The end is nigh for two of my favorite TV shows—arguably two of the best shows ever. The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad are set to begin airing in August. And Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has said that show’s next season, its seventh, will be its last. Before I go any further, let me make my obligatory disclaimer. Neither show is remotely suitable for kids. (File that under painfully obvious.) Also, I understand entirely when people tell me they just can’t watch either of them. Both shows are long on sin and short on redemption. I can’t argue with anyone who decides just to stay away from them.
I would, however, take issue with anyone who says these shows encourage bad behavior. I can’t see how anyone watching Breaking Bad or Mad Men would want to emulate the two main characters. If you think these two guys are role models, I don’t think you’re watching very closely.
Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White. In the first episode Walter is diagnosed with lung cancer. His doctor informs him he doesn’t have long to live and he should begin setting his affairs in order. Unfortunately there’s not much to do. Walter is a high school chemistry teacher, which means he’s going to leave his family with nothing. In desperation he turns to cooking meth with a former student in hopes of making a quick haul for his family. But in the process White loses himself. As the series draws to a conclusion, he’s become a power-hungry monster. It’s extremely difficult to feel any sympathy for him now.
Mad Men is mostly the story of Donald Draper, an ad executive in New York during the 1960’s. Don has trouble navigating the seismic cultural changes taking place around him. But that’s because he has a very limited set of coping skills—namely alcoholism and chronic marital infidelity. But none of his exploits is very enticing. What lies beneath his beautiful exterior is a mess. Don leaves damaged lives in his wake, most notably the life of his oldest daughter, Sally.
All of that to say neither of these men is a hero. I’ve been thinking about it, and they both remind me of the book of Judges in the Bible. The book of Judges is about a particularly dark time in Israel’s history. The most common refrain by the author is, “In that time, there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” That’s a pretty good description of Walter White and Donald Draper.
The Bible is clear that the only true hero is God. And, in Jesus, we find that God’s heroics look nothing like what we would expect. We’ll especially see that as we read from John 12 together this Sunday.