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A terrible aspect: the fourth seasons of Walter White and Kerr Avon - The Ex-Communicator

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October 26th, 2011


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07:12 am - A terrible aspect: the fourth seasons of Walter White and Kerr Avon
I've written a piece in a slightly different style than usual, comparing the fourth seasons of Breaking Bad and Blakes 7. There are mild spoilers for seasons 4 of BrBa.

A Terrible Aspect: the fourth seasons of Walter White and Kerr Avon

Blakes 7 was a British SF program which ran over four seasons from 1977-81. Breaking Bad is an American black comedy drama which has just completed its fourth season. The two shows are very different in style. B7 was an under-funded show with low production values. Its charm arises from the chaotic serendipity of actors, writers and directors pursuing incompatible visions, often in conflict with each other, and with insufficient resources. Whereas in BrBa every scene is carefully crafted and scripted in the service of a unified vision, which is shared by cast and crew. I do not believe that the creators of BrBa were influenced by, or even aware of, B7.

Nevertheless there are striking similarities between two key characters – Walter White and Kerr Avon. And both characters undergo a transformation in Season 4, which is commonly interpreted by fans as the character ‘going mad’ or ‘being taken over by their secondary persona’. I think this narrative convergence reveals something significant about the logic of character and plot.

Both White and Avon are previously-respectable scientists who take to a life of crime in middle age. Each is motivated by a combination of avarice, fear and tragic pride. Both characters are portrayed as educated, and also ‘clever’: they solve problems with brain power. Both characters become increasingly alienated and violent as the story progresses, changing appearance to look more piratical. Both characters end the fourth season by committing an act of callous violence which is seemingly unforgiveable within the context of the drama.

In the case of B7 a change of personnel at the top, and growing uncertainty about the future and direction of the show, meant the actor Paul Darrow was free to express his idiosyncratic vision of Avon with less restraint than in previous seasons. Amusingly, this was interpreted by fans as the character going insane. A few years after the cancellation of B7 Darrow published a spin-off novel, a prequel ‘Avon: A Terrible Aspect’ (1989) - which further reveals his understanding of the character, as ruthless and hyper-competent. Arguably this self-image is delusional. But is the character himself deluded or is the actor deluded about the character?

Walter White in BrBa also finds his original aspect obliterated by the persona of a capable and ruthless criminal. White’s journey is not a reflection of a real-life conflict around the TV show’s production, but a controlled storyline. Actor, writers and directors are working in harmony to portray this transformation. We see both of White’s aspects during the season, with the earlier persona becoming weaker and more frightened, as the new persona becomes stronger and more prepared to commit violence. As White becomes absorbed by his character his doubts and fears show through less often. He becomes stronger but less human.

A key question within each story world is the extent to which the ‘new’ persona of White or Avon is an affectation or defence which has grown to eat the real man, or whether the man has cast off a restraining social face to allow himself to express his true core strength and capability. It’s similar to the plot of a werewolf film. Is the wolf liberated or is the man devoured? I think that as with a werewolf story we feel the tragedy just because we can see how much good there is in becoming as strong as one can be, at the same time as we see the wolf passing beyond human society, and destroying the bonds with those he loves most. It’s a balancing act which perhaps we all struggle with, between individuation and socialisation. And as he becomes wolfish is the character losing touch with reality, or finding his true being? I think it is essential that these questions are not resolved in the fictional world, as in life.

(19 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:October 26th, 2011 06:30 am (UTC)
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comparing the fourth seasons of Breaking Bad and Blakes 7

Oh baby you know what I like. /bigbopper

Avon don't give off the windigo vibes Walter White does, that's for sure.

:-D
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From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
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Windigo! Of course that's another example.

I think B7 is kind of cruder and more literal. Avon did end up killing his heart, by physically shooting him.

I'm going to do another one comparing Vila to Pinkman.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:October 26th, 2011 12:55 pm (UTC)
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BrBa is going to have a fifth season...

WW's speciality is throwing *other people* out of shuttles (...when they're not falling out of the sky based on his indirect influence...) to make a point to Jesse.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
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Oh yes. I am so looking forward to it. White must live on, which Avon never had to do, past that point. They didn't know when they filmed this season if there would be another so it had to function as a last-ever episode, if necessary.

One of my arguments is going to be that Jesse encompasses some of the functions of Blake as well as characteristics of Vila.

I love the idea of Walt throwing people out the airlock to impress Jesse. Kind of hot.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:October 26th, 2011 01:30 pm (UTC)
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White must live on, which Avon never had to do, past that point

Except that Walter has a Natural sell-by date, whereas Avon's life expectancy was artificially limited.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:October 26th, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
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ETA: Now that I think of it, if there were a BrBa musical episode, Gus might very well sing "First I'll save him then *I'll* kill him" even though that's not what happened.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
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I read some of an interview with Giancarlo Esposito and he sees Gus as a maternal character, of all things.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:October 26th, 2011 02:01 pm (UTC)
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Well, he does make sure there's a nice healthy vegetable platter when he has a sit-down!
[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:October 27th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
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if there were a BrBa musical episode

All shows should be required by law to have one. Get on it, Exec.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:October 27th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)

They Got the Methamphetamine Out!

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Also, not that I'm seriously postulating a lot of ecstasy spread beneath his Walter-tree, but:

JESSE: I'm under your spell.
How else could it be
Anyone would notice me?
You worked your charm so well


And the whole thing could be kicked off by Marie swiping an amulet.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 29th, 2011 08:15 am (UTC)

Re: They Got the Methamphetamine Out!

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not that I'm seriously postulating a lot of ecstasy spread beneath his Walter-tree

So yeah given the context I freely admit--as someone who has watched that episode a LOT--I spent a good twenty seconds of my life going "ecstasy? WTF man BB is all about the meth".

And the whole thing could be kicked off by Marie swiping an amulet.

This feels so wrong it must be right.
[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:October 29th, 2011 08:18 am (UTC)

Re: They Got the Methamphetamine Out!

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(siiiiigh anonymous is me THX LJ)
[User Picture]
From:londonkds
Date:October 26th, 2011 09:33 am (UTC)
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This post shows me that I have been misreading something about B7 fandom for years, as I have not read Paul Darrow's novel and had been convinced thanks to controversies in other fandoms that the controversy over it was because Darrow thought Avon was an amoral git and the fans thought he was a secretly vulnerable woobie. If Darrow thinks Avon is completely sane and competent, though, that explains a lot.
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From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2011 10:00 am (UTC)
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Your comment has given me pause for thought. Certainly some fans think Avon was mad in Season 4, but not all. And some see Avon as a consistent character, while others see him as a character who changes. I think the 'vulnerable' interpretation of his character is more common among fans who see him as a consistent figure. A consistent rather tragic figure, who cares more than he lets on.

I don't think Darrow believed he was portraying Avon as insane, but as brutal and amoral, and I think he believes Avon was always that. So he has a different idea of Avon's core being from the majority of fans. But it's possible he has said something to the contrary, so I'd be interested to hear from anyone.

I've got two arguments here. One is that a change happened within the fictional universe - Avon losing his mind - and the other is a causal explanation in the real universe - an actor imposing a new vision on the character.
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From:gair
Date:October 26th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC)
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Darrow thought Avon was an amoral git and the fans thought he was a secretly vulnerable woobie.

I think this is certainly part of it, at least for me - or at least Darrow thinks Avon is an action hero and I think he's a computer geek and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. From Avon: A Terrible Novel, though, I think Darrow thinks 'action hero' is an aspirational category which involves being larger-than-life and sort of heroically amoral in ways which read to me like psychopathy, but which presumably to Darrow are sort of Ubermannish?

communicator, fabulous post, is making me wonder about watching Breaking Bad now, which I had taken off my list after reading your spoiler for the end of S4. The post and londonkds's comment, though, are making me think about Greek tragic/epic heroes - one of the things about heroes is that they don't work well in peaceful/civil society, or in domestic space. So in Herakles, for example, Hercules comes back from his labours, is sent mad by the gods, and slaughters his wife and children under the illusion that they are enemies (it's been frequently read in the 20th century in light of the various kinds of post-combat mental illness suffered by eg Vietnam veterans). So yes, 'stronger and less human', exactly.
[User Picture]
From:londonkds
Date:October 26th, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC)
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survivor of childhood sexual abuse

How come, if you've got the time?
[User Picture]
From:gair
Date:October 26th, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)
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Briefly: Nova's fantastic Outlaws and In-Laws (link goes to first page of story on Hermit Library), which links Avon's clumsiness/tendency to exit his body in stressful situations to a background of sexual abuse in a way that immediately clicked in my head. Avon also has a tendency to become hypersexual and flirtatious in situations of stress or anxiety which I would associate with sexual abuse. So... it's a reading that I think is possible but not necessary, if that makes sense. It's compatible with things Avon does onscreen, and it makes a lot of sense to me personally, but it's clearly not something which is being deliberately signalled by any of the writers or by Darrow or something which you need to import to make sense of Avon. And I'll stop there before I start my impassioned argument that all reading is a reading-into...
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From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
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I was thinking that the individuation/socialisation dilemma is found in Greek tragedy. Perhaps because that was a society like ours where it was a particular concern.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:October 26th, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
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No reason why the same person can't be an amoral git and a vulnerable woobie though.

I would argue that My Former Client *was* good at a lot of things, although "trying to defeat the Federation with grossly inadequate personnel and materiel when he wasn't really sure that was what he wanted to do anyway" was not one of them.

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