Detractors of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” love to harrumph about how the characters are among the “worst TV role models.”
Indeed, that was part of the headline above a 2013 story by Sierra Filucci of Common Sense Media in which she named Walter White as Example A of who not to emulate.
Although Ms. Filucci said she and her colleagues enjoyed the character and the series, she said their concern rose when they saw “babies dressed in Walter White Halloween costumes.”
While many of us can say we have yet to spot any tiny Walter White wannabes roaming our neighborhoods on Oct. 31, the idea that there might be little costumed meth kings out there makes one wonder if some of the show’s lessons need to be underscored.
Despite all of the gum flapping about the negative messages in “Breaking Bad,” its five recent Emmys and marathon on AMC likely mean it won’t fade away anytime soon. Those who worry that impressionable adults and kids might absorb some of its unsavory elements might want to consider the “teachable moments” mental health and business experts find in the show:
The user next door
“Addicts and dealers can be your normal next-door neighbors. They can blend into society and be the citizens of the community you admire,” says Audrey Hope, resident therapist and addiction specialist with Seasons in Malibu in California. “Addicts and dealers can be your teachers, social workers and car wash attendants. You just never know.
“We all have a tendency to think that everyone who looks like they have a happy home does. And as we see from ‘Breaking Bad,’ a lot of darkness can go on in that average-looking American home,” she says.
Ms. Hope also says some of the show’s over-the-top characterizations of addicts and dealers mirror real life.
“‘Breaking Bad’ has a lot of characters that are bigger than life. I have met many of them in rehab as my patients. Often I would say, ‘They can never put this on TV as no one would believe it,’ but ‘Breaking Bad’ already has,” she says.
The positive message is that we get to watch ourselves, know we are a troubled society and recognize that we had better get some help.
Seek the truth
It’s painful to discover a spouse’s secrets — as Walter White’s wife did when she uncovered his criminal enterprises — but it’s vital.
“Had Skyler, the wife in ‘Breaking Bad,’ come to me prior to discovery of the revelation, I would have advised her to proceed exactly as she did in the script on the show,” says Frances Walfish, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California. “It is much better to be a detective in search of the truth. Not knowing only puts a wedge between partners in a couple.”
She has advised patients who have discovered their partners’ infidelity, white-collar crime or addictions to take a step back before making decisions about their relationships.
“First, slow down, and don’t rush into deciding whether you want to stay or leave the relationship. Take your time before making this very important decision,” Ms. Walfish says. “Next, see if your partner, who deceived you, can own up, be accountable and take responsibility for his mistakes. You must take a painful, honest look within to raise self-awareness in order to get to the other side and figure out how you want to write the script to the next chapter of your life.”
Stand up, stand tall
Watching Skyler, drugmaker Walter White’s wife and mother of their two children, vacillate from suspicious outsider to hypercritical authoritarian to crime partner reminds us of how marriage can make us vulnerable.
“Removing herself from the situation as soon as she was aware of the illegal mess that she was getting herself into would have been her way out,” says Wall Street veteran Michael J. Provitera, associate professor of organizational behavior at Barry University in Miami. “The moment she condoned or helped in the process, she was guilty.”
He applauds Skyler’s efforts to re-establish her career, but says authorities easily would have uncovered her use of illegal funds to buy a car wash.
It’s all about choices
Jesse Pinkman’s girlfriend relapses into drugs with Jesse and overdoses, despite her father’s best efforts to rescue her. His sorrow then causes a tragedy in his own workplace. Ms. Hope says that painful scenario shows why those who know addicts must not take responsibility for their actions.
“After all the trying, the rehabs, the pleading, the hoping is the surrender. It is ultimately up to the individual on drugs, if they want to die,” she says. “The lesson is that we must let them. After all, it is their choice. This is tough, but there is also freedom in that truth.”