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Breaking Bad & the Polan Theory


For this paper, I will be studying how the character of Walter White in the AMC drama “Breaking Bad” fits the description, and promotes the “Polan Theory” of how an audience is attracted to the “everyman”. Breaking bad in the simplest explanation is about an unsatisfied middle aged high school chemistry teacher that teams up with a former student of his to produce and distribute crystal meth to support his family after he is diagnosed with lung cancer. I will be looking at what made the show so globally popular, despite the out of this world series of situations that Walter White encounters. I will be studying this with the use of Dana Polan’s article, “Cable Watching HBO The Sopranos and Discourses of Distinction”, where Polan discusses how the “everyman” (in this case, Walter White) in these quality TV shows, add relativity and familiarity to their viewers. Also, I will be pulling quotes from the show, and other scholarly sources. The importance of Breaking Bad was that it incorporated a high level of intense/ extreme drama to the life of an “everyman”.

The Breaking Bad Film and its connection to Polan Theory

The theory of everyman mainly talks of an ordinary man in a movie with whom the viewers can easily identify since he/she is occasionally placed in extraordinary circumstances. According to breaking bad film, Mr. White is such a character who is allover and can be identified easily by the viewers; such characters link the movie to the Polman theory. Polan theory mainly deals with the factors that questions the essentialism of a film/movie as well as providing conceptual frameworks that assists in understanding how the films do relate to culture i.e. reality, arts, viewers and the politics in society. The AMC drama, breaking bad is effective in applying crime as a medium for entertainment in an attempt to display various concepts pertaining to morality within the society today (Banet-Weiser, Chris, & Freitas, 2007).The film mainly centers on Walter White, who is a middle aged and a high school teacher. In the movie various events and occasions are connected to the arguments of polan theory which states that every film/movie is usually based on culture of the society where the storyline is based on. The following occasions in the movie depicts Mr. White as an ‘everyman”.

The killing of Krazy-8

At the early stages of the film, Mr. White as somebody who is very polite and loves his career (chemistry teacher). In the third episode of the film, White takes most of his time trying to convince himself on how he can let Krazy-8 go, who happens to his rival dealer in business. However, after he realize that Krazy-8 doesn’t have an intention of letting bygones be bygones, Mr. White makes the choice of violently strangling Krazy-8 to death using the bike lock. This situation gives the audience an early taste regarding the brutality capacity of Mr. White. This shows that he is a character who can be described as “Everyman” due to his involvement in extraordinary circumstances.

An offer refused

As Mr. White was attending the birthday party of his old business partner Elliot Schwartz, Mr. White is offered an easy out for securing finance to assist him in treating his lung cancer. He becomes prideful to accept this offer since he did sell his shares in Gray matter Technologies at just $5,000. Mr. White is begged even by Elliot’s wife who was former girlfriend to White. Still Mr. White refuses to take this chance due to pride. This event shows that Mr. White is an extraordinary man (everyman) since we all know that cancer is a deadly disease that falls for quick treatment. So, if such a chance comes, it is good for Mr. White to accept it.

“Half Measures” occasion

After the attempts made by Mike to convince White to do whatever is necessary to deal with the insistence of Jesse on taking out the dealers who did murder Combo. Mr. White is seen to be torn in between remaining to be loyal to his business partner or taking option of staying on the good side of his recent boss, Mr. Gus Fring. However, as the events unlocks, the growing presence of Heisenberg within Mr. White eventually wins out. Mr. White then refuses to toe Gus’s line and he swoops in so that he rescue Jesse by deciding to gruesomely run over the rivals in the business with his trusty old Pontiac Aztek. This decision that Mr. White take on allows him leverage that he needed to order Jesse to kill Gale. Such events portray Mr. White as an individual of extraordinary character.

The viewer’s starts by loving him for his passion for chemistry as well as his encounter to the deadly disease (cancer); then you find yourself appreciating his desperation, the self-righteousness he has and in the situation that he stands up for Jesse and his involvement in in drug dealing. One might think that he is just a good person who is involved in bad occasions. Things then start heating up when lives are put in danger and Mr White starts relishing small successes.

The Greed: Moral Choices in a Land of Plenty

To some extent, breaking bad through Mr Walter White offers a critical reflection on the identity of U.S. culture; this links the film and the Polan theory. For instance, the movie mainly revolves around one character i.e. Walter White who portrays the respect to the narrative of the rise in society of the self-made man (everyman).  In this way, the storyline break with the society moral restraints that are usually link to such ideas. The movie gives a character is who is categorically dedicated to his work and sacrifice him to achieve something.

Majorly, Walter White represents a living image of failure. He has been confronted with misfortunes and frustrations for long, for example, his son suffers from cerebral palsy, he has two jobs of which none of them meets his capacity and that he has not been able to provide for his family since he is currently suffering from cancer disease. The illness acts as a catalyst that precipitates a brutal transformation of Walter White life. This is observed when he says (“I am awake” Walter White yells in the pilot episode). This contributes to the core of the series. Walter White the later set out and becomes master as far as his destiny is concerned. This starts by his need to prosper which in real sense is behind each and every person in the society (a connection to “Everyman” fallacy). Walter White greed here acts as pretext and this becomes the pioneer of transformation of his character. For instance, through greed, he cooks methamphetamine which earns him “easy money” but also gives him chance to demonstrate the capacity of his profession (Martin, 2013).

The Pride and Family Alibi

even though Mr. Walter White  drive in earning money is for the wellbeing of the family and considered as a guanine objective, it is at the later stage converted as a mere excuse. White is portrayed as a man full of pride and in many occasions, almost traditional when it comes to issues pertaining to his family. He believes than a man should at all cost provide for family, and he is sort of embarrassed since he cannot provide as he suffers from cancer. He even goes further to seek the help of Pinkman to cook as well as selling the meth. White believes that with the knowledge he has and the skills that Pinkman has concerning the streets, they can cook more meth until they make a lot of money that can help him sort out the chemo bills and also assist his family in the situation that his inevitable inoperable lung cancer kills him.

Th same pride not only marks Mr. White internal conflict but as well it is considered the determinant of the kind of relationship that exists between him and other characters in the film. For example, White and Jesse wavers during the fourth season when White sees that his leadership role is threatened thus he starts to feel expandable. These events to connect to theory of Polman since here the true features of individuals within the society we live today are revealed. This pride also make him to almost give himself to police officers due to a murder case (the assassination of Gale), since he is not able to tolerate that his genius and cooking craftsmanship is associated to another chemist. For example in this excerpt of the film shows a clear pride of Mr. White;

“We had a good thing, you stupid son of a bitch, we had Fring…

You could have shut your mouth and cooked and made as much money as you would have ever needed. But no, you just had to blow it up! You and your pride and your ego, you just had to be the man! If you’d done your job, known your place, we’d all be fine right now…”

Why the Movie is Popular Globally

The characters in Breaking Bad are intricately developed and continuously evolving throughout the series. This creates the desired effect of realism and relatability for the audience, which is what all actors strive to accomplish. The characters depicted in the show are relatable because they are not perfect: they make mistakes, they grow and they provoke feelings of sympathy from the audience. It is due to the diligence and skilled interpretation of the script which these actors undertake, that brings the Breaking Bad characters alive. In “Gliding over All” Anna Gunn, who plays Walter’s emotionally distant wife Skylar, sends an important message of “how much is enough?” (“Gliding over All) to Walter, when she dramatically reveals the large pile of drug money that she is forced to keep in a storage locker because it is too much to lauder. Cranston’s character is dismayed and shocked when his accountant wife has “no earthly idea” (“Gliding Over all”) as to the dollar amount of the stack. This is the scene in which Walter internally decides he has had enough and begins his metaphorical climb back down from his pedestal. This is an important scene because after many weeks of rising to the top of the illegal drug retailing business, Skylar is the one to bring Walter back from his accomplished empire.

The writers behind Breaking Bad do not have the actors rush the dialog, but still are more than capable of keeping the audience on their toes. Head director Vince Gilligan explains that “there is no need to rush anything in Breaking Bad, so we have time to actually let people move through spaces, down halls, into homes. In broadcast network television you sometimes have to advance the story (much quicker)” (Gajewski). This enables the actors to express their characters through wordless actions and facial expressions. The plot is written with complex and intertwined stories surrounding each character independently.  Walter has always expressed a slight obsession for perfection, exclusively as he struggles with his inability to manufacture meth above his current 99.1% purity. This is delicately mirrored in his fascination with flies. In the opening scene of “Gliding over All”, Walter is staring at a common house fly as it sits on his desk. The fly has made multiple appearances throughout the series and represents the variables Walter cannot control.


Breaking Bad is the innovative masterpiece of the decade. At the very end of the “Gliding over All”, Hank comes to the ground shaking realization of who Walter has become and leaves the audience guessing what his next move will be. During the dialog free scene, the shock that crosses his face is just another great example of the wordless communication of emotion. This hard hitting combination of talented actors, directors and writers makes for a brilliant and captivative series. In a short amount of time audiences can look forward to experiencing the culmination and conclusion of this captivating series.

With the constant struggle between good and evil every person is faced with, people assume that a drug dealer that dropped out of high school is the bad guy while a middle aged man dying of cancer is obviously the good guy. Pinkman is still the same drug dealer that was introduced in the beginning of the show, but is not a killer, is not a fighter, and the only reason he produces methamphetamine is because that is all he knows. Pinkman has never hurt anyone, never stopped anyone, but himself from succeeding in life. After the series goes on the viewer’s eyes are opened that Jesse Pinkman is not the bad guy and he never was, the drug users he sells to are all full consenting adults that know what they are buying. White had a choice, he has always had the choice, and his friends have offered to fully pay for his hospital bills. White has this fatherly pride though that he must take care of his family, he must put the food on the table for his family, when a normal person hears that they do not think of a monster, they think good husband or great father, but not in White’s case. This was never really creating the monster that Walter White is or humanizing the monster that was Jesse Pinkman it was more of an enlightenment on breaking down social norms.


Banet-Weiser, S., Chris, C., & Freitas, A. (Eds.). (2007). Cable visions: television beyond broadcasting. NYU Press.

Martin, B. (2013). Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From the Sopranos and The Wire toMad Men and Breaking Bad. Penguin.



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