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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Walter White Is Not the Devil

 photo breaking-bad-finale-gifs_zps594e68b6.jpg
One of my biggest pet peeves in a review:
Colons. Just kidding.
It's when the reviewer brings his own narrative to the review, and judges what he is reviewing through the lens of that narrative, instead of judging the work on  its own merits..
If you've read my reviews here, you know that I often bring my life experiences into my reviews. I do this so that any bias I have is clear to the reader, and to, hopefully, make my reviews more interesting. I try to review whatever the work is on its own quality, without bringing my own ideas too much into play. I try to be objective.
That said, I read something about Breaking Bad on the Onion's AV Club that really irritated me. There are several reviewers on that website who approach their work like an eight grade writing an English paper. They feel that they have to come up with some sort of thesis, and use the episode to defend that thesis. This trivializes the work being reviewed because it strips some of its intended (and unintended) scope and feeling, while adding themes that may not even be in the work in the first place. On the lighter side, this makes really cool things seem really uncool. I know the phrase "AV Club" conjures some very nerdy images: Dorks with coke-bottle glasses fumbling around with a projector, for one. Even so, was turning Cowboy Bebop, the coolest show of all time, into a lame, humorless college gender studies class really necessary? Just review the show: say what it's about, say whether you think it's good or bad, and explain why. Spice it up with some personal details, but try your best not to let your personal biases get in the way.
While there are some AV Club reviewers whose work I enjoy (Will Harris, for instance), I particularly have disliked the work of their Breaking Bad reviewer, to the point that I quit following their coverage of that show altogether. I felt like that reviewer not only often missed the point, but tacked on themes important to herself that the show wasn't really broaching upon. Following that reviewer's dissection of the finale, AV Club allowed another of the website's reviewers to tackle the show as a whole. This particular reviewer is easily my least favorite of the entire website, but as I seem to often loathe myself quite a bit, I read his "Breaking Bad Ended the Anti-Hero Genre By Introducing Good and Evil" editorial in a sort of self-hate-fest. Just kidding, the hate wasn't directed at myself at all. It was directed at his lumbering piece, which provides the flammable thesis "He (Walter White) is, for lack of a better word, Satan."
My goodness, you could have said a lot of wrong things, but that is the wrongest thing you could have possibly put to Internet.
Breaking Bad is a great show because Walter White, its lead character, is not Satan. He is frustratingly human. He makes bad decisions for good reasons, then refuses to turn from those bad decisions because he is a slave to his enormous pride. That is about as human as it gets.
The Sopranos, the show that is proposed to have begun this television anti-hero wave, features a lead character many wanted to see redeemed. In the end, it is revealed that this character is simply a sociopath, and that any time he showed empathy or positive human emotion, he was only crying crocodile tears. Tony Soprano was not truly one of us. He was the enemy. Walter White is one of us. When he cries near the end of the series, it is because he is heartbroken, not because he feels it would look best if he cries. No one can see him. Most importantly, he can admit that the cause of all his problems is himself. What happens throughout the series is no one else's fault. Walter White, though at times evil, at times sacrificially loving, stays human throughout the program.
There. Gotta stop reading things just to piss myself off. I already have the news for that.

2 comments:

Neal said...

Wow... that Cowboy Bebop "review" or whatever it was put me to sleep. And that's an excellent, entertaining episode as well: particularly since it brought Ein onboard with the rest of the crew!

You wouldn't think it was hard to find good reviewers, but it is. I didn't always agree with Roger Ebert, but he did generally review well... so well that I was feeling lost about where to go for review after his death. :(

Luckily, his site actually has a good conglomeration of reviewers--even if I don't always agree with them, they talk and analyze a movie well enough that I can usually figure out if it's a movie I'd like to see.

Random factoid, one of the most confusing reviews of Roger Ebert's was of Thor... he hated it. Gave it a 1 star. I hardly think it's the best Marvel movie, but a 1 star? I think he ate something that disagreed with him before watching it, because his response just didn't make sense. His rigid stance on how video games absolutely, could never ever be works of art (like a movie) made more sense.

And yes, I know I need to get going on mine again. :( Been in a blog and stress funk.

Oh, ummm, I'd talk about Breaking Bad, but I haven't seen it, sorry. Since the show is over now, though, we can probably watch it (we hate summer cliffhangers most of the time, though we do put up with them for some shows). Netflix it is.

Nicholas said...

I followed the first four or five of that guy's Bebop reviews and found myself getting so angry, I had to actually quit that website for a while. The guy who wrote the Breaking Bad piece I linked to above also did retro reviews on The X-Files, my favorite show of all, and a show I also think possesses its own special sort of cool. His reviews somehow made the show seem so dull and routine, I had to go back and watch it to get back the joy his reviews stole from me. I mean, just awful, awful writing in every way, yet written with a kind of certainty that drove me mad. I was so angered by one of his reviews that I posted a highly negative comment beneath it that started such a firestorm, the AV Club news editor made a joke about it in a completely unrelated story, which began another firestorm of comments (and since then, I have banned myself from commenting anything negative, anywhere but here). Anyway...
I too have not been able to fill the reviewer hole Roger Ebert's death has created in my life. I wonder if it was because of growing up watching him on the TV and really getting to know him in a way. You always knew where he was coming from, even if you didn't agree with him. All these other reviewers are strangers, and pretenders to the throne.
I think the most I have ever disagreed with Ebert, though, was on his video game stance. I don't care what he says, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a work of art. The second you step onto Hyrule Field for the first time rivals anything any film has ever done. I think he really missed the boat on that one, but he seemed to soften a bit on that topic before his death.
You and Jess should definitely check out Breaking Bad. The Walter White character goes through such an interesting transformation throughout the series from an identifiable character, to a terrifyingly even more identifiable character. I think you will enjoy it.