This year I have become worryingly obsessed by two men. Both homicidal psychopaths. Both (thankfully) fictional.
Before you start judging…I’m not the only one. It seems anyone with a TV or an internet connection shares my homage to Walter White in Breaking Bad (played by Bryan Cranston) and Frank Underwood in House of Cards (starring Kevin Spacey).
I lost most of January to Breaking Bad (series 1-4 in four weeks – I know…impressive…thanks). And last week I averaged six hours of sleep a night as I finished series 2 of House of Cards through a succession of late night binges. I came home from evenings out and still thought I could soldier on with an episode or seven (no…couldn’t…woke up at 5am with my ipad on my face).
I’ve had many insightful ‘deep and meaningfuls’ with friends about the uneasy guilt we feel at our capacity to get behind Frank and Walter.
For most of us there is a tipping point where we descend into ‘outrage’ – (for me when Walt let Jane die and when Frank threw Zoe in front of that train). But most of us concede, after the initial shock of such betrayals, something in us still roots for these characters, we’re still on their side. We can rationalise their horrific crimes as necessary collateral damage.
The anti-hero is an interesting phenomenon (well to me at least). I know its been happening since before Shakespeare, but I’ve only just really noticed it on TV. I never got into The Sopranos, managed to resist the snake charms of Dom Draper and was just generally too busy watching Coronation Street (…not joking I genuinely record it – reminds me of home).
But it was Walt and Frank who turned me.
With Breaking Bad we see Walt White descend into darkness and hope for his redemption…sort of. But the audience ends up in that dark place too. Each warped decision becomes somehow defensible. In a show many see as a modern day Western, Walt has his own lawless code. We’re on his side against the world – because, after all, its an unfair world. He was the nice guy who did everything right, played the game and got screwed by life. For me, without wanting to sound too lofty/totally crazy, he represents the little man’s protest against an unjust society. Like Bryan Cranston said of his character in an amazing interview in Rolling Stone: ‘everyone is capable of being dangerous’.
With Frank Underwood he seems to have been born dangerous – our obsession lies in the why and how. There are times when I’ve genuinely hated him (why, WHY did he need to kill Peter and Zoe). There are scenes when Claire is reminiscent of a glistening Twilight-esque Vampire and you almost expect them both to rip away their beautiful faces to reveal Voldemort style evil skulls beneath.
HOC is limited in that it offers no credible alternatives – no one on the show can challenge the Underwoods – there is no ‘good’ to their ‘bad’. And don’t get me started on how the media are crushed Hitchcock style in a way I don’t think is plausible for today.
Bu that charisma, that humour, that knowing look Frank gives you? Its seductive. Its impressive. Worryingly, its familiar. I’ve seen lesser versions of it on Newsnight. I’m sure we’ve all see people like that in work. You know – the successful, unflappable ones.Come on – who hasn’t watched HOC and then considered trying to mimic Claire Underwood’s polished poise in meetings? OK then er… just me. Once, it lasted about two minutes. Turns out I can’t speak that slow or dress that well.
And I’m sure I’m not alone in occasionally thinking in difficult situations – ‘what would Walt or Frank do?’