mark of Skylar's facial lotion smeared on the fridge. Walt's range of emotions, combined with the complicated framing of this scene with the encounter with Tuco in the junkyard foreground the effects of the modern frontier on the protagonist. It seems that he is almost aware that his behavior is not acceptable, and given the emotions ranging from fear an d weeping to sexual aggression and deflated embarrassment, Walt is clearly a protagonist who is overwhelmed by the overlap of these two worlds. When confronted with the violence in the wilderness his 65 Seven Thirty Seven

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44 reaction is to decide on an exit plan, but as he enters the domestic space, the domestic space he purportedly is attempting to save, he fails to behave in a way that will preserve that space. The wilderness and violence change him and overlap into his home space at the constant detriment of the domestic. He can no longer fulfill his role as husband because he has been altered by the violent wilderness a violence that does not restore his family, but destroys it.

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45 CHAPTER II BREAKING BAD 'S CULTURAL MOMENT: A CRISIS OF MASCULINITY AND THE AMERICAN EMPIRE Amanda Marcotte's article How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity" catalogues the recent trend in television shows exploring masculinity. 66 She argues the trend is to focus on modern man strugglin g with the limitations of his outlook in a world full of complexity and changes that prevent survival through simple reliance on old gender norms." 67 She places Breaking Bad in this tradition but explains that the series sets itself apart from shows like M ad Men and The Sopranos by not having the protagonist begin as a traditionally masculine figure like the business advertising tycoon Don Draper or the iconic Mafioso Tony Soprano. Instead, Walt begins as the opposite an emasculated sickly man who cannot fu lfill his role as husband, father, or provider in a way that he sees fit and spends the series fighting his way toward a traditional image of manhood. 68 Walt's choices are often motivated by the masculine power he commands as his violent alter ego Heisenber g. The myth of the frontier hero has always lived in the imagination, but it becomes real through characters like Walt who embrace the ideals of that myth violence, masculinity, progress, and conquest. Breaking Bad looks at how the myth of the frontier her o shapes the modern psychological landscape. The role of myth in 66 Amanda Marcotte, "How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity," Jezebel .com 9July 2011. http://jezebel.com/5837945/how to make a critically acclaimed tv show about masculinity ; Brian Faucette Taking Control: Male Angst and Re Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad in Breaking Bad : Critical Essays on the Contex ts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series ed. P. David Pierson (New York: Lexington Books, 2014. 67 Marcotte How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity 68 Marcotte How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity

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46 Breaking Bad is evident in Walt's perceptions of his actions and how the Mexican drug cartels and the D.E.A see Heisenberg. The show puts Walter White, the man, in direct compa rison with Heis enberg, the myth He is simultaneously a high school teacher, father, husband, murderer, and burgeoning drug kingpin. Heisenberg is even mythologized in song, and gives Walt a gravitas that he utterly lacks in his non drug manufacturing existence. 69 He use s the pseudonym and the myth to his advantage but in the end his pursuit of the myth and its ultimate failure offer an exploration of the impact of the myth of the frontier as well as the erosion of that myth in a modern landscape. The Hat and the Gun: Walt and Mythic Masculinity While much of the series invokes common visual tropes of the Western, most essential to the development of the character are the use Heisenberg's hat and the development of Walt as a gunslinger. The hat he wears as Heisenberg at once summons Western imagery and calls forth the impact the myth ic Western hero has on Walt. Cowboy hats play an essential role in the cinematography of the western cu tting the frame in iconic close ups in Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly an d also serve a very pragmatic purpose for the heroes in the W estern it keeps them from being exposed in the harsh landscape of the frontier. In t he epic final three way shootout in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly the montage consists of close up s where ea ch man's hat cuts the top of the frame and their eyes peer beneath the brim menacingly. In addition to being part of the visual tradition, the hat serves another purpose. At one point in the film, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) loses his hat as Tuco (Eli Wal lach ) takes him into the desert. This marks a moment of exposure and allows for him to appear much more vulnerable. 69 "Negro y Azul"

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47 Stripped of his gun and his hat, he walks through the desert as a disempowered version of himself. The hat, for Walt, serves to give him confide nce. He relies on the hat to summon the confidence of a classic Western gunslinger and by doing so makes the myth of the individual cowboy central in his development into Heisenberg. Breaking Bad does not belong to the Outlaw anti hero tradition of the Western but it relies on the archetype of the outlaw who has a clear place in the Western. In the episode "Full Measure," certain scenes transport us to the Western film tradition by using Western i conography. The episode opens with a flashback of Walt and Skylar looking at their house as a young couple far before Walt cooked meth. This moment serves to set up the construction of their family as a frame to the narrative we already know. While many of the Westerns discussed earlier begin with some amount of family unity ( Once Upon a Time in the West, Unforgiven, High Noon The Searchers ) similarly, in this flashback, the family unit is unbroken. After the flashback, we see Walt sitting in his car in th e desert waiting to meet Gus he watches as a car peaks over the horizon. He puts on hi s hat and walks across the high plane The camera tracks behind him and visually we are transported to a Western film. Various plateaus and the Sandia Mountains make up the distant horizon. He walks up to meet Mike a hit man and Gus' employee, and they step into frame from either side, summonin g the visual rhetoric of an Old W est shootout. The silhouette of his hat on a far off horizon alone owes its visual history to the Western. The series is careful to deny the idea that Heisenberg, or the personality traits within Walt that surface as he is playing that part, can be turned on and off with the use of the hat. His iconic Pork Pie hat makes an appearance in the first e pisode of the second season when Walt and Jesse are meeting the unpredictable and hyper violent Tuco

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48 Salamanca (a name with a likely allusion to Eli Wallach's character Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly ) in a junkyard. Walt has adopted the pseudonym Heisenberg in the drug world and already has begun to gain some fame, and in this scene the hat enters the visual language to represent his transformation. Immediately following a murder in the junkyard, Walt wears the hat home and Skylar comments on it. H e removes the hat, the visual representation of Heisenberg and the violence we associate with the world in which Heisenberg participates, but his attack on Skylar as described earlier shows that Walt does not leave the violence with the hat. He goes to Sky lar and sexually attacks her in the kitchen. While the hat does help Walt gain the confidence to behave as a more extreme version of himself, it is clear that the violence is within Walt and born from a desire to fulfill a masculine ideal of the frontier h ero Summoning the myth of the John Wayne archetype, he believes the hat gives him confidence, power, and the ability to commit acts of violence. In this early use of the hat it both defies use as a traditional image of the independent man, and denies the classic frontier role of the independent loner as a force that restores the family. The hat takes on a mystical quality as it motivates moments of extreme confidence or violence within Walt, as if he is using the hat to connect himself to the myth of the Western hero. In episode "Fifty One," an episode marking a year after his grim diagnoses of cancer and using his birthday as a marking point to showcase his transformation and the dissolution of his family, the hat comes back to transform Walt's behavior. He sells his car, the Aztek, to a mechanic for $50. This SUV has operated as an iconic image that visually kept Walt as a father figure or a family man. He sells the car,

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49 but reaches into the back seat and takes his hat. He then buys himself and Walt Jr. s ports cars 70 The hat allows him to embrace the type of inde pendent masculinity he desires. In the fourth season, Walt's failed transformation into the mythic Western hero is furthered with a movement toward being a gunslinger. If the hat gives him confid ence by making him feel as if he can play the part of a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood style hero, then the gun would, psychologically for Walt, complete the package. Everything about the acquisition of the weapon denies his ability to play that role. When h e buys an illegal gun, he looks uncomfortable and awkward with the weapons and it is evident that he does not know much about guns. The gun salesmen calls attention to Walt's ignorance about weapons only furthering Walt's inability to have the masculine id entity and power of a n archetypal John Wayne style protagonist: General rule -You don't want to cross draw, not unless you're going to be sitting, you know, store clerks, card gamers and such. Either way you're going to want to practice your draw...a lot.. .because if you're all fingers, well, it might could be him keeping a piece instead of you. Catch my drift? 71 Complete with hat and gun, the series denies Walt the successful transformation into the myth he is attempting to replicate. Walt goes to Gus' hou se to kill him and, sans hat, sits nervously in his car looking at Gus' house. As he puts the hat on, there is an obvious transformation. He takes on his signature Heisenberg grimace and seems to brim with confidence as the hat cuts the top of the frame an d Walt menacingly stares directly at the camera With his concealed 38 snub nose wheel gun he walks toward Gus' house intent to kill. For a brief moment, in the middle of a suburban area of Albuquerque the camera tracks behind Walt over his shoulder. The f rame, like Walt's state of mind, is narrowly 70 "Fifty One" 71 "Thirty Eight Snub Nose"

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50 focused. Walt, of course, is not a lone gunman with a single mission, and the show once again denies the hat as a vehicle to completely transform Walt. It has transformative qualities, but it does not allow him to escape entirely. Mike calls Walt and tells him to go home. Walt stops an assassination attempt to answer his cell phone a behavior that denies a transformation into a lone gunman. As he takes the call, the camera cuts out to a much wider shot, revealing Walt, awkwardly standing in an intersection looking around for Mike. The visual language breaks from that of Western cinema because while Walt is a frontier protagonist and speaks to that tradition, the show denies his complete submersion into the myth of the individual violent gunslinger. Walt can neither inhabit the identity of the gunslinger convincingly nor can he shed it entirely in the trad ition of the family W estern. Myth of Manhood: Masculinity, Fatherhood, and The Role of the Provider Brian Faucet te explores the "cultural fear" about masculinity in Breaking Bad as a "crisis of conscious and perceived crisis of masculinity." 72 He argues Walt's transformation is defined by the two types of masculinity that creator Vince Gilligan put forth Gilligan explains that with Walt, he wanted to show the transformation from "Mr. Chips to Scarface." If masculinity in the Western has always been tied to a cultural or political moment of change as theorists repeatedly claim then Michael Kimmel' s 2013 72 Faucette Taking Control: Male Angst and Re Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad 73 74. This is a transformation from a passive, smart, sensitive father figure into a violent and intimidating male role. The crisis of masculinity Faucette describes in America is one that "must embrace older models of masculinity based on violence, intimidation, and control in order to re masculinize themselves and their lives." Walt re turns to a model of violent masculinity that the frontier myth created and perpetuated, but this is complicated also by the show's, and Citing Kimmel's earlier works of cultural history, Faucette says "a man who is not a providerdoesn't feel like much a m an at all." The myth of the individual violent man and the modern understanding of men as providers are present in Walt's transformation as he, a modern American male, returns to a violent cultural image of frontier manhood in order to fulfill the role of the modern provider.

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51 work of cultural history Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era can give us a perspective into the current cultural moment that Breaking Bad (and other shows confronting the issue of masculinity) is reacting to. 73 A follow up to his 1996 text Manhood in America in which he tracked the creation and dissolution of the idea of the "self made man," 74 Angry White Men argues that "the era of unquestioned and unchallenged male entitlement is over" and that the outcome of this cultural moment and the subjects of his book are "men who either don't yet know it or sense the change in the wind and are determined to stem the tide." 75 While Walter White is not a character who actively and purposefully rejects the changing times, I do believe he is represe ntative of and a reaction to the crisis of masculinity and changing roles of white men in America that Kimmel's work presents. Walt psychologically suffers from the stresses and tensions Kimmel finds in white American men and is surrounded by some of the s ame diverse powers that are imagined to threaten the long standing tradition of dominant white men. Much of the frustration Kimmel discovered is rooted in the perceived dissolution of benefits that white men gain through entitlement and privilege. He says that "feeling 73 Alexandra Keller "Historical Discourse and American Identity in Westerns since the Reagan Era" in Hollywood's West ed C. Peter Rollins and E. John O'Connor (The University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 239 260. The idea that the Wester n is a reaction to historical moments of change is not unique to Baker and is echoed in many scholars including Alexandra Keller. She explores many films as reactions and representations of a changing cultural or political climate. 74 Michael Kimmel, Manho od in America ( New York: Free Press, 1996); Brian Baker Masculinity in Fiction and Film (London: Continuum, 2006). Brian Baker explains that crises of masculinity in narratives have historically occurred during "crucial historic and cultural moments." Bake r argues for a particular relationship "between the ideology of the nation state and the ideologically sanctioned [hegemonic] form of masculinity at the time." He looks to show how fictional iterations of masculinity help to "renegotiate" masculinity in a way that represents various aspects of the non fictional cultural and political atmosphere. His readings explore representations of masculinity in post war frameworks (particularly post WWII and the Cold War) because post war eras tend to mark moments in c ultural change when modes of violent masculinity are perhaps no longer necessary and society must look at other definitions of masculinity with which they have to reconcile the violent past. While the crisis in Breaking Bad is not situated as "post war" wi th relation to wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, it uses the modern drug wars as a backdrop and is perhaps reacting to the perceived war on white men at a moment when the traditional privileged and dominant position of the white male in America is being questio ned. 75 Michael Kimmel Angry White Men (New Yrk: Nation Books, 2013) xii.

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52 entitled by race or gender distorts one's vision," 76 a distortion that Walt is guilty of as he repeatedly sacrifices the very family unit he set out to preserve. His masculinity as a father is threatened in his home while he believes that his prowess as a drug producer sets him apart from the violent non white participants in the drug economy. He believes that his superior intellect somehow privileges and justifies his violent actions. In a move that summons Kimmel's cultural crisis in "angry white me n," the series uses the Chilean b orn Gus Fring, who is able to manage a business in a way that Walt is never able to replicate, as one of the greatest oppositions to Walt's empire. In Gus' empire, employees are paid and taken care of, a business mo del that Walt can never replicate and actively resists. The business created by a non white immigrant in America is the more successful empire (albeit violent and illegal) an idea further explored in the next section. The show repeatedly returns to mascul inity as an area of insecurity and driving force in Walt's decisions to remain in the meth business. Once he is successfully filtering his drug money into his family through his son's website "Savewalterwhite.com," he is not satisfied because he is still n ot known as the provider. His son is credited for the money that Walt made cooking meth replacing Walt as the provider for the family, a displacement that angers Walt. He refuses to genuinely congratulate his son. 77 It is not enough for Walt to provide; he must be known as the provider and he cannot stand the thought that his family perceives him as a dependent. This comes from insecurities about his masculinity, an insecurity that becomes amplified in moments he cannot be the provider for his family. 76 Kimmel Angry White Men xii. 77 "Mandala"

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53 It is not only his son that displaces Walt as the provider throughout the series, but most of the people in his life. His ex partner Elliot Schwartz offers to pay for his treatment with the abundant wealth he gained with the company he and Walt formed together with Walt's research. Walt chose to leave the company before it was successful and become a teacher, a move that he secretly resents Elliot and Gretchen for. Grey Matter represents a huge missed opportunity for Walt, and is another moment when Walt's role as a man and provider failed He was, at Grey Matter, Gretchen's lover and a highly skilled chemist When he left the company, Gretchen and Elliot became lovers and wildly wealthy. Walt refuses to be emasculated by Elliot once again His wife Skylar, his students, and his brother in law Hank systematically emasculate Walt at the beginning of the series. After turning down the job at Grey Matter, and telling his wife he will not do chemotherapy (another attempt to control his life and mortality), his family holds an intervention, during which Walt openly discusses his unhappiness as a passive player in his own life in an attempt to gain some level of control as a man. During the intervention Walt is only allowed to speak when he is holding the speaking pillo w, a microcosm of the rules and regulations that have driven him from this lifestyle and into behavior outside of these norms. Once he has the pillow, Walt speaks tellingly though cryptically about his desires: "What I want, what I need...is a choice Some times I feel like I never actually make any of my own choices, I mean, my entire life, it just seems I never, you know, had a real say about any of it. Now, this last one cancer, all I have left is how I choose to approach this." 78 He continues to say that "the worst part" is the fact that Skylar and Walt Jr. would only remember him as a sick and 78 "Gray Matter"

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54 dying man. In this moment, he seems to be concerned with the quality of his life, the control he has over his life, and the legacy that he will leave behind for his family. Unfortunately, Walt's failure to balance his idea of masculinity with the actual needs of his family drives him to compromise his family's welfare in favor of the control over his life and empire. He wakes the next morning and tells Skylar that he will do the treatment, but as she hugs him and is relieved that he has ceded to her desire, the look on his face is conflicted. It is obvious that he has made a choice to fulfill Skylar's desires, but also his own. He denies the money from his ex partners once again as the episode comes to a close and he walks up to Jesse's house and says: "Wanna cook?" 79 He is going to try to survive cancer on his own terms and in a way that would situate him as the provider for the family, not a passive recipient of anoth er man's wealth. Ironically, his effort to attain masculinity by cooking meth often pushes the power he pursues out of his grasp. When he returns from the "fugue state" discussed earlier, any sense of choice or control he once had as a father and husband is gone. Skylar tells him to stay home and not go back to work, and to do specifically "nothing" while she goes to her new banking job. 80 Walt's position as a provider for his family is displaced by Skylar's job at the bank. Not only this, but her job sets the stage for her affair He continually grasps at various kinds of masculinity. While his construction on the house was indicative of metaphoric domestic erosion, the same scene serves to displace his masculinity as well. A fter completing days of potent ially unnecessary renovations on the house, he is still restless. He is fixing the house, but his behavior around Skylar lacks any sense of the confidence and focus that he has doing chemistry 79 "Gray Matter" 80 "Over"

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55 and exerting control as Heisenberg. The show ends this sequence of domestic unrest with a moment of assertion and overlap that reminds us that Walt is a character for whom the constraints of domesticity have become unbearable, and for whom the savage conditions of the borderlands have become a meth like addiction. Bac k at the home improvement store he sees a cart full of gear that he immediately recognizes as ingredients and equipment for cooking meth. Shopping for the supplies is a young guy (doppelganger for Jesse Pinkman) whom Walt initially tries to help out, expla ining that he doe s not have the correct supplies and that he should buy some supplies from all over town in order not to raise suspicion. While Walt is in the checkout line holding two gallons of primer, the camera zooms in on Walt's face sequentially with the beeping of the checkout scanner. Walt puts down the two cans of primer and walks to the parking lot with a physical conviction we have only seen him display as Heisenberg. The way he moves across the parking lot with single minded purpose, as well as the metaphoric leaving behind of the home improvement store marks a moment of decisive transition back into the aggressive masculine identity he has created in the drug world. This is an identity that can and will protect what he believes is rightfully his His turf is being threatened, and he walks up to the two men, stares down the older man, leans in, and says "Stay out of my territory." 81 He looks happy for the first time since he stopped cooking; he got his fix because he is now in a space in which he c onfidently has control. 82 His use of the word territory invokes Walt's identity as a sovereign power over a specific space, but his invocation of 81 "Over" 82 The sequential placement of this moment prior to a murder that brings Jesse and he back into the wilderness as explored earlier in the "rhetoric o f necessity." The show has this moment occur before the murder in order to make sure it is clear that Walt wan ts back in to the wilderness of meth cooking before it is actually necessary.

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56 it in a home improvement store parking lot raises questions to where this masculine energy resides. His masculi nity is also challenged by his brother in law Hank at Walt's house, a space where Walt desires the same level of respect that he gets in his second home, the RV, as a master meth cook Their relationship puts Walt in the passive and less traditionally masc uline role. During a party at his house, Walt sits at a table by the pool with Walt Jr. and his brother in law Hank drinking tequila shots. Hank, a DEA agent, regales Jr. with stories from the field, and Walt's demeanor becomes angry and unresponsive. This is not the first time that Walt has felt his manhood threatened by Hank with regard to Jr., but this time Walt decides to take control of the situation, an action uncharacteristic for Walt He gives Walt Jr. a series of tequila shots, and when Hank tries to slow him down, he becomes even more insistent saying "My son! My bottle! My house!" 83 Walt Jr. gets sick and vomits into the pool. As his son vomits and Skylar and Hank rush to his aid Walt sits down with a smirk on his face and finishes his tequila shot. Walt later apologizes to Skylar in a voicemail that she listens to at Ted Beneke's home, the space where she has been having an affair with her boss Walt's role as a father has been displaced by Hank, and as a husband, by S kyler's boss Ted Beneke Another such moment that places Walt at odds with Hank with relation to his son Walter Jr. is during Walt's birthday party. Walt Jr., as Brian Faucette points out, idolizes Hank. In this scene, Hank hands Walt his gun and makes fun of how awkward Walt looks while holding it. 84 The gun "validates Hank's masculinity and challenges Walt's because a man like Walt is not comfortable wielding a gunfor men like Hank the gun is an 83 "Over" 84 "Pilot"

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57 extension of their masculinity and their authority." 85 Hank i s a hero who embodies masculine authority where Walt is a passive, unhealthy, highly educated man. Walt's life as a meth cook allows him to chase the type of masculinity his child idolizes. Other characters notice that Walt's vulnerability is his insecurity about his role as a man and a father. Gustav Fring, for example, is a man who has successfully built an empire and in many ways represents the type of masculinity as provider that Walt desires. Gus relies on Walt's insecurity to persuade him to continue to cook in the meth super lab despite the fact that Walt has enough money to support his family and his cancer is in remission. Gus takes him for a drive to show him the super lab at the laundry, and it is at this point that Gus exploits Walt's in securities about being a provider for his family. During this sequence in the show, Walt's masculinity is figuratively and literally displaced. As Walt is taken to the subterranean meth super lab, Skylar goes to Ted's house to continue her affair while Wal t's daughter is being taken care of by Marie. 86 While Skylar undermines the sexual foundations of Walt's manhood, Gus challenges it through his speech: Gus: I need 200 pounds per week to make this economically viable. You would choose your own hours, of cou rse, come and go as you please, so long as the quota is met. Walt: Sorry. The answer is still no. I have made a series of very bad decisions, and I cannot make another one. Gus: Why did you make these decisions? Walt: For the good of my family. Gus: Then t hey weren't bad decisions. What does a man do, Walter? A man provides for his family. Walt: This cost me my family. Gus: When you have children, you always have family. They will always be your priority, your responsibility. And a man... A man provides. An d he does it 85 Faucette, Taking Control: Male Angst and Re Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad 76 86 "M‡s"

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58 even when he's not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up, and he does it, because he's a man. 87 Gus describes a kind of man that Walt cannot ever be, the kind of man to provide and not be appreciated or respected. Walt h as a desire for a very specific type of manhood that is defined by recognition and appreciation. He wants the power he holds as the mythic Heisenberg, but he wants to experience that power in the context of his family. He wants to act outside the law and p ublically reap the benefits of those actions in a structure governed by the law. The result is that his desire to fulfill the myth of the gun slinging cowboy conflicts with and supersedes his identity as a good father. As Faucette points out, "Walt is able to reclaim his masculine authority but at the expense of his marriage, his children, his character and perhaps his own humanity." 88 The temptation of the super lab and the wealth it represents to Walt proves to be too much and he decides to continue to coo k. His desire to provide an unimaginable amount of wealth to his family pushes him to try to fulfill the role of the provider while also continuing to work in the illegal drug world where his violence is regenerative. Walt's crisis of masculinity is compli cated further because t he type of manhood he desires is generated from Western archetypal protagonists. He simultaneously desires to leave a legacy as a father and as the mythological identity Heisenberg. Breaking Bad presents us with a Western protagonist defined by fatherhood, manhood, and masculinity a mixture that many of the protagonists in the Western tradition did not have to fulfill. I n films like High Noon, True Grit, The Searchers, and even the revisionist Western Unforgiven the prot agonist s are allowed a violent masculine life that protect s ideals of 87 "M‡s" 88 Faucette, Taking Control: Male Angst and Re Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaking Bad 80

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59 domesticity such as marriage ( High Noon ) and the family ( Unforgiven, True Grit, The Searchers ) Unforgiven a film that actively and purposefully engages and resists the cultural myth pr oduction of the W est allows Munny to leave his children to exact his revenge through murder and return to settle successfully. He plays a masculine father/provider at home and a violent masculine gunslinger away from home Breaking Bad uses this myth of masculinity to frustrate Walt as a character chasing his desire to fulfill a mythic masculine ideal in a frontier that will not allow it. Walt fails to fulfill his concept of manhood as a father but embraces the traditional, violent, male conquest in the illegal world of drug production Brian Baker's Masculinity in Fiction and Film describes the role of the frontier and representations of masculinity within the "aging Western genre. This can help place masculinity in Breaking Bad into th e tradition that it is revising. In the "aging Western ," the protagonist exists as an outdated version of masculinity and the narratives serve to give them one final "showdown" before "stepping off the stage of history." 89 I n this Western tradition, as the government, law, industrialization, and other tropes of settlement arrive in the "Wild West the violent forms of masculinity that existed must leave to make room for the new society. Baker closely examines Unforgiven and John Wayne's last film The Shootist among others to exemplify cowboys who represented antiquated modes of masculinity 90 For Baker, these serve to "reread the development of the USA as a rites of passage narrative f or white male America [in which] the young 89 Baker, Masculinity in Fiction and Film xi. 90 Baker, Masculinity in Fiction and Film ,134.

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60 must reject the values o f the old while nostalgically reinscribing the authority of the frontiersman as a validating father figure, gone but not forgotten." 91 While aspects of the series place it into the aging Western tradition, its conflict and final resolution to issues of mas culinity point toward a frontier narrative that rejects the ability for the violent male archetype to defend or participate in peaceful domestic fatherhood. So in Breaking Bad we are presented with a troubled masculinity that fails both in its efforts to gen erate and maintain an empire as well as its efforts to protect the family. For Walt violence is clearly a driving component of his progress but h e has not "outlived his time" and his violent nature directly threaten s his family as he tries to concurrently exist within a modern society while also hold ing on to the violent nature necessary to survive the landscape of the drug trade. Wa lt cannot let go of his violent masculinity and does not escape after his final showdown because his violence has real and lasting effects on his family. While Walt is allowed a violent final showdown in which he mechanizes an automatic weapon to kill a room full of men, he is fatally injured in the shootout. 92 He does not return to his family or restore a ny level of domestic ideal; rather, in his final moments, he enters the last iteration of the meth lab and after nostalgically walking around the equipment, dies alone. 91 Baker, Masculinity in Fiction and Film 136: Baker concludes that Westerns like Unforgiven allow f or the violent masculine male to be re incorporated into society rather than rejected from it: "This is the inverse of the Turner myth. Rather than the frontier and the West being the crucible of democracy, in Unforgiven they are the locus of violence. Rat her than disavowing progress' in favour of nostalgia for the individual ethos of the frontiersman, the violence of the frontiersman is implicated in progress.'" 91 Munny exerts a violent masculine will over the injustice he sees (from outside of the law) o nly to go west and settle as a business owner. What Baker misses is that Unforgiven is still consistent with the myth because it still emphasizes the triumphal settlement. 92 "Felina

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61 Walt fails to understand masculinity in a way that would allow for a happy marriage. 93 One might say that Walter White is himself a product of the Western myth, even as the narrative situates him squarely within his family. Part of Walt's failure to provide for his family in the way he so desires comes form his failure to reconcile his desi re for masculine individualism with the conflicting desire to be admired as a provider for his family. His masculine authority is defined by his genius in the lab as well as his exertion of force over others. In the first season episode entitled "Crazy Ha ndful of Nothin' Walt asserts his authority through a violence he did not initially want to participate in, but one that he stepped into in the interest of building his empire. The episode opens with Walt telling Jesse that if they are to continue to coo k, he wants nothing to do with the cust omers. A s he says to Jesse "No matter what happens, no more bloodshed, no violence" we see Walt, now bald, walking away from a building amidst chaotic surroundings that signify an explosion. Walt carries a bloodstaine d bag full of money through the confused scene on the street. He is the lone figure walking away from the exploded building that captures everyone else's attention. 94 The scene around him indicates his return and use of a violent traditional model of mascul inity to provide for his family. He carries the bag of money as the prize of his violence representative of his goal as a father and provider. His initial reluctance paired with the extreme use of violence shows Walt's desire to provide for his family u sing any means necessary, but also his efforts to fulfill a role of manhood 93 His conflict fits into William Handley's analysis of marriage in the Ame rican West and frontier narratives. The issue that modern critics (Handley among them) have found in historical and literary writing about the west is that it tends to favor the myth of the individual rather than the family and community networks that actu ally drive many of the narratives. Handley argues that frontier narratives have always incorporated marriage as an essential ingredient, and that the masculine individualism so common in the cultural imagination is more a product of the myth rather than th e literary texts (or historical reality) of the frontier 94 "Crazy Handful of Nothin'"

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62 that the violent and hyper masculine drug dealers like Tuco Salamanca will respect. After the explosion in Tuco's fortress like office, Tuco tells Walt, "you got balls," signifying that the violence figuratively masculinizes Walt. Walt's effort to be the provider for his family takes the series all the way to the final episode of the series. The white supremacists who Walt hired to commit extreme acts of violence in the interest of his empire, have taken most of his money, and his family has let him go. He has been isolated in the mountains but his desire to financially provide for his family remains and is one of his final actions. In a sequence that finalizes Walt's failure as a p rovider and his failure to understand the damage he brought onto his house, Walt secretly calls his son in an effort to sneak him money. In the phone conversation Walt Jr. is disgusted that after everything Walt has done he still wants to give them money. He tells Walt that he does not want the money and that he wishes Walt were dead. Walt, bent on getting the wealth he amassed for his family to them, cannot directly give the money to his family so he uses his ex partner to do it. He enters their house and threatens to kill Elliot and Gretchen if they do not get the money to his son. Even in his final moments, although t he money will be given to Walt Jr., Walt will still not be recognized as the provider. It will publically come from the company he used to w ork for. His legacy as a father is a broken family with a son who wishes his father w as dead.

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63 The Garden in the Machine 95 Walt's masculinity is certainly in crisis, and much of this crisis in evidenced in his figurative impotence and his obsessive pursuit of conquest, a conquest over others in the frontier, but also a conquest over his own nature. Where cowboys were confronte d with vast landscapes and formidable geographies and the nature they were out to conquer consisted of wild animals and American Indians, for Walt, the nature is on a microscopic level. Walt er is a master chemist, an identity perhaps at one extreme end of conquest over nature, and his profession dictates that the space in which he works be as far removed from the unpredictable natural world as possible. While the series does not consistently or dominantly rely on Leo Marx's classic trope of the Machine in t he Garden the artistic and uncharacteristically cerebral episode "The Fly" translates this trope into the world of Breaking Bad by allowing nature to interrupt the industrialized space of the lab. While the industrial interruption of the pastoral motivate d many narratives considering the impact of such rapid industrialization on the development of the land, the inverted use of the trope as nature interrupts the lab opens a space in the series for Walt to pause and reflect upon his choices and his existence in the meth industry and also to exemplify Walt's impotent and struggling conquest When Walt moves to Gus' super lab, he is at first a master of the space a space full of expensive industrial equipment. The subterranean super lab is a pristine space in 95 Probably one of the most well known tropes regarding wilderness and settlement is the "Machine in the Garden." Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America explores the recurring image in American Frontier narratives of the interruption of pastoral spaces by icons of industrialization such as the steam engine. Marx argues that this perennial trope in American literature is evidence o f the cultural effect that the rapidity of the development of the West had on the American people : "Its influence upon our literature is suggested by the recurrent image of the machine's sudden entrance into the landscape." This iconic concept is revised in Breaking Bad a frontier narrative that takes place in the modern space of New Mexico and in an age of modern industrialization and production. Industrialization, along with violence, is also an aspe ct of the conquest of t he West, and Walt's placement in an industrialized locale likewise shape s his conquest over nature

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64 which all chemicals, components, and steps are precisely measured. It is a contained industrialized space where Walt can control all aspects of production without variables. As opposed to the pastoral image evolving due to industrialization, the lab is a s pace that resists variable nature. In the episode "The Fly," the lab, and Walt's psyche, are interrupted by nature in the form of a single fly. This episode comes as Walt loses control over his lab and his relationship with Gus Fring. The empire that cost him his family is crumbling. It is appropriate that given Walt's chemical mastery over nature that it would be a small component of nature, a fly that mocks him Walt desires a clean separation between outside nature and inside production. He views them a s necessarily separate concepts to be contained and ordered. He explains the situation to Jesse: "I have turned the ventilation up to keep the outside out. There's uh, been a contamination. Something got into the lab," 96 to which Jesse replies "So it's not dangerous?" and sheepishly Walt answers "Not to us, particularly" as he holds a wimpy looking plastic contraption wrapped in tape that he poorly put together another physical symbol of Walt's impotence Obviously the physical interruption in the space is small, but the psychological interruption it causes is enormous. In this scene it feels to Jesse, and the audience that nothing can happen in the la b without Walt knowing about it. Walt simultaneously hunts the fly and thwarts Jesse's attempts to continu e the cook. The fly moves around the lab with a freedom and unpredictability that Walt is impelled to dominate. Walt will sacrifice the batch of meth and his own well being to ensure that the freedom that this fly enjoys is stamped out. 96 "Fly"

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65 This is indicative of Walt's desire to have choice over his own nature and mortality. Walt wants to dictate the death of the fly just as he wants to dictate the terms of his own death. Walt goes so far as to define the fly as a contamination and claims that it "is by no mean s a misuse of the word...If we want to keep our lab and our cook clean, we need to take this very seriouslyThis fly is a major problem for us. It will destroy our batch. Failing that, we're dead. There is no more room for error. Not with these people." 97 W alt's mental collapse brought on by the interruption of the space by a minute form of nature, is a form of madness and an obsession with a mastery over his death and his concern about the choices he has made. Jesse, afraid for his and Walt's well being, d rugs Walt so he will fall asleep. In his exhausted and drugged state, Walt confronts, in a rare genuine moment of reflection and regret, the consequences of his choices and comes to accept, after much meditation, the unpredictability of life accepting a figuratively emasculated position His obsession with the fly, and its insistence on surviving despite all of Walt's efforts to kill it, allow the interruption of the space of the lab to operate as a reflective moment in which Walt confronts his ruined leg acy as a father and his inabili ty to control his own mortality. In the monologue, he searches his past for when he missed the perfect moment to die. He believes that had he died at a specific and planned moment, it would have saved his family: I missed it. There was some perfect mo ment and it passed me right by I'm saying I've lived too long. I mean you want them to actually miss you, you know?... I know the moment. It was the night Jane died. Yeah, I was at home and we needed diapers and so I said I'd go, b ut it was just an excuse... The universe is random. It's not inevitable. It's simple chaos. It's subatomic particles in endless aimless collision. That's what science teaches us. That was the moment. That 97 "Fly"

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66 night. I should never have left homeI was at home watching TVa nd Skyler and Holly were in another room. I could hear them on the baby monitor. She was singing a lullaby. If I had just lived right up to that moment and not one second more, that would have been perfect. 98 Walt generally wants order and resists the chaos of nature He wants to control his own nature but the moment he would have liked to die has past he must go, regretfully, forward. Jesse kill s the fly as Walt falls asleep. The next day Walt goes home and is laying in bed. A fly bu zzes above him as he sleeps and it wakes him. Nature has interrupted Walt's life and its resistance to his control troubles his state of mind. For Breaking Bad nature interrupts the industrialized space and overcomes Walt with the reality of his r andom, u ncontrollable mortality na ture challenges his masculine desire for conquest Myth of Heisenberg and the End of an Empire C riticism about frontier narratives tries to break the various myths of the west in order to understand a more culturally competent fro ntier. 99 The myths of the west are ideas that exist in the imagination but persist, in certain ways, as truth. Breaking Bad 98 "Fly" 99 See generally Handley, Rollins and O'Conner, Rebecca Johnson Slotkin, Limerick, Sultze Critics agree that because fictional narr atives about the west and its pioneering characters preceded the historical documents, history was indelibly influenced by fiction. Many historians, like William Handley, argue for a synthesis of history and literature when talking about the American West. He believes that given the nature of how frontier mythology and frontier history have developed, it is counterproductive to separate the two. Because of this, fictional representations of the West have always been complicated by a need to place the narrat ives into historical moments or with historic backdrops like the Civil War. By doing so, the frontier has been a space for narratives that might offer criticism about contemporary cultural concepts by filtering the fiction through the historic moment. Sim ilarly, Peter Rollins and John O'Conner, in their text Hollywood's West: The American Frontier in Film, television, and History establish that Westerns have, and remain to, act as "a touchstone to the understanding the nation's concerns." Because of this, they maintain that "the study of the evolution of the Western in not a detached, academic endeavor; it is a chance to look at the potentials of our nation as they have been explored by some of our best literary and visual artists." In Rebecca Johnson's ess ay "Living Deadwood : Imagination, Affect, and the Persistence of the Past," her analysis of Deadwood as a "Shakespeare meets The Sopranos style Western, summarizes a similar sentiment in her research: "[a western] tells us less about that past than about the cultural attitudes of the present."

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67 participates in this myth creation by generating Walt's alter ego "Heisenberg" and the mythic level it gains in the show. This myth, however, is built amidst the construction of Walt's empire. This series was created during a period of ongoing drug production and transport from Mexico to the United States and the subsequent drug wars the backdrop of the series. In 2013, it was reported that a single Mexican cartel controlled 80% of the meth business in the United States. 100 Breaking Bad represents a fear of entrepreneurial invasion that is taking place both in the legal and illegal economies. It comes in a moment of displaced power and th e crumbling myth of the ethnocentric American Dream and American empire In a recent (May 2014) editorial for the New York Times Anand Giridharadas explored the changing power dynamic between immigrants and native born Americans. He begins his article by saying "if you want to die a successful American, especially in the heartland, it helps to be born abroad." 101 He goes on to explain what he terms the "immigrant advantage" that seems to pervade all aspects of life in Ame rica from marriage, to professional success, to education. He describes an immigrant victim of a racially charged post 9/11 attack who forgave his attacker because "the native Texan hadn't had the same shot at the American dream as the foreigner' he'd tri ed to kill." 102 Giridharadas explains that naturalized citizens have an a dvantage because they have a mix ture of rugged individualism and the ability to use a community for support, the second of which he c laims most native born American s lack. While on one end Breaking 100 Santiago Wills ABC News This Mexican Cartel Controls 80 Percent of the U.S. Meth Trade, Study Finds ." This is also discussed in Jim Salter's article on the Huffington Post "Mexico Drug Carels Flood Cheap Meth Int o U.S." and the St. Louis Associated Press article by Mark Stevenson and Christopher Sherman "Mexico Cartels fill demand for meth in USA." 101 Anand Giridharadas "The Immigrant Advantage," New York Times 24, May 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/opini on/sunday/the immigrant advantage.html?_r=0 102 Giridharadas, "The Immigrant Advantage."

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68 Bad represents a cultural crisis of masculinity on the other it explores the erosion of the myth of the American Dream and entrepreneur. A s a result, Breaking Bad can be viewed as a response to the changing identity of the American empire. Th e stress of the shifting structure of America as described by Giridharadas is present in many ways in the series, not the least of which is Walt's various employers. The principle at his school is a Hispanic American woman, and a t his second job at the car wash, where he is constantly taken advantage of and has no authority, he works as the cashier under a man named Bogdan Wol ynetz (Marius Stan), a Romanian American. Later in the series Skylar and Walt decide that they want the car wash for themselves as a vehicle for laundering the incredible amount of wealth that Walt accrues cooking meth After failing to ascertain the car wash legally through negotiation with Bogdan, Skylar and Walt resort to deceit in order to steal the business from Bogdan. Not only do es an immigrant own and run a successful and legal business, a white n ative born family deceives him and runs him out The series presents a setting in which the fears that Kimmel and Giridharadas present come to life. With the exception of Hank, most positions of authority and power are held by non white, often immigrant characters. Perhaps the most prevalent of such characters is Gus Fring, a Chilean born citizen who employs Walt as a meth cook for several seasons of the show Again, Walt is an employ ee in a successful (illegal) business started and run by an immigrant, a business he acquires by killing Gus with a suicide bomb strapped to an ex cartel member. He kills his immigrant boss by playing him against another immigrant Interestingly, the meth empire goes into complete decline with Walt at the helm, and eventually leads to Walt's inclusion of a white supremacist group into the business. This results in Jesse's eventual

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69 slavery. Under Walt, the strength of Gus' empire dissolves into a corrupted m urderous business commanded by white supremacists who enslave Jesse to produce meth. Far from the American Dream, Walt remains as either subservient in the empire, or as the driving force behind its destruction. It is important to point out that much of Wa lt's violence is toward men of color. Kimmel's cultural history unearths the blame that white men are placing on women and men of color as the culturally dominant privilege of being a white man dissolves. Immigrant men and men of color dominate the borderl and drug world that W alt steps into. They have cross border connections and ties that somehow facilitate the construction of illegal empires that Walt can never replicate. Not until the final season is Walt forced into a violent battle against other white men who are "othered" by their status as white supremacists, and who also represent the ideology and anger that Kimmel found in many of the men he met writing his book. Walt chases the crumbling my th of the self made man in an attempt to provide for his family while also fulfilling an ideal of masculinity born, and persistent, in American frontier narratives. As Kimmel claims, "American white men bought the promise of self made masculinity, but its foundation has all but eroded." 103 The show confronts this crisis in Walt's search for the Am erican Dream outside of America 's legal boundaries and Walt's inability to accept the richness of his family life as having a value enough to satisfy him. He chases the dissolving American Dream of the self made man in the illegal drug economy as a result of his failure to fulfill the multiple kinds of masculinity he believes are necessary. He looks outside of the law because he is representative of the 103 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 15.

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70 frustrated men who currently believe that the system is directly oppressing them. These men believe that it is necessary to take the law into their own hands. 104 Ultimately, Kimmel establishes a men as victims philosophy in which men blame others for the confused tension between the traditional violent and empowered view of masculinity, and the "liberated" view of masculinity that would allow men to be fathers with more productive relationships with their children. 105 Just like the frustrated men Kimmel describes in his book, Walt want s both. In t he wake of Gus' death, Walt is confronted with the freedom to pursue the meth empire and the harsh realities of the cost of the meth business without Gus' infrastructure. The dwindling supply of methylamine (a primary ingredient in Walt's specialized cook) and ongoing costs to keep Gus' men (now imprisoned) quiet, continually frustrate Walt and he becomes increasingly sovereign in how the business is run. While Gus relied on fear and violence to maintain his empire, the violence Walt employs is of an entire ly different ilk. Kimmel s cultural history works t hrough many different types of angry white men but the overall claim is that white men point their anger toward women or non white men, but the real enemy "is an ideology of masculinity that we inherited from our fathers, and their fathers before them, an ideology that promises unparalleled acquisition coupled with a tragically impoverished emotional intelligence." 106 Walt killed the head of the empire and believed that he would be able to simply take Gus' p lace on top. He confronts this myth head on and the writers of the 104 This comes in his third chapter entitled "White Men as Victim's: The Men's Rights Movement in which he uses Den Hollander as an exemplar an educated, wealthy white male who feels that it is necessary to take a stand to keep men categorically out of the servitude into which he feels "feminazi's" are putting men. While Hollander is specifically angry at women, his philosophy that men must ac t outside of normal structures in order to resist this ideology, and the sociological victimization of men is apt. 105 Kimmel, Angry White Men 108 109 106 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 9

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71 show summon classic Western ideology as Mike says "Listen Walter, just because you shot Jesse James, does not make you Jesse James." 107 This moment frustrates Walt because he believed that by disp lacing Gus he would have access to "unparalleled acquisition," but he is not able to fulfill the same sovereign role as Gus. Walt feels in this moment much like Kimmel defines as he points to the multiple roles that define masculinity and the dissolvi ng privilege afforded to white men: "[white men] are feeling emasculated humiliated. The promise of economic freedom, of boundless opportunity, of unlimited upward mobility, was what they believed was the terra firma of American masculinity, the ground on which American men have stood for generations. Today, it feels like a carpet being snatched from under their feet." 108 Desperate to build his own empire and relieve himself of Gus' shadow, Walt pays a group of neo Nazi ex cons to coordinate the murder of ten imprisoned men linked to Gus' empire who are costing Walt too much money. Walt blames his financial woes on someone other than himself. In this highly organized and violent scene, Walt, the man behind the murders, sits safely and distant from the violence he brings upon the men. His is an empire built on, and led by, the mythic violence of his alter ego Heisenberg. Despite the inevitable failure of Walt's empire, his attempt to create and build it makes up the majority of the series. In the fifth season e pisode entitled "Buyout," Walt says to Jesse, "You asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I'm in the empire business." 109 He builds his empire alongside the development of his mythical alter ego Heisenberg. From early in the s eries the idea of Heisenberg is larger than life, but the show calls attention to the myth. During a briefing about the blue 107 "Hazard Pay" 108 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 13 109 "Buyout"

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72 meth that Hank is giving at the DEA he says "we have a new kingpin," immediately after which we see Walt brushing his teeth, a dome stic behavior unrelenting in its contrast to the idea of a drug kingpin. 110 O ne of the most obvious moments of myth production in the series comes after Tuco's death and a sketched image of Heisenberg, with the hat, is seen in Mexico. The episode "Negro y Azul opens with a music video of a narco corrido a genre of Mexican ballad that focuses on drug smugglers, performed by the band Los Cuates de Sinaloa singing a song about Heisenberg and his reputation. The song places the myth of Heisenberg and the thre at he represents in direct contrast to the violent Mexican drug cartels. Even as the myth spread s across the border it competes with more violent, powerful, and fearful enterprises. The frontier in Breaking Bad is not an unsettled wilderness in which Walt can freely exert his power, it is one that is populated by drug cartels, drug users, and other forces that he has to contend with. The lyrics of the song frame New Mexico in terms of a dominant Mexican presence displacing the dominant force of Heisenberg and therefore, the dominant force of white men One verse reads: Now New Mexico's name is well suited. Now it looks just like Mexico 'Cause of all the drugs it's hiding, Except there's a gringo boss And as "Heisenberg" they know him. 111 New Mexico is represented here not in terms of white men pioneering conquest, but in terms of a subversive conquest of a drug culture brought up from Mexico. This is not a space occupied and dominated by white men, but rather a space subversively identified 110 "Cancer Man" 111 "Negro y Azul"

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73 and controll ed by the Mexican drug cartels. The mythical power of the cartels overpowers the myth of Heisenberg in the song: Heisenberg's fame Has reached down to Michoac‡n. From way over there they want to come Only to taste that crystal. That blue stuff has gone int ernational Fro m the fury of the cartel No one has ever escaped. This homie's already dead He just doesn't know it yet. While Walt is high on power as Heisenberg, unbeknownst to him the Mexican drug cartel is sending men to kill him. These two men exempli fy a kind of relentless violence and infiltration that knows no boundaries. In the show, they rarely speak and they act with complete focus and disregard for their own safety. They do not fear death and look to revenge the death of their cousin Tuco Salama nca by killing Heisenberg I f confronted by these two men Walt would most certainly not have survived. Luckily for him, they are redirected at the command of Gus Fring to go after Walt's brother in law Hank instead. Gus is the head of a huge meth empire an d not only employs Walt but is also the only force that can save him from relentless violence of the cartels. Walt, far from the head of an empire cannot protect himself from the violence his actions bring to him. The relationship of myth to the construction of empire in the series is something that Gilligan and the show's creators purposely invoke by alluding to Percy Shelley's Romantic poem "Ozymandias," a name used for an episode of the series, as well as the dri ving force behind a teaser for the final season of the show. 112 The teaser exemplifies the series' conversation that intertwines myth, empire, and the American West. It opens 112 Ozymandias As Read by Bryan Cranston: Breaking Bad ," YouTube video, 1:10, posted by "AMC," July 29, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3dpghfRBHE&feature=kp

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74 with a time lapse d sunset over the New Mexican desert. A barbed wire fence on the l eft side of the frame interrupts the wide horizon. The mo ntage then cuts to another time lapse of sun rising and electrical lines cut sharpl y into the sky over the desert; a desert landscape that is pierced by development and industrialization. Following t his is a series of familiar images showcasing desert plateaus and landscapes, locations that while not visibly interrupted by wires or fences, have a history of violence created in the series. The montage then cuts to a shot of the RV framed as if it is a plateau cutting across the sky. Shots of the landscape are crosscut with scenes of Albuquerque and familiar sites from the series. For the viewers, these locations have unique histories and the visual montage juxtaposes the settled industrialized modern ci tyscape with the vast desert landscape. These spaces make up the show's frontier for empire building and violence. Over the montage Bryan Cranston reads Percy Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias:" I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: `Two vast and tr unkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,! Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,! And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,! Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear -! "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wr eck, boundless and bare! The lone and level sands stretch far away.' The teaser ends with a low tracking shot over the sand that reveals the pork pie hat synonymous with Walt's transformation and identity as the mythological meth producer with the pseudon ym Heisenberg. His hat lay solitary in the desert. Shelley's poem tells two conflicting stories: that of an emperor of great power and the "boundless and bare"

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75 wreckage that remain. The desert scene puts the remains of the empire in a space that contrasts the past glory of Ozymandias whose empire was built, at least in part, on self glorification. A giant statue of himself proclaiming his name sets up the wonderful dual meaning "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair." Despair initially at the fearful tho ught of a king or empire with such power, and now, despair at the appearance of the remains that serve to remind any traveler that even the greatest of empires will fall. As Cranston reads the final words, we see his hat in the sand, and just as the poem c laims, "The lone and level sands stretch far away." Walter White, like Ozymandias, builds a fearful empire, but unlike Ozymandias' legacy that is relegated to a second hand story from one traveler to another, Walt's empire, and myth, will not only survive in wreckage and remains in the desert, but also in the lasting violence he exerts on his family. In t he fifth season, the episode "Ozymandias" explores the fading empire by juxtaposing the dream the empire was initially built upon and the reality of the v iolent empire on his family 113 The episode opens with a flashback of Walt and Jesse cooking in the R.V; Walt has hair, Jesse looks young, and the mood reminds the audience of the humble and almost fun relationship they had at the start of the series. Walt is trying to teach Jesse about chemistry, which reminds us of Walt's identity as a teacher an d of their seemingly innocent beginnings. Walt steps outside in his underwear and steps away from the RV to call Skylar. This flashback serves to show the extent of Walt's dissolution, and the extent of the horrible empire he has created. Before he calls Skylar he practices his lie, and while he speaks to her over the phone, far off behind him Jesse jumps off of rocks a nd plays w ith sticks by the RV. There is playful innocence to Jesse and despite Walt's 113 "Ozymandias"

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76 deceit to his wife, h ere we see the Walter White who began so innocently hoping to provide money for his family. This is the character who decided to go into business for himself (albeit illegally) in order to pay for his cancer treatment and provide for his family after his death. Walt v isually fades from the fra me, followed by Jesse and the R V. The sound of automatic gunfire echoes through the desert as the flashback closes and t he current scene fades in. The White supremacist group ceases fire as we see Hank wounded, and his partner Steve Gomez dead in the sand. The violence Walt 's empire b rought to his family is exposed. Walt's empire and compassion fall apart in many ways in this sequence as we see the empire Walt built, and the extraordinary wealth he accrued dissipate T he moment invites a recollection of Shelley's poem. This desert space holds with it the complete narrative of Walter White. By the end of the scene, having just been reminded of the innocence and playfulness Walt and Jesse had at the start of the series, all that remains is despair. Hank is fatally shot and Walt falls into the sand weeping. As the white supremacists find the $80 million in cash buried in the desert, Walt does not move, but lies in the sand staring at Hank's corpse. The words "nothing beside remains" take a particularly poignant meaning as Hank and Gomez are dragged and buried in the hole where Walt hid his money. This exact desert space is whe re Jesse and Walt first cooked, committed their first murder, where Walt committed the first major lie to his wife, buried the money his empire gained him, and now, where Walt watches his brother in law be buried and gives Jesse up for torture and executio n. Despite all of this, once the hole is filled, there are only small and seemingly insignificant pieces of evidence that any of this occurred. If a

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77 traveler were to find this space they might find bullet shells in the sand and bullets in the rocks, but wi th a quick glance, nothing remains here of the horror that has taken place. The desert space in Breaking Bad represents the space where empire both begins and ends.

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78 CONCLUSION In his comprehensive genre based text entitled The Western David Lusted explains that the production of Westerns is less frequent now than in any other point in the twentieth century. 114 He explains that the skillset in actors, stuntmen, and cinematographers dwindled, and the direct connection to the frontier dwindled as well. J ohn Ford claimed to have direct connections and inspirations for moments in his films giving them a sense of authenticity, but as Lusted points out, "No one today can boast of such personal relationships, however fanciful." 115 He goes on to discuss the many cultural and political factors that perhaps have influenced the decline in the frequency of narratives in the Western genre, but importantly he argues that "the purpose of studying the Western lies in coming to understand the complex popular memory of this resonant film history. Each new Western film produced adds to the layers of meanings around the Western from years of previous association. Each adds to a body of work of immense cultural substance and historical longevity." 116 Breaking Bad takes part in th is tradition by revising the mythic Western narrative It has a particular resonance right now be cause it operates as a kind of m eta Western in which to explore the influence of the Western on the American imagination at a moment of imperial decline. Walt is a protagonist who actively and unsuccessfully chases the mythological masculine and heroic identity of the Western hero. By the final episode, Walt moves through Albuquerque as a ghost, impossibly avoiding law enforcement and 114 David Lusted, The Western (New York: Pearson Longman, 20 03), 4. 115 Lusted, The Western, 5 116 Lusted, The Western, 10

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79 passing in and out of space s as he wills, but with extremely limited power. The allegoric entrepreneurial genius who created the mythic and imperially dominant identity Heisenberg, says goodbye to his family and dies alone in a meth lab. The frontier in Breaking Bad is a space that allows for behavior that transgresses societal ethics but denies the regenerative myth of this transgression T he modern frontier in Breaking Bad is a space where the crumbling myth of the American individual and the American empire is exposed. The relationship of empire to the state in the series is one of ethically and legally transgressive violence a violence that is vilified rather than justifie d in the name of conquest. Breaking Bad participates in a movement in the Western genre that deals with the lasting ill effects of violence and conquest as well as the cultural crisis of masculinity. Walt s empire, and the cultural crisis of the American e mpire it is a response to, is troubled b y violence and motivated by money in an era of shifting cultural norms and identities in which war and violence are not specifically located, but rather infiltrate every area of domesticity through terrorism, drug us e, and the borderland drug wars. Once believed to be the beginning of a long and prosperous American empire, the frontier, through Breaking Bad is a theoretical and physical space where we see t he myth of that empire collapse and with it the mythological ideologies on which it was founded.

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80 BIBLIOGRAPHY Baker, Brian. Masculinity in Fiction and Film London: Continuum, 2006. Barrette, Pierre and Yves Picard. Breaking the Waves ." In Breaking Bad Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series edited by David P. Pierson, 121 138. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. Brian Faucette, "Taking Control: Male Angst and Re Emergence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Breaki ng Bad In Breaking Bad Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series edited by David P. Pierson, 73 86. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. Brodesco, Alberto. Heisenberg, Epistemological Implications of a Crimina l Pseudonym ." In Breaking Bad Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series edited by David P. Pierson, 53 72. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. Brown Lane "In Conversation: Vince Gilligan on the end of Breaking Bad ." Vulture.com May 12, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013. http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/vince gilligan on breaking bad.html. Eastwood, Clint. Unforgiven 35 mm, directed by Clint Eastwood (1992; Burbank California : Warner Bros. ), Streaming video. Echart, Pablo, and Alberto N. GarcÂ’a. "Crime and Punishment: Greed, Pride and Guilt in Breaking Bad ." Academia.edu (2013): 1 9. Accessed June 29, 2013. Ensley Guffey, "Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad In Breaking Bad Critical Essays on the Contexts, Polit ics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series edited by David P. Pierson, 155 172. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. "Episode 707: Bryan Cranston Exclusive." YouTube video, 31:45, posted by "New Mexico In Focus, a Production of KNME TV," August 16, 20 13, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ULfCtRz82k. Ford, John. Stagecoach 35 mm, directed by John Ford (1939; Santa Clarita, California: Walter Wanger Productions), DVD. Ford, John. The Searchers 35 mm, directed by John Ford (1956 ; Los Angelas California: Warner Brothers ), DVD

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82 Kimmel, Michael. Manhood in America New York: Free Press, 1996 Leone, Sergio. Once Upon a Time in the West 35 mm, directed by Sergio Leone (1968; Arizona: Finanzia San M arco), Streaming video. Leone, Sergio. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 35 mm, directed by Sergio Leone (1966: Produzioni Europee Associati), Streaming video. Limerick, Patricia "The Frontier in American Culture." In In American Culture edited by James R. Grossman. University of California Press, 1994. Kindle File. Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West New York: Norton, 1987. Lindley, David. Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science New York: Doubleday, 2007. Lusted, David. The Western New York: Pearson Longman, 2003. Marcotte, Amanda. "How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity." Jezebel July 9, 2011. Accessed May 27, 2014. http://jezebel.com /5837945/how to make a critically acclaimed tv show about masculinity Martin, Brett. Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Made Men and Breaking Bad New York: The Penguin Press, 2013. Martin, Brett. Difficult Men: From the Sopranos and the Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad New York: Penguin Press 2013. Marx, Leo, The Machine in the Garden : Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Nardi, Carlo. Mediating Fi ctional Crime, Music, Morality and Liquid Identification in Breaking Bad In Breaking Bad Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series edited by David P. Pierson, 173 190. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. Nevi ns, Bill. "Contemporary Western: An interview with Vince Gilligan." Local IQ March 27, 2013. Accessed September 10, 2013. http://www.local iq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3019

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83 "Ozymandias As Read by Bryan Cranston: Breaking Bad ," YouTub e video, 1:10, posted by "AMC," July 29, 2013, Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3dpghfRBHE&feature=kp. Pierson, David P. Breaking Neoliberal?: Neo liberalism, its Discourses, and Breaking Bad ." In Breaking Bad Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, St yle, and Reception of the Television Series edited by David P. Pierson, 15 32. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. Plunkett, John Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan: How long can anyone stay at the top?'" The Guardian August 18, 2013. Accessed March 26, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/18/breaking bad vince gilligan walter white Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1998. Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization 1800 1890 University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1998. Salter, Jim. "Mexico Drug Carels Flood Cheap Meth Into U.S." Huffington Post October 11, 2012. Accessed June 27, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/mexico drug cartels meth_n_1957378.html Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land : The American West as Symbol and Myth Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. St. Louis Associated Press "Mexico Cartels fill demand fo r meth in USA." USA Today. October 11, 2012. Accessed June 27, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/11/mexico cartels meth/1626383/ Tannenbaum, Rob. "Walt is not Darth Vader." Rolling Stone September, 25 2013. Accessed February 28, 2014 http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/vince gilligan walt is not darth vader 20130925 Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History Lexington, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. Wetherbee, Ben and Stephanie Weaver. You know the Business and I know the Chemistry': The Scientific Ethos of Breaking Bad ." Excursions 4 .1 (2013): 1 17. Accessed October 9, 2013.

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84 Wills, Santiago. "This Mexican Cartel Controls 80 Percent of the U.S. Meth Trade, Study Finds." ABC News April 2, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013. Zinneman, Fred. High Noon. 35 mm, directed by Fred Zinneman (1952: California : Stanley Kramer Productions), DVD.