Posted: July 9, 2013 by mwerntz in Uncategorized

My taste in television tends to run dark: The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Americans, American Horror Story. I balance this out with heavy doses of Parks and Recreation and New Girl, but there’s no denying that my favorites tend toward a vein that runs a little macabre. Kevin and I were lamenting this weekend the genius of Metalocalpyse, and I don’t know of a show that is darker than that: it was so dark, they gave a character an empty box for his birthday to symbolize the nothingness of existence.

One of the things that I’m catching in the rewatch–and something which makes shows like The Wire simultaneously dark and irresistible–is the way that love is embedded in the bedrock of the show’s DNA. There is no escaping it or pushing it aside; love runs through Breaking Bad at times like a flood, at times like a deep aquifer beneath the surface. What complicates love’s appearance is that it never appears naked. Rather, it is always clothed in labels like Despair or Self-Preservation or Fear, but behind the fancy clothes, Love appears. Love appears in Walt’s initial burst to provide for his family; love appears in Jesse’s anger, in a chilling scene where he describes what he’s going to do to Hank; love swells in the admiration for the chemistry that Gale and Walt exhibit, in Gale’s monastic existence, in Hank’s drive to recovery.

Or is it Desire that hides behind other motivations here? Desire for power, for belonging, for wholeness, for hope…but can we distinguish love from these things either? Is there ever a place where love appears in naked glory, inseparable from some other clothes or some other motive? The most romantic displays–John Cusack at the window, Humphrey Bogart at the airport–these are the things we call love, but in these too are intertwined prudence, desperation, loneliness. Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, but it is never alone.

And it is love, in these many guises, because we cannot access it directly, that murders them by inches–in Jesse’s breakdowns in Walt’s arms in the early part of Season 3, in his bloodshot eyes at Season 3’s close, in Walt’s vain attempts to purify an impure venture. Love–burdened with so many disguises–ultimately drives these characters to do things and be things that make them unrecognizable to themselves.

This is what makes a dark show a great show. And this is why shows like Breaking Bad–as much as I love Parks and Rec–will never touch this greatness. The ability to show love as a disguised stranger who compels us to act in such horrible and dark ways without renouncing love is the most difficult trick of all, and shows like this are master classes in this truth.

  1. Bo says:

    I was drawn in to how even the Gus, the closest thing to a true villain on the show (not counting Tuco and some of the lesser characters), was portrayed. His revenge against the Mexican cartels sprang partly from what happened to his brother (or was it his cousin?), and as vicious as his retaliation was, what started it all was the shock and heartbreak that befell them. The same could also be said for Hector and Mike’s deeply loyal familial relationships that drive a lot of their actions.

  2. Kiki Malone says:

    Jack Ketchum, who you know I relish with a great pulpy appreciation, said that all horror is – at its root – about love. The most frightening experience in anyone’s life is the possibility of losing someone we love, and we will fight to any end to protect, even sacrifice ourselves, for someone we love. He said the heart of everything he writes is love. In RED, the love between a man and his dog. In THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the childlike puppy love between young neighbors. In OFFSPRING and OFF-SEASON, the love of mother and child. In RIGHT TO LIFE, the love between mother and unborn child. In THE WOMAN, the invisible, sister-like love between women in moments of violence. In OLD FLAMES, the love between past and present lovers. As a writer, Ketchum likes to explore how people respond when the object of their love is threatened or altered by a devastating force. He’s never a light read, but he’s a good read. I recommend fortifying your constitution beforehand.

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