"Breaking Bad" for Christians: A Morally Ordered Show
This is an unbalanced perspective that fails to distinguish the good in human activity from idolatry. Furthermore, it's inconsistent with both Scripture and Christian tradition. Although there's much talk in evangelical circles today about the danger of idolatry, some of this misses the main point. What's so devious about idolatry is that it takes a good thing and then skews it. But the skewing of human goods doesn't make them bad in and of themselves.
Breaking Bad seems to recognize this important truth, even if not all of those who comment on it do. Some TV critics have claimed that the show is about the "problem with men" or the "problem with work." But in doing so, they're confusing Breaking Bad with other more conventional (and lesser) TV shows. Vince Gilligan is too keen a viewer of the human condition and seems too much shaped by traditional Christian thought to have his show take such flatly political and unpersuasive positions. Rather, Gilligan shows that it's right, for example, for Walt to want to serve as a husband to his wife and a father to his son. The tragedy is that he increasingly fails to fulfill these good and proper human roles as he gets caught up in lies, deception, and his lust for power.
The "theme" of Breaking Bad, then, is not masculinity or capitalism or sex or freedom—often the focus of other "serious dramas." Perhaps this lack of self-conscious grandeur explains why even after many awards the show doesn't have the popularity it warrants. Yet this also points to the strength of the show—its perfectly human scale. That a show set around the outrageous and jarring premise of cooking meth should provide occasion to reflect on friendship and fidelity is truly impressive.Ultimately, though, there's no escaping that this show is about "badness." In and of itself, this is not likely to attract Christian viewers. After all, there have been countless TV shows focused on this. But Breaking Bad is different. Its perspective on badness is not sympathetic, nor glib, nor calloused, nor cynical. Its understanding of the relationship between good and evil is perceptive, sensitive, and profound. Those who recognize that their greatest foe is not some ideology out in the world, but rather the inclination of their own heart, will be rewarded in watching Breaking Bad. They'll find a remarkable thing—a TV show that offers both a captivating story and opportunity for moral reflection.
James B. LaGrand is a Professor of Modern American Political and Social History, Urban History, Public History and Native American History at Messiah College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.