Moral emotions, antiheroes and the limits of allegiance (2016)
"Moral Emotions, Antiheroes and the Limits of Allegiance", in Emotions in Contemporary TV Series, edited by Alberto N. García, Basingstoke, Palgrave McMillan, 2016, pp. 52-70.
García, Alberto N. "Moral Emotions, Antiheroes and the Limits of Allegiance (2016)", in in Emotions in Contemporary TV Series, García, Alberto N. (eds), Palgrave McMillan, Basingstoke, 2016, pp. 52-70.
According to its creator, Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–13) describes the moral corruption of a normal man, the conversion of Mr. Chips to Scarface. In ‘Full Measures’ (3.13), the moral and emotional complexity of the story is encapsulated in a seemingly incidental scene. We see Walter White in his living room, giving little Holly a bottle of milk. A close- up shows how the baby grabs at his glasses, and in this moment of paternal tenderness, the writers cunningly re-humanize a character who just executed two thugs and minutes later ordered the death of his lab partner, as if to remind us that, at heart, ‘he’s really just a family man’ forced by circumstances to take matters into his own hands. This important step in the metamorphosis of Walter is again mitigated by several factors: children, the family and everyday domestic life. Self-defence is, of course, the justification for these deaths, but the devotion of a father towards his little baby also enter into the moral and emotional equation that characterises Breaking Bad. This article will be structured according to four sections: first, we will examine the rise of antiheroes over the past decade, exploring the ideological, industrial and narrative reasons that explain their success. Secondly, we will address how spectators engage morally and emotionally with the moving image, paying special attention to the specific nature of TV narrative. Thirdly, we will analyse the four main dramatic strategies that strengthen our identification with these morally conflicted characters: moral comparatism , the soothing power of family, acts of contrition and victimization. Lastly, we will propose a discussion over the ‘levels of engagement’ described by Smith and expanded by Vaage for television, in order to explore what the limits of sympathetic allegiance are, and how both the spectator and the narrative need to recover it cyclically.
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