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Breaking Bad as Literature
The Other Guys, Part 2
We've already touched on some of the lesser characters in the criminal starsystem of Breaking Bad.
In this lesson, we'll top it off by covering the civilian end of things—all the characters that try to keep their hands and their business clean, even when they're doing the dirtiest deeds.
These folks are every bit as full of lies as the gangsters, but instead of killing people with box cutters and bike locks, they use words and secrets.
Why are we still hanging around in the intro? Let's get down to it.
Here we go.
Lydia is a brilliant businesswoman with a head for logistics, but she's got no stomach for crime. Both in the workplace and in the meth underworld, she's always getting other people to get their hands dirty and take the fall for her.
Case in point: she has no problem trying to get Mike to kill 11 of his own guys in "Madrigal" (Season 5, Episode 2) to keep them from turning, or hiring another guy to kill Mike when he refuses. But then in "Buried" (Season 5, Episode 10), she has to close her eyes when walking through the field of corpses that she helped to kill.
Understandably, Lydia is pretty prone to panicking and worrying, but she knows what her value is: she's got the methylamine hook-up. She uses it to bargain her way out of getting killed by Mike in "Madrigal," and again to save herself from Walt in "Dead Freight" (Season 5, Episode 6).
So who does she lie to? Herself, of course.
She wants to commit crimes without confronting the ugliness of those crimes—as long as she doesn't have to see the mess she makes (which ultimately kill her!), she'll do anything to keep her nice house and upscale teas. This brilliant set of frames captures it all—"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
This guy got a real bum deal. Gale's a nice nerdy fellow who gets himself into a lot shadier stuff than he bargained for. IOHO, there are two keys to understanding Gale:
(1) His fancy, eclectic lifestyle: his perfected siphon-filter coffee, his infrared teakettle thermometer (which ends up predicting exactly the spot where Jesse's bullet lands!), the Walt Whitman sketches in his notebook, the embarrassing karaoke videos, his idea of chemistry as "magic."
All this stuff doesn't just peg him as a bachelor with too much time on his hands, it also marks him as a gentle, refined soul—one that's clearly oblivious to the chaotic violence that ends up consuming him. He's vegan, for Pete's sake. In that sense, he's in the same kind of denial as Lydia; he's too preoccupied with fancy teas to pay attention to the dead bodies stacking up around him.
(2) Gale is a self-professed Libertarian; he uses it as his justification for making meth. "Well, there's crime, and then there's crime," he says in "Sunset" (Season 3, Episode 6)—"I'm definitely a libertarian. Consenting adults want what they want and if I'm not supplying it they will get it somewhere else. At least with me they're getting exactly what they pay for. No added toxins or impurities."
Gale never really grapples with the idea that his minor "crime" might lead to some more major "crime" further down the line, but for a guy as smart as him, you get the sense that he doesn't really want to. And the final irony is that the gun Jesse kills him with was probably unregistered.
Oh, if you want some extra mind-blowage, check out the poems from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass that the show references. The first is the one Gale recites in "Sunset," and the second is the title of the eighth episode of Season 5, and ends: "Death, many deaths I'll sing."
They both use the word "glide" prominently. What does it mean? Who knows, but there's not much in Breaking Bad that's accidental.
Okay, okay, we've been dumping a lot on poor Marie, but she's really not so bad—just nosey and high-strung and a blabbermouth. But think about what she goes through: she's got a husband who's in constant risk of dying, a sister who's definitely hiding something (something big), and very little control over anything.
And when she does try to involve herself, it's usually for the best: she lets Skyler know about Walt's secret cell phone in "Grilled" (Season 2, Episode 2), promotes Walt's cancer fundraising site ("ABQ," Season 2, Finale), and puts Walt and Skyler's kids up. Her nosiness mostly comes from misplaced concern, a desire to help out; just like her sister Skyler, she tries to "be that rock" for her family. She's just not always good at it.
The thing about Marie is that she doesn't really have much that belongs to her alone—no kids, no hobbies, not much action at her job ("Actually, I'm thinking about making a move up to management," she says gamely in "Hermanos," Season 4, Episode 8). It's why she resents other people's own private lives, especially Hank's: "You call in sick the day after receiving a long awaited, career boosting promotion so you can play Oktoberfest in your man cave," she complains in "Breakage" (Season 2, Episode 5), and in "Bug" (Season 4, Episode 9), she says, "I knew it. 'Mineral show' is just some kind of guy code for 'strip club.'"
It's also why she marks her territory strongly, making all her house decorations and clothes purple, and perhaps why her particular method of acting out is by pointlessly stealing stuff. It's all about possession.
But you can't say that she's not capable once the ball's in her court. She manages to get Hank walking again, and she even takes care of Jesse Pinkman in "Rabid Dog" (Season 5, Episode 12).
So, to quote Walt: Marie Schrader, we forgive you.
What a loser.
Time and again, Beneke proves to be the most cowardly, self-serving sort of pathological liar: unlike Saul Goodman, he doesn't just lie, but he lies about why he's lying.
He lies about his company's bankruptcy, but convinces himself that he's doing it for the good of the employees, when he obviously just wants a new Mercedes. And in "Crawl Space" (Season 4, Episode 11) he also lies about his reasons for not using the money Skyler gave him to pay the debts: "Paying my debt with illicit gambling winnings, I don't know. It feels wrong." The guy is such a non-stop lie factory that his company is literally called "Beneke Fabricators."
Really, the only time this chump proves that he has a spine at all is when he gets paralyzed.
We're done with him.
A tattoo artist without any tattoos: that's an interesting story in itself right there. And it plays as a symbol of her character because she'll do things to other people that she wouldn't necessarily do for herself (and that they can't do for themselves).
She pushes Jesse to go back into using drugs, and graduates him to the needle; then she blackmails Walt on Jesse's behalf. Combine this with the fact that Jesse, like we said, is prone to blaming himself and going along with things, and you've got one manipulative lady.
The big lie she tells Jesse (and herself) over and over again is one that you hear from the mouths of junkies and addicts everywhere: she'll change, she'll get clean. She makes big promises about moving away to New Zealand and pursuing her art—"But first we gotta get clean," she tells Jesse in "Phoenix" (Season 2, Episode 12). And then they shoot heroin, and she dies.
Great job, Jane.
Fun fact, though: she might be psychic. In a flashback in "Abiquiu" (Season 3, Episode 11), she foreshadows her own death: after she and Jesse see a Georgia O'Keefe exhibit, she responds to a compliment by saying, "That was so sweet, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little."Go to Lesson: Candid Camera