I watched every episode of “Breaking Bad” this summer (I know I’m behind the curve) and have a few reflections about the show as the second half of the final season begins on Sunday night. First, I see a strong undercurrent of class tensions, perhaps reflecting the growing income inequality in the US in recent years as well as the impact of the Great Recession. Moreover, even though the show focuses on the “war on drugs,” the impact of the post-9/11 conflicts is clearly visible on the characters.
As a highly educated man with a Ph.D. in chemistry, Walter White represents an idiosyncratic symbol for the economic struggles of many working and middle class Americans in recent years. His education should make him a highly paid professional, but his personal disputes with his grad school colleagues left him out of an enormously successful business, Gray and White. As a high school teacher, Walt struggles to support his family and once he is diagnosed with lung cancer, his HMO won’t pay for the best health care. Wearing his sense of resentment on his sleeve, Walt refuses the financial assistance of his rich friends and even blows up the car of an arrogant wealthy man in season one.
The Iraq war’s influence could be seen when White’s DEA brother-in-law Hank is nearly killed by an IED while working near the Mexican border. Such devices were the weapons of choice for the insurgents in their fight against American troops. The combination of that trauma as well as Hank’s shooting of a drug dealer in self-defense leaves him with a serious case of post-traumatic stress syndrome, like many who have served abroad in America’s wars over the last decade.
As we head into the final episodes, it will be interesting to see how executive producer Vince Gilligan concludes the show. I predict a very unambiguous ending—i.e., the antithesis of “The Sopranos” or “Lost.”