Sunday, August 5, 2012

The show within the show

TV writers have long been a fan of using other mediums in the middle of their own shows to make a point, either a thematic point or one that helps to accent the character in play.  The Sopranos was very fond of displaying Tony watching the History channel, using something about Nazi German, paralleling Hitler's regime with the terror that Tony brought upon both of his families.

Lost brought this to a whole new level, almost criminally so.  Records, novels, philosophical names, whatever Lindelof and Cuse deemed fit.  After the season 3 finale, "Through the Looking Glass" in which the Looking Glass turned out to be a Dharma station and not quite the Lewis Carroll white rabbit (which was also another episode, season 1's first Jack-centric episode), the drop ins seemed to be more for the joy of the writers and discovery of internet bloggers everywhere than plot-centric.

Last week's episode of Breaking Bad, "Hazard Pay" featured two clips.  The first one was right after Jesse and Walt had just cooked a batch of meth in a house being fumigated.  They were chilling out, relaxing and acting all cool to their favorite episode of The Three Stooges.  The boys were deep in some plot or scheme that ended up being shot at by a gorilla wielding a tommy gun.  Sometimes I wish there were still shows like The Three Stooges on.  It really was a classic and simple piece of Americana, and Sam Malone's realization that he had other interests in the world than just girls.

The idea was that Jesse and Walt (and possibly Mike, although I would not be caught dead calling him a stooge to his face) are mere buffoons is a new development in the world of Breaking Bad.  Immoral, wrong, criminal: absolutely.  But Vince Gilligan has gone to great lengths to prove that Walter White is not an idiot.  He was highly recruited out of college, and he had a promising career, before it was all derailed and he became a high school chemistry teacher (and note that this is an interesting subplot of the series: Why did Walter end up at a high school?  Something happened, something changed for him and his dreams, even referring to his current home as a starter home when he and Skyler first got married).

But a stooge?  Since the death of Gus, Walter has been thrust into a world that he does not understand, but wants to be a part of.  He was the meddling cook before, possibly at peace not seeing the actual effects of his chemistry.  Yet at the same time, he was a little too willing to advance his own career and agenda, and even more willing to protect himself and Jesse.  He now envisions himself something of a badass, an untouchable and an indestructible Robin Hood.  But it's still a world he doesn't understand.  He's beginning a plumbing business with his 2 friends, all the while flooding the basement and hitting each other in the head with pipes.

In a sense, Walter White is lost.  The brilliance of The Three Stooges is that Larry, Curly and Moe never knew they were stooges.  They were three men looking for work (lots of different works) who always find themselves rubbing elbows with people out of their league.  Walter strings along Jesse, putting him in the same world, yet Jesse's motivations are a little more cloudy than Walt's.  His need for a father figure pushes him towards Walter, who doles out parental advice to his new son, someone who doesn't suffer from cerebral palsy.

If the world and the writers see Walter as a stooge, Walter himself sees himself as Tony Montana (a comparison that Vince Gilligan has made often).  So what does Walter do?  Shows his children Scarface of course in the second of the two references, much to the chagrin of Skyler, who is seeing Walter more and more for the gangster he is becoming.

It's almost as if there are two worlds that Walter lives in: the one where he is a stooge, where Mike and drug world sees him as a dope.  Then the other world, where Skyler sees him as a drug lord to be feared, not at all the loving man she married.  She is unfamiliar with the idea of a kingpin, but she's even more unfamiliar with the idea of her husband as that kingpin.

Walter's self-vision of himself as Tony Montana is almost laughable to us the viewer, because we've seen the stupid things he does.  The same way that the average viewer can't understand why Walter doesn't just count his blessings, take his new life given to him, and return to his family.  His family that he is doing all this for.  And his family that he says is a very good reason for doing anything.

All this is Walter justifying his actions and masking his desire to be king.

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