June 19, 2018
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‘It’s hard not to keep rooting for Walt’ says USM professor who wrote book on ‘Breaking Bad’

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Expect bloodshed in the highly anticipated series finale of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” but it won’t be that of main character Walter White.

That’s the prediction by University of Southern Maine Prof. David Pierson, whose book about the wildly popular television series will be available online for purchase later this fall.

“There might be a lot of bloodshed,” Pierson said. “I don’t think Walt or Jesse will be killed. I think they’ll survive the show, that’s what I’m predicting.”

The morning after “Breaking Bad” was named television’s best drama at Sunday night’s Primetime Emmy Awards — and less than a week before the series concludes next Sunday night — Pierson spoke about the appeal of the show and his forthcoming book of edited essays about it.

“Breaking Bad” follows the aforementioned White, played by multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, a high school chemistry teacher who turns to a double-life cooking the dangerous chemical drug methamphetamine after learning he has terminal cancer and is struggling to provide for his family.

In the show, White enters a complicated partnership with former student-turned-dealer Jesse Pinkham, played by Aaron Paul.

Pierson’s 230-page hardcover book “Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Context, Politics, Style and Reception of the Television Series” will be available for purchase on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in November.

The collection of essays takes an academic look at the series, according to a university announcement. The topics investigated in the book run the gamut from neoliberalism to “our cultural obsession with the economies of time and their manipulation,” from the show’s representation of masculinity and its depiction of Latino Americans to how disabilities and impairments are portrayed.

“The final section takes a close look at the series’ unique cinematic style, its representation of place, its use of sound and music, and the integral part that emotions play as a form of dramatic action in its episodes,” the USM announcement reads, in part.

“One of the things that the book does is look at the show from a number of different perspectives,” said Pierson, who has in the past published research on hit shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Seinfeld” and “The Fugitive.”

Pierson said “Breaking Bad” appeals to many viewers because they want to live vicariously through characters such as White, although perhaps more in a general way than a specific one.

He noted that the show came out in late 2008, when the country was plunging into what is being called the Great Recession, and many people were feeling desperate to make ends meet, just like the chemistry teacher character.

“I think a lot of us feel like our talents are being wasted — and [think] ‘What if we had an opportunity to use our talents the way we want to, or live a double-life where we could be more assertive?’” Pierson said. “Of course, in the real world, we have to live our lives within parameters. There are serious consequences involved with drugs or killing people.”

Pierson said the character of Walter White appeals to viewers’ sense of entrepreneurial spirit, even if he acts it out in a criminal way.

“Walt was a very rational person on the show, and he just rationalizes all sorts of behavior on the show,” he said. “It’s hard not to keep rooting for Walt, no matter what happens to him. He’s following what we sort of believe is the way we should be leading our lives.”

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