AMC’s Breaking Bad was a hit series starring Bryan Cranston (chemistry teacher Walter White) and Aaron Paul (Jessie Pinkman) as hapless crystal meth makers trying to make some money in the dark underworld of the drug industry.
Sound edifying yet?
The series, in which Walter White is diagnosed with cancer and resorts to drug manufacturing and selling to support his family, was critically and popularly acclaimed. Recently, I was describing the series and used the word “beautiful.”
“Really?” my friend said, surprised. “Beautiful?”
In my opinion, this series depicted so many Biblical truths that it was hard, challenging, and painful to watch at times. In fact, here’s the scene that went straight through me. (Really, there are no spoilers here, if you’ve not begun watching the show yet.)
In this scene, Jessie is in his support group. He has just killed someone, a man who wasn’t expecting it and didn’t deserve it. Wracked with guilt, he “confesses.” But since he can’t very well admit to murder, he changes the narrative.
“I killed a dog,” he begins.
Watch what happens. This is the best place to see the whole scene. (Sorry, I can’t embed the whole scene. Watch it and come back!)
Did you see it?
This is one of the most honest, gut-wrenching scenes I’ve seen on television. In it, Jessie presents precisely half of the gospel. The character of Jessie realizes that he has sinned, and rejects the mealy-mouthed self-acceptance preached to him by the counselors. He knows that their “solution” has no teeth.
My former pastor Arch Warren used to say, “There’s good news and bad news of the gospel. The bad news is that you are worse than you can even imagine. The good news is that God is greater than you can imagine.”
So, after you realize that you’re a sinner, what is the solution?
The gospel is not for people who have it all together and who haven’t sinned. It’s for people like the fictional Jessie Pinkman… and for real people who have done much less evil than murder (and even much more).
Here’s Manhattan pastor Tim Keller answering the very basic question “What is the gospel?” to an audience sick of people telling them that they are going to hell over fornication:
Interestingly, the creator of the show — Vince Gilligan — spoke to the New York Times about the show’s theme:
“If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad,’ it’s that actions have consequences,” Gilligan said during lunch one day in his trailer. “If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end.”
He paused for a moment and speared a few tater tots in a white plastic-foam tray perched on his lap.
“I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something,” he said between chews. “I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen,” he went on. “My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’ ”
I think this scene is the best four minutes of the show. Kudos to Gilligan for “going there” when other shows overlook the eternal longing in our souls. And also to Aaron Paul for his amazing depiction of Jessie Pinkman… a character who, “yo yo yo’d” us right to the essence of our humanity… and maybe a few viewers to the cross.
For a great interview with Aaron on NPR — in which he talks about his Baptist preacher father’s reaction to his character — click here.