TV Forgiveness

For the most part, Breaking Bad implies that forgiveness can seem like a good idea, but one has to decide whether the act of forgiving will be a relief or an exposure to future threats.

I was thinking about the idea of forgiveness while I stomped down East 84th Street to work today. Let’s face it, the reason for my fugue state was simple: late-night Breaking Bad marathon followed by early morning Cafe Bustelo. (My boyfriend and I purchased a flat-screen TV on Black Friday and I confess that I have had a relapse into my Breaking Bad addiction. Acceptance is the first step.)

Last week, I read an article online that advised against resentment. Forgiveness, this article stated, is preferable to resentment because resentment takes more effort and will only cause more harm in the resentful person. As a hyper-efficient Aries, the idea of achieving a better functioning emotional state appealed to me. And what better mirror for oneself than in the Land of Television?

You see the concept of forgiveness played out over and over again on Breaking Bad with varying levels of success. Skyler White—the unfortunate spouse to meth-cooking Walter White—might be willing to forgive her husband for screwing up her and their kids’ lives, but not without Walt admitting the transgression and telling the truth. And if you’ve watched the show, you know that Walt loves to lie. “Just once, Walt, tell the truth,” she begs him at the start of the series.

The problem with the truth is that it’s never convenient enough for Walt.

As an ex-cop, Mike Ehrmantraut, the “corporate security” expert and meth distributor, knows how stupid it is to give second chances to bad seeds like Walter White and Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (honestly, this show has the best names), but when the naive ex-junkie Jesse Pinkman intervenes on their behalf, Mike has a hard time pulling the trigger.

The agony of watching these characters wrestle with forgiveness of others and of self is no better played out than through Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman. Jesse is in his early twenties and had Walt as his high school chemistry teacher a few years before the two meet again and blindly enter the methamphetamine business together. Even into Season Five (the show occurs in a condensed timeline with each season maybe occurring over a few months), he still addresses Walt as Mr. White. In Season One and Two, the relationship of the meth-head and his old teacher is more combative. After Hank Schrader—Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law—turns half of Jesse’s face into a bruised apple, Jesse leans out of his hospital bed and condemns Walt for the first time. His one open eye—a startling, bright blue—is locked on Walt when he tells Walt that they are through as partners.

But Walt can spin a story that will fool everyone but Skyler and Jesse trusts him again and again.

Jesse Pinkman and Walter White in Breaking Bad season five, episode nine

When Jesse tries to separate from the booming business of meth once more in a later season, he looks away. He thinks that it will be possible to part amicably—still naive and trusting of his old teacher—and Walt lunges for his partner’s weak spots. Then, in one of the most wonderfully awkward scenes on the show, we see Jesse, Walt, and Skyler sit through a family dinner. “I’ve lost everything,” Walt tells Jesse after Skyler stumbles off with her chardonay. “The business is all I have left. And you want to take it away from me.”

Walt: The children aren’t here. | Jesse [under breath]: Thank god.
Forgiveness might by the easier route in the long run, but protecting oneself from harm should not be forgotten in a quest for a nobler state of mind. I watch Breaking Bad for the unbearable tension in the story, the outstanding acting and photography, and for the fun of it. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, and the writers have a great awareness for absurdity and darkly comedic moments beneath tragedy that make me laugh a moment after I’ve been on the verge of tears. Amy Poehler said that finding that fine line between comedy and tragedy (like in this SNL clip at 7:40) can add ten years to one’s life. Regardless of how long one survives, I think we would like to be more adept at finding ways to live healthier, happier lives.

For the most part, Breaking Bad implies that forgiveness can seem like a good idea, but one has to decide whether the act of forgiving will be a relief or an exposure to future threats.

While Jesse’s addiction in earlier seasons causes harm to himself, to his parents, and to his lover, Walter White’s obsession with power and greed for dominance causes increasing harm throughout the series. One of the great lessons of the show, I suppose you could say, is that the demon is in power, and in meth. Maybe I’ll write about Breaking Bad’s take on power later on, but in keeping with the time of year, this post is mostly about forgiveness.

I’ll be returning to my profiles this month and continue them into 2015. I’ll also be sprinkling in a few beer and brewing posts.

If you would like to nominate a feminist organization or figure for my profiles, shoot us an email at


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