John Derbyshire reviews Breaking Bad:
Walter: I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was… really… I was alive.
There speaks the Old Adam. Sure, the bourgeois life of home comforts and civilized achievement is pretty nice. I am personally a big fan. Just this afternoon, of a perfect midsummer day, I was out in my backyard, doing some small painting chores on my garage; I’d sit for minutes on end admiring the work I’d done and planning next steps, looking forward to my wife coming home, anticipating the familiar wifely way she’d season her appreciation of my efforts with small sarcastic quips about jobs not yet done, then looking further forward to the extra glass of wine I’d allow myself with dinner… Life is good, and you won’t hear me complaining.
Still, inside most men — and no doubt some number of women, too — there is the understanding that to be alive, at some higher level, is to be staying on your feet in a swirl of amoral mayhem until at last, mortally wounded, you fall, laughing, among the corpses of your enemies.
Which is exactly what Walter does. Any number of characters from Greek epic poetry and Norse sagas would understand.
The great British statesman and scholar Enoch Powell gave a radio interview in April 1986 when he was 73 years old. “How would you like to be remembered?” asked the interviewer. Replied Powell: “I should like to have been killed in the war.”
Powell’s biographer adds the following.
After broadcasting that remark, he “received dozens of letters from people saying I’m glad you said that because I felt the same and I’ve never known it before. There’s a secret guilt about those who served and were not killed that they too… were not killed.”
The Old Adam: We have successfully pushed him out to the fringes of our pleasant suburban societies, the fringes where dwell Special Forces and inner-city desperadoes. A good thing too, for women, children, and us geezers. In our imaginations, though, the Old Adam still runs wild, and we love him for it.
Secret guilt is by no means only for combat survivors and schoolteachers turned meth cooks.