Breaking Bad and Weeds make us real Television junkies.
These two American TV series are about drugs. Nancy and Walter, the two anti-heroes, are trying to survive in the world of drugs in order to feed their family. Moreover, recently, many TV series are on the topic of drugs. Thus, why do directors create TV series about the world of drugs?
The good critics as well as the several seasons of Breaking Bad and Weeds prove the interest of the audience for original stories about a controversial topic: dealing drugs. The topic keeps its promises of a constant succession of actions feeding the storyline. The cruelty of the world of drugs maintains the rhythm of the TV series, bringing new developments in the narrative. Moreover, the ambiguity of the characters and their relentless efforts to survive, faced with the obstacles surrounding them, is intriguing. The viewer is also captivated by the police chasing the two anti-heroes or other gangs or drug dealers. Viewers are curious to know how they will deal with everything. After the surprise, the viewer can see that the series are more subtle than that, there is something else behind. These series are not only about drugs but have a social significance. They are about family and the relationships Nancy and Walter are continuously trying to maintain. As other contemporaneous series, this is also a criticism of American society and more particularly of the hypocrisy of the conservative values and the capitalist system.
Surviving in the world of drugs
What is a good story?
In fact, a story must provoke the interest of the viewer with a good topic. The creators of Weeds and Breaking Bad found out that the theme of drugs and the survival of their protagonists could provoke this interest. And to be good, a story needs to create emotion and the attachment to the characters.
In another analysis, about detective series this time, the researcher discovered that detective stories created intrigues suiting perfectly the series format. What is interesting in Weeds and Breaking Bad is that Nancy and Walter are the inverted protagonists the viewer usually finds in detective series: the police agents. On the contrary, they embody the villains/ drug dealers escaping from the police. In this way, just like their homologues the detective series, stories about drugs still intrigue the viewer and feed the narration with events that can last for several episodes, and so encouraging the serial processes. Indeed, the drug theme, as well as the detective series – which are one of the most popular in television – gives many possibilities of stories and actions.
Moreover, the dangerous lives of Nancy and Walter are intriguing. The setting of both the series is in the South of the USA, next to the Mexican frontier. Weeds is set in a fictional city “Agrestic” in California, and Breaking Bad in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Maybe it has to deal with the myth of the wild West, part of the American culture. The Mexican border and the West fantasies bring something more illegal and dangerous to the imagination that suits these series about dealing drugs.
Furthermore, in the pilot of Breaking Bad, the action strikes the attention at the outset. Since the beginning, the viewer has witnessed a chase between the police and the main character. Further in the episode and in the whole series, we can witness the drug dealing process: first the preparation, then how to find a buyer. In just one episode, the different actions go quick. Walter murders two drug dealers by intoxicating them with chemicals. Then, he eventually started a fire in the desert. After that, he tries to kill himself with a gun but it eventually does not work. Finally, the siren we heard at the beginning was not that of the police but of firemen. Walter finally survived! But how will he deal with the two dead bodies in his RV? Breaking Bad is a breathless succession of events and actions. The theme of drugs answers the creators promises.
In Weeds, in ‘You can’t miss the bear’, the title also supposes a chase between a hunter/police and a wild animal/the drug dealer. The viewer learns that Nancy deals because of money troubles since her husband died of a heart attack. In the last episode of season 2, ‘Pittsburgh’, Nancy and Conrad (Romany Malco) are faced once again with a big problem as they must give weeds to a gang of drug dealers in exchange for money. However, Nancy’s son Silas (Hunter Parrish) has stolen the weeds and the two are threatened to be killed. Then, the Armenian gang enters and announces the death of Peter (Martin Donovan) the DEA agent and also Nancy’s new husband. This is definitely too much for Nancy! The chain of events is very quick and there are always new troubles for Nancy and Walter. Indeed, the screenwriters set suspense, another key to make a good story. It catches the attention of the viewer who desires to watch further: what is going to happen?
Weeds trailer season 1
Attachment to the Characters
Moreover, one of the reasons for the attachment to a series is the attachment to the characters. They do not embody a model for the viewer, they are not perfect at all, and certainly not moral. The creators of the series worked on the psychology of the characters to make them more ambiguous than the usual hero or villain. The two protagonists have contradictory behaviors and thoughts and look more human. However, the viewer will probably be more attached to Nancy than Walter who is so dark that it is maybe the contrary : he does not even look human, he has become a monster, an idea reinforced by his look, caused by his treatment.
The creators want to surprise and catch the attention of the audience. Thus, the theme has been chosen in order to create surprise. Curiosity is provoked when the viewer is faced with an unknown world: that of drugs. Hence, he or she want to know what is going to happen. How are the protagonists going to deal and survive inside the hard world of drugs?
The first big surprise in Breaking Bad is when Walter, after the diagnostic of lung cancer – while he never smoked, suddenly breaks bad and screams “fuck you” to his boss and decides he has nothing to lose and will cook crystal meth in order to make a lot of money. In Weeds, the viewer finds Nancy buying drugs in order to sell them. Both of them make the surprising choice to deal drugs in order to get money and keep their lifestyle. This extreme reaction was caused by the trauma of death for Nancy, or the sentence to death for Walter. They are fed up with losing and choose to enter the world of drugs instead, which also means contributing to the death of others.
Furthermore, the immorality of the characters strikes attention. Where are they ready to go to survive? In Weeds, in a short episode, the tone is given, the dialogues are shocking and the story deals with many taboos very fast. However, in France, Weeds was considered ‘immoral’ by the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) stating that the choice of the channel to broadcast the series in the category II (not recommended for children under 10 years old) should be changed to broadcast the show in category III which is not under 12.
To return to about the role of the hero, furthermore, the protagonists Nancy and Walter are more Anti-heroes”. The Oxford Dictionary Online shed light on the meaning of this word, defining it as “a central character in a story, film, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes”. The characters are ambiguous and ‘immoral’ in comparison with the codes of ethics in Western society. Here, neither Nancy nor Walter are heroes nor villains. They are both or in-between. This blur may puzzle the viewer who is familiar with a hero or a villain that carries distinct social values: the good and the bad.
Crimes and murders continuously happen and give rhythm to the storyline in both. Nancy and Walter also appear as being a bad father/mother or husband/wife (Nancy marries three times in Weeds.) Indeed, Walter is not there when his wife gives birth to his daughter. In these series, parents can be cruel to their children, just like Celia Hodes saying about her daughter “I should have had an abortion”.
Have you ever…
“I’m not a dealer, I’m a mother”
Is it only about drugs?
Both Nancy and Walter enter the world of drugs to make a living for their families. Indeed, the family is center to these series. Thus, Nancy says to one of her buyers: “I’m not a dealer, I’m a mother”. As Walter, she deals for the survival of the family lifestyle.
Indeed, other characters, out of the family members, are also part of their families. For instance, in the episode ‘Phoenix’, after a fight with Jesse and his girlfriend Jane, Walter decides not to give up on Jesse, because he is like family. He came back to Jesse’s house, entered while they were sleeping and apparently under drugs. In shaking Jesse, Jane falls on her back while this is dangerous for someone who has taken heroine. Walter makes the shocking choice of not saving her and watches her die instead. Ironically, in sacrificing Jane, he thinks he saves Jesse from a hypothetical future overdose that would kill him.
Satire of American society
Social values and lifestyles are embodied in the structure of characters. In Weeds, the creators wanted to depict a criticism of American suburban life, for instance with the song of the credit Little boxes, which describes people of suburbs having a boring life and “put in boxes and look just the same”).
Little Boxes – Opening credits of Weeds
Agrestic, Nancy’s city and that of all the white characters, is a rich suburb. It looks pretty, clean, respecting good mores and a traditional education. Nevertheless, the other side of the coin is that Agrestic is also a potential market for selling weeds. These series are a criticism of conservative mores and the characters maintain rebellious relationships with the social order, the police and the mores. As a matter of fact, Walter’s and Nancy’s comfortable lifestyles are maintained on the basis of criminal behavior.
These series are also a criticism of the capitalist world and the crisis shaking the USA: the individuals cannot survive without money, and this is the reason why they choose to become criminals. Breaking Bad also criticizes the social care system: Walter struggles with two miserable jobs at the outset of the story but has no money for the treatment of his lung cancer.
Air crash and 9/11
Moreover, the first access to fiction is the current events, or reality. For instance, the events of 9/11 are still in Americans’ minds. Thus, even if there are no terrorism stories in Weeds and Breaking Bad, the air crash that happens in both series symbolizes death. Furthermore, the air crash in Breaking Bad is the big event of season two and closes it. It happens after a chain of events caused by the protagonists’ actions. In Weeds, the air crash occurs when Celia Hodes tells her husband she has a cancer, which is highly symbolic of death.