Here’s a little thought — and there’s a good chance that you too have entertained this thought if you watch — about Breaking Bad, a TV show that I’m hooked on. In last season’s fourth episode, Walter and Skyler White sit in their living room planning their evening’s conversation with Skyler’s sister Marie and her husband Hank, a DEA agent. Walt cooks methamphetamine, and now he’s bought a car wash as a front for laundering (LOL) the drug money. But he’s just a high school chemistry teacher: how could he possibly afford to pay for a car wash? Skyler cooks up a cover story: Walt made the money counting cards at blackjack tables. Walt is preparing a demonstration of his skills to stage for the in-laws, but he keeps losing. Finally Walt throws in the cards. I shouldn’t be showing off my technique, he tells Skyler: I’m in recovery.
WALT: And that is the fiction we should be sticking to.
SKYLER: You know what? You’re right. Yeah.
Skyler walks over to the coffee table and picks up two sheaves of paper. She hands one stack to Walt, keeping the other, and sits back down.
SKYLER: Okay. We’re not leaving anything to chance. Alright let’s get started, got a lot of ground to cover.
WALT: What is this?
SKYLER: We have to get our story straight, we’ve got to be on the same page.
WALT: A script?
SKYLER: Bullet points.
WALT: Bullet points? Looks like a novella.
SKYLER: This is smart. You really want to try to sell a DEA agent some ill-prepared, half-assed, full of holes story about how we suddenly have enough money to buy a car wash?
WALT: Am I supposed to memorize this?
SKYLER: We need to practice, Walt. We need to be word perfect.
WALT: Within reason.
SKYLER: We need this story to be solid and sympathetic and most of all completely believable.
There’s some sort of metafictional business written into every episode of Breaking Bad. So how about this: cooking meth is a metaphor for producing a television series.
Walt has come up with the formula for making the best meth on the market: the highest level of chemical purity that triggers the most intense high for its users. Walt has achieved this level of excellence through systematic rational experimentation with ingredients and techniques, with organization and timing. Among all the competitors on the market Walt’s product is the best at doing what it’s supposed to do: overwhelming the user’s systematic rational judgment. As a result the customers are prepared to pay top dollar for Walt’s product.
I can’t wait for tonight’s episode.