When, and why, did American television and cinema viewers first fall in love with the Sociopath protagonist? Perhaps the audience was always there, nascent and ready to be born. My current favorite Sociopath television show is AMC’s Breaking Bad, the story of an ordinary, albeit resentful and self-loathing, married man who breaks out of his bourgeois cocoon to become a Methamphetamine dealer. His bourgeois name is the aptly constructed “Walter White,” representing the plain vanilla nature of his high school Chemistry teacher life in small town New Mexico. His alter ego name is “Heisenberg” (after Nobel winning German physicist Werner Heisenberg), chosen by White, to represent his genius in making the purest and best “Meth” ever seen in the Southwest and Mexico.
I think Coppola’s Godfather series created the modern heroic Sociopath. We rooted for Brando’s and Pacino’s characters, although Michael Corleone became unlikable by the end of Godfather II. Coppola was the first to romanticize the familiar character of the gangster in movies. But Quentin Tarantino perfected the generalized concept of the protagonist Sociopath. His breakout film was, of course, Pulp Fiction, a so-called dark comedy with such a wide variety of watchable sociopaths one could probably make a television series around virtually every major character in the film. In fact, the two strands of modern Sociopathic television and films can be plausibly traced to either Coppola or Tarantino. In the organized crime motif, for example, there is of course The Sopranos and the unfortunately canceled series Brotherhood. But shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad are in the dark comedy mode consistent with Tarantino’s sensibility.
Breaking Bad is in the midst of its third season. It is really hitting its stride. When the show was first promoted prior to its first season, I had no interest at all in seeing it. The premise seemed ridiculous and unappealing. Walter White is the epitome of an underachiever. He has his PHD in chemistry but is somehow stuck teaching high school students who have less than zero interest in the subject matter. He is diagnosed with cancer, which his insurance will not pay for. So he becomes a Meth dealer. This is how the show was promoted. Not only did I not want to watch it, I aggressively had an affirmative dislike for such an amoral and stupid theme. Plus who wants to watch a show where the main guy has cancer? Real life is bad enough; does one really want to watch a television show about it? (more at Big Hollywood…)