Everything is rightfully about Coronavirus now, but I find myself looking over the present moment’s shoulder, even more concerned about pandemics and other catastrophes to come than I am about this one. The scariest thing to me is: my country keeps proving itself so childish in the way we handle big things.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but many who did, reasoned that if there were a serious challenge, even he would rise to the occasion. Yet an almost intentional failure has happened precisely because our system prides itself on having breathing room to take reckless risks.
“We the people” have such faith in our checks and balances! We have such blind trust that we go on with life as usual in the face of ridiculous antics and entirely transparent circus shows from those with power (we give them), believing an invisible good will beneath it all will eventually break through.
[spoilers ahead for Better Call Saul season 5/episode 5]
Wisdom comes through unlikely places, and last night a little came through for me while watching Better Call Saul, a show based on a side character in Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul is a less brutal show than Breaking Bad, but deals with the same gritty Shakespearean themes. Whereas Walter White was a good guy until given the pressure and opportunity to reveal otherwise, Saul is assumed to be helplessly shady, and falls into the same disruptive patterns over and over again.
But we still root for him. Which seems so… American.
I think we root for the playfulness, his dancing on the edge. Life has dealt him a raw deal and in a twisted way, he’s making Art out of it. We could see him as a crazy wisdom character, alchemizing suffering. Still, we’re aware every second, that we’re watching a tragedy unfold.
I loved this last episode… seeing just how blatant a con-man Saul can be, how adeptly and shamelessly he is wields his rage against a giant force. I was delighted as he pulled one rabbit after another out of his proverbial hat, because that’s where the difference between the two characters (Walter White/Saul Goodman) reveals itself most strongly.
Talent appears in service to something for both characters, but perhaps Saul’s pain, therefore his motive, is more pure? A character like that can be endearing.
But are we also locked in to a larger tragedy unfolding, in our time? Could this be a peek at the script? I find this pandemic, as horrible as it is (and it is, which is hard to feel when buffered by our creature comforts and internet), to be a warning shot.
Stop… pay attention now. We can still change.
So many in my country have a romantic sensibility of the pioneering West as a vast open land where individuality can flourish, and bad taste too, if it chooses. In a vast open land, territorial conflicts are handled by just the people involved; people look each other in the eye… push each other left or right over time. Who has time to micromanage the social dynamics in the village next door? If I don’t vaccinate my kids that’s on me, and the consequences are mine.
Someone who sees the world this way could indeed vote for what a Donald Trump appeared and sometimes appears to be. They might see themselves as the man Saul seems to be standing up for against the impenetrable interests whittling away at their lives, by using whatever ridiculous antics it takes.
But see, in the end, Saul doesn’t really care about that man. The character is just on his own side. His pain doesn’t carry some grand transformative vision. I think that is the end of the story, tragic though it may be.