Sin and judgment in Breaking Bad
I’m not the first person to claim that Breaking Bad, which concluded its five-season run in 2013, is a deeply moral television series. Catholic NYT columnist Ross Douthat blogged about it extensively, and sources both Christian and secular have suggested that the show embodies an almost Biblical sense of good, evil, sin and punishment.
After watching the series, which constantly explores themes of moral agency, I found myself with a better understanding of why hell exists, and the need for justice. Interestingly, the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan (who was raised Catholic), has said something similar:
I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. 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 urge even those who have no interest in the show as a whole to watch this incredible scene from the seventh episode of season four, entitled “Problem Dog,” which shows profoundly the human need, even desire, to be judged and to atone for one’s sins.
The background of the scene: Jesse (one of the main characters, played by Aaron Paul) is racked with guilt after having committed murder, and at a recovery group meeting, he makes a veiled confession, saying he killed a “problem dog.” Jesse knows he has done something evil, and that the support group’s message of non-judgment and self-acceptance won’t cut it.
Aaron Paul’s stunning performance is a cry from the heart of a man who desperately wants to be judged, for his actions to have consequences: “If you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean? What’s the point?”
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