We recently (finally) got around to watching Breaking Bad, a program that features one of the most fully-developed, envisioned and enacted tragic falls that we have yet to see in popular culture, as discussed in a previous post.
We are now in the process of watching the American edition of House of Cards, Season 2–no doubt along with a significant proportion of the rest of the netflix-subscribing population.
The two characters–and series–present a fascinating set of contrasts. Both works feature frequent nods to Macbeth. House of Cards even goes so far as to have these wonderful soliloquies and asides that at least for my part, I find as effective as Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences must have found the asides and soliloquies of Shakespeare and other contemporary works. There is something chilling, thrilling, disturbing and peculiarly disarming about being the confidant of the villain, party to those inner thoughts and observations to which no-one else has access. It draws us in, as we watch his intricate machinations with bated horror. There are other wonderful, resonant references as well, which I touched on in the post I wrote last year–the extinguishing of the candle, for instance, and Frank’s relationship with his wife.
Breaking Bad‘s allusions are more muted, but nonetheless detectable. One of the more elegant ones comes when Walter is holed up in his cabin and walks to the gate, then says “Tomorrow…”. All is lost at that stage, and Walter is weary. It is a powerful moment of temporary capitulation.
Macbeth is itself a play that has always fascinated me. For me, the crux of the work, and the crux of how an actor will play the Scottish anti-hero, derives from the question of whether the witches’ prophecy that he will be king, transforms him from being a genuinely honourable man and war hero into an amoral killer who is slowly eaten from the inside out by his ambition, or whether it simply gives him permission to do what he wanted to do all along, but which the bounds of propriety did not allow. As a student, reading the play in English class, I had believed the former–that Macbeth was once good, and turned bad. Now, as an adult, I’m leaning towards the other reading. He was that way all along, and just needed permission to cast aside his morality. Continue reading