Where a Gun Begins
Breaking Bad needs no new accolades: Vince Gilligan’s series has been hailed as a high-water mark for serialized television and was showered with awards during its five season run. It has also been the subject of a lot of academic research and (journalistic and essayist) writing. This video essay by film student Larry Erens is an addition to that body of research, and brings a specific topic in focus.
One of the defining characteristics of the show is the extraordinary arc of the main character, Walter White. He is no run-of-the-mill television leading man whose personality seems trapped in the amber of the show’s stasis. This is a character that develops sweepingly. Such extensive character development is rare even in long-running television shows, let alone development that sees a character devolve from likeable to reprehensible. Most often, a television character’s moral fiber and temperament are fully formed even before the pilot episode. Not in this case. Walter White goes from the show’s protagonist to its antagonist, from hero to villain. This descent into amorality is triggered by a medical diagnosis, but over the course of the five seasons the means become more important to Walter White than the end. White trades places with his violent alter-ego Heisenberg.
This video essay, Where a Gun Begins, traces the devolution of Walter White by focussing on one particular motif: the character’s relation to and handling of firearms. Whereas he is hesitant to even hold a gun at the start of the series, he grows more and more at ease with their power and possibilities. Walter White is eaten away more by guns than by the violent cancer that wreaks havoc on his lungs.
From a fumbled attempt at suicide at the start of the show to his cocky disdain when Mike Ehrmantraut puts a gun to his head late in the series: Walter White not only grows accustomed to firearms, but even insensitive to them. It is fitting then that in the climactic shoot-out of the series’ finale, an unmanned M60 machine gun on an improvised pivoting turret plays a central role. The firearm has become independent, an autonomous offshoot of Walter White’s slide into amorality. That is where a gun ends.
This video essay includes clips from all five seasons of:
Breaking Bad [television series] Created by Vince Gilligan. High Bridge Productions et al., USA, 2008-2013.
The music used is: