I am probably not watching the fourth season of Breaking Bad

This fall I watched the first three seasons of Breaking Bad. I was psyched about it because it’s a wonderful critique of our current healthcare system, the war on drugs, and the state of the economy. It’s well written, and I think the actors do a great job with it.

Unfortunately, after finishing the third season I don’t know if I can watch the fourth because of the ways race and gender are being written. I’d complain about the ways the LGBT community is being written, but as is typical for television we’re not being written at all – it’s another show where all the characters just happen to be straight.

Breaking Bad focuses around two white men. They are forced by various different circumstances to work together to make and sell methamphetamine. That’s cool. It’s key to discussing the themes I listed above. I don’t have a problem with it.

However, I do have a problem with the ways the dangers of the world of drugs are portrayed versus their personal lives, and the ways that their personal lives are so strongly gendered.

The two white men, faced with economic obstacles, must leave the safe realm of whiteness and enter the dangerous world of people of color. Some of them are well drawn and sympathetic, others are psychotic assholes. There aren’t a lot of people of color outside of the world of drugs other than Hank’s DEA partner Gomez, who is highly competent but somehow not getting the same recognition as Hank is. There was also Jesse’s friend and dealer, Combo, who just happened to be the one who was shot to death in a territory dispute.

Further, the realm of the drug dealers is all men. In three seasons, the only women in the drug scene are buyers and prostitutes. There are no women in the power hierarchy of the dealers. Not one in three seasons even with a number of throwaway characters who have no development. None. Even here, the world of work is about men and the women are simply… elsewhere.

In the outer world, the world of the public identity and the home life and white people, women deal with home and caregiving while men deal with providing economic support and protecting their fragile charges from the truth. While Walter is out trying to work and cook meth and support his family, Skyler considers whether she wants to leave him. She gets a job, but as a setup for her to have a romance with her boss. For some reason even though they’re having economic difficulties at the start of the show and Walter is working two jobs, she hasn’t got a job at all. Her sister Marie has a job, but we never see anything about it. Overall the construction is of men at work and women in the home, and Skyler’s big dilemma is about which home she wants to be in, which man she wants to be with.

To make a footnote about Jesse Pinkman’s junky girlfriend, that’s really all there is to say about her – the bright, artistic white girl who had her life cut short by drugs and whose death so affected her father that he made a plane crash. Not a character valuable for herself, but for the impact of her destruction on the men around her. I think that’s all there is to say about that.

As much as I’ve gotten out of the first three seasons on the war on drugs, American health care policy, and the pressures of the current economy, every time I think about watching the fourth I decide to watch something with fewer themes about the ways the system wrongs white men.


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