Sunday, May 31, 2009

Breaking Bad

In an effort to close the giant gaping hole that The Wire created in our lives, husband and I started the first season of Breaking Bad - the AMC show about the science teacher diagnosed with cancer who decides to make Crystal Meth in order to make money.

It's a great show. Bryan Cranston is spellbinding with his tears and white brief underwear.

But it's made me think about likeable characters, or in this case truly truly sympathetic ones. By the time Cranston's character decides to cook Meth, we're practically begging him too, that's how sympathetic he is. How much we feel his plight.

But my problem is this: (of course there's a problem. I have too much time to dissect this stuff.) Once a truly likeable and sympathetic character takes that step off his regular road, we know what's going to happen. Really really crappy things. The writers are going to turn the screws by having the character regret getting on this path, or repent from the path. But they won't be able to, things are going to keep them on the path.

That's good story telling, no doubt about it. I can't wait to see what decision is going to be made about the guy in the basement in Breaking Bad. But it's also a little predictable, right? Because these people are good and the screws are being twisted, I pretty much know what's going to happen to that guy in the basement. But the how and the when and the why, are all still super super compelling questions.

Now, good writers flip this stuff on their ear and I really hope that continues in Breaking Bad - I'm sure it will. But it made me think of our always likeable, always boring heroines. We know what's going to happen to them the second they get on the page - we can turn the screws all we like, but the end is the end.

Which is why we like those dark characters. The ones that live in the grey area. For some reason I'm thinking of Brisbane in those fabulous Lady Grey novels. We just didn't know that guy right away and it was good. Mysterious. Something Borrowed - again, grey area. Anne Stuart's heroes -- very grey. It just leaves room at the beginning of the novel for doubt.

And in this case a little doubt might just be a good thing.


Stephanie Doyle said...

I LOVE the "gray". Really loved Brisbane. And I forget how interesting it can be to get to know someone from someone else's POV. All we get are his actions not his thoughts -and it so works.

But I've tried to do this with some heroines - and I think you really need to walk a fine line. Women have a tendancy to forgive men when they "stray" from the path but women not so much.

And I'm going to confess - as a reader I sometimes also have a hard time when writers add gritty elements to make their heroines seem darker. Totally sexist I know but there it is.

On another note... what is DWT reading these days? I'm 1/2 way through Lover Avehenged (you gotta add the "h") and my TBR book shelf is empty. What's the buzz on what's good?


Molly O'Keefe said...

Doyle!!! I agree with that old double standard about what we'll take from heroes vs. what we'll take from heroines -- I'm a part of that double standard. Though I just read Sarah Mayberry's last Blaze - She's Got It Bad and she manages to make her heroine dark but likeable.

I'm waiting on Sinead to finish To Beguile A Beast which is supposed to be amazing. Have you read Love Walked In? Marisa De Los Santos. Amazing book.

Another Drunk friend - Mary Sullivan (seriously, half a gin and tonic and she's gonzo) has a book out this month and is blogging over at the new superromance blog:

Maureen McGowan said...

I like Weeds for the same reasons you like Breaking Bad, I think, Molly. And that one's with a female protagonist.

Yes, we know that Nancy will do anything to keep her kids safe, in spite of all the horrible choices she makes, but the writers keep surprising me with where they take her character... Sex on the hood of a car with a gangster... Eventually involving both of her sons in her business... Killing her late husband's mother... Setting her house on fire to cover her tracks.

I understood each of those choices... but each of them surprised me as they happened. In Nancy's quest to provide for her family AND have some adventure in her life (it's clear to me she gets off on the thrills), she's taken some HUGE scary risks that the timid widow at the beginning of the series wouldn't have dreamed of when she decided to sell a little weed to cover the mortgage payments.

I keep meaning to check out Breaking Bad. I saw part of one episode and decided I really needed to watch from the beginning and haven't gotten around to it. (Plus, it seemed like it was copying the premise of Weeds to an extent... But I've heard great things.)

I'm reading Lover Avenged right now, too, Stephanie. Probably only a third of the way in...

My TBR pile is deep... Want to read the new Sherry Thomas. Want to read the romance with the autistic hero (Madness of Lord Ian?) Molly and Sinead should have more suggestions.

Eileen said...

We just starting watching Breaking Bad, too. In our case it was to make up for finishing watching all seven seasons of West Wing and Battlestar Galactica being over and the fact that I now hope all the Heroes die and that someone runs through Seattle Grace slapping those doctors' faces and telling them to grow up.

We've only seen the first episode, but I have high hopes. I also really like those gray areas when someone is doing the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason.

Weeds lost me. I was all set to be totally into it. As someone who was also widowed and left with two sons to raise on her own, I understood her desperation and her fear and her loneliness. But then she made some choices that I couldn't respect.

Maureen McGowan said...

LOL about wanting the Heroes to die and slapping everyone at Seattle Grace, Eileen.
I'm 100% with you on Heroes, but I still love Grey's. Can't help it. Weep like a baby all the time. No one does huge emotion like the writers on that show.

I get what you're saying about Weeds. I can't really respect Nancy, either. Yet I find her compulsively watchable. Clearly I have too much time on my hands.

Sinead M said...

so much TV and so freakin' little time..

Yep, finished the new Hoyt and it's all ready for Molly, and the new Sherry Thomas, and waiting for the madness historical and just starting to get into Silent on the Moor..

So many great historicals out there.

In romance, the heroine with the dark motivation is so risky. I think other writers love it, but not convinced it would work with readers...

Has anyone read a great book that could prove me wrong?

Eileen said...

But now I feel so manipulated by the crew at Seattle Grace. Plus, they went the brain tumor route. Once they go there, I'm generally out the door. Either they do it right and it's too hard for me to watch or they do it wrong and it pisses me off. :-)

I do get what you mean about Weeds still, though. The writers are very smart and clever (um, what body part is the coffee table?) and while the characters are occasionally caricatures, it's done for a reason. Maybe if I didn't have teenage sons, I would have been able to watch more of it without doing so many hypocrisy checks on myself. :-)

Stephanie Doyle said...

Is the new Sherry Thomas out? I have to say I read the excerpt a while ago - and I'm on the fence about this. The heroine was just so freakin' tragic. I wanted to shoot myself and her by the end of it. So I'll wait for what you guys think to steer me if it's worth it.

The Hoyt - for me she's top shelf. That said I had some issues. The timeline moves a little fast for me. She arrives day one - they're in love by day 5 kind of a thing.

But there is a perfect example of a heroine who makes wrong choices but I still liked her.

Okay so I've got Sullivan and De Los Santos - I'll put them on the list.

And another question - are the DWT writers and readers going to DC for RWA - we seriously need a book chat/drink fest.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Sadly - Steph I can't do RWA this year. Just can't swing it. Maureen will be there and she LOVES to drink

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