Breaking Bad: It's Good But Not Quite Bad Enough

Breaking Bad is great, but in real life Walter White would have been killed off in the first week.
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Breaking Bad is great, but in real life Walter White would have been killed off in the first week.

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It's a beautiful show, a great work of cinematic art. Of course, none of the characters could exist in the actual illicit drug industry. The real thing doesn't allow for the inner struggles Walt wages with himself or the terrible personal torment Jesse suffers and that drives Gus. The real Gus would have long forgotten the murder of his young chemist friend by Hector Salamanca. More likely, Gus and Salamanca would have had many happy and profitable dealings since then. And forget about Mike’s old school honor among thieves. It’s positively quaint.

That’s aside from holes in the narrative logic. When Walt had Saul's secretary call Hank with that hoax about Marie being in a car wreck, anybody would have expected a guy like Hank to go ballistic when he found out it was bullshit and to go right after Jesse – which is what he did. The fact Walt nor Jesse nor Saul saw that coming made no sense. They all know Hank’s on a righteous cop trip and has a hair-trigger.

Besides, the agents Hank was expecting to show up with the warrant to search the RV would have shown up damn quick. They’d know the boss is a freak for this case and it would be super top priority. There are several similar lapses in narrative logic but don’t get your tits in a knot and start writing long shrieking replies. None of this stuff makes it a lesser show.

The reality is brutal and Darwinian and nobody has the luxury of slowly allowing themselves to devolve into their dark and evil selves. It’s immediate and it’s about money and control and that's all. There are no incredibly complex criminal plots or mindbending strategies going on. The illicit drug wholesaling and retailing business is a hammer to the face, a 9mm slug to the head and a few dog food cans. Yeah, when you buy Mexican dog food, Fido eats and shits out the evidence. Like the tribes of old, the great criminal cartels profit from ever morsel of flesh, bone and motive. A barrel in the desert is a waste of a barrel.

If there’s one character in the show that reflects the actual day-to-day reality, it’s Tuco. He’s a total psycho but a businessman and in his line of work the two thing are mutually inclusive and highly beneficial. A guy like Tuco will blow away friends and family without a second thought. He might rage and cry about it afterwards like any good psycho but that won’t stop him from doing it again and it is a helluva convincing strategy to anyone who might consider fucking him over.

But it’s the 

lack

 of actual base stupid reality that allows BB to look at larger questions about things like who and what you really are when put under serious pressure. Everyone’s good when there’s no stress but if you’re forced into a tight spot where you have to make some hardcore choices immediately, what kind of creature do you become?

The show does a great job of rolling out that whole idea; a supposedly normal guy pushed into the most extreme end of this world, a planet full of raging contradictions and head-fucking ironies. In other words, the Breaking Bad storyline has not much to do with the way things are in reality and maybe that’s 

why

 it’s a great work of art, why it’s so fucking Shakespearean.

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The reality of the illicit drug business is far more prosaic than the convoluted narratives that run through BB. The cartel would have just killed them all and worried about Gus' distribution system later. Nobody at the top end cares how good the dope is; just as long a nobody else has anything better. Your dope can be shit but if it’s stronger than whatever else is around, you’re golden. It’s far easier to either kill or buy out any legit competition than track down that one awesome chemist and build some NASA quality super lab.

Cartels impose their will by killing everyone involved without much distinguishing who deserves what – and that keeps everyone on their toes. Gus would have killed Walt and Jesse at the first sign of trouble, not tried to out-think them. Anyway, he wouldn’t risk one ass hair for a difference of 3 or 4 percent purity of his product. When Gale tells Gus a couple percentage points in purity are massively important, it's pretty thin logic. Gus wouldn’t give a shit. The main thing in that business is minimize all risk, keep tight control, don't go looking for problems for a minor gain. If there are ANY problems, buy them off until you can kill them.

Also, there are no Hanks in the DEA or any other police agency. At any important level, everyone is on the take or playing turtle. From the small town Mexican police chief to the high-ranking border cop and the member of congress who accepts big donations of cartel money and continues to push rabidly anti-drug propaganda. And all these cops and politicians work hard to make sure street level dealing and drug use remain serious crimes in order the keep retail prices from falling.

Attorney-General Eric Holder’s recent announcement about getting rid of minimum sentencing is not good news for big-time drug dealers and their toadies in law enforcement and government. Even the vaguest hint of de-criminalization of any illegal drug is a dangerously slippery slope for that crowd. Besides, let’s wait and see how far Holder’s ideas go. I’m sceptical. Your average duffer is usually a reactionary asshole that will vote for the creep who’s ‘tough on crime.’

The cartels and the international banking gangsters they’re allied with NEED drugs to be illegal. Just like the mafia needed booze to be illegal during the prohibition, a policy that built those iconic criminal empires. And that was small potatoes. The amounts involved in the modern US and global illicit drug and money laundering industries is far too much to count, let alone combat. And the political power that results is beyond comprehension.

But functionally, the cartels and their allies always keep things as simple as possible. They use a basic formula when faced with resistance by police agency operatives or some politician with a glimmer of conscience. It goes more or less along these lines: Suck THIS cock and you get large cash payments like clockwork. Refuse and we will rape, torture and murder you, after you watch us rape, torture and murder your wife and your children. Take your pick, smart ass. So what would 

you

 do?