Art or science? Formulating empathy in Breaking Bad

Bentham, AA 2018, 'Art or science? Formulating empathy in Breaking Bad' , in: Exploring Empathy : its propagations perimeters and potentialities , At the Interface/Probing the Boundaries (92) , Brill, Leiden, pp. 161-192.

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When Vince Gilligan pitched the idea for ‘Breaking Bad’ to studio bosses at AMC, his description of it as ‘a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr Chips into Scarface’ proved to be enough of a hook to take the show into production. However, whilst this transformation is indeed breath-taking, perhaps the most fascinating thing about the series has been its manipulation of the viewer. As the show opens, the locus of empathy is Walter White; a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher desperate to provide financially for his disabled, teenaged son and unexpectedly pregnant wife. However, as the narrative arc develops, Walter undergoes a dramatic transformation. His shift from shambling underdog to drug lord poses interesting moral questions which increasingly act as a barrier to empathy and identification with the character. My chapter charts the development of Walter White and the characters around him, exploring how their representation in the show affects and manipulates viewer identification. Via consideration of the narrative and cinematographic techniques at play, I demonstrate how reception of Walter shifts from sympathy to empathy and ultimately to revulsion. I also explore the contingent nature of categories such as hero and villain, and reflect on why such development is denied to the show’s unremittingly negative female characters.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Nelems, R and Theo, N
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media
Publisher: Brill
Series Name: At the Interface/Probing the Boundaries
ISBN: 9789004350748 (print); 9789004360846 (ebook)
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Dr Abby Bentham
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2020 08:54
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2022 05:00

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