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.