11 July 2013


Unless you're here to read the "back-catalogue" of Jeff Wills' thoughts and memories from December 18, 2006, through July 10, 2013. If that's why you're here, then good. You've landed. This here 'blog is exclusive to that period, and includes formatting and (some of the) images associated with the given date.

HOWEVER. There is all this AND MORE here:

New posts. Current topics. Better writing. Please add it to your subscriptions, check with it daily, obsess to an unhealthy degree. (While you're at it, you could also add http://www.jeffwills.net/jeffwillsshows/ for appearance updates.) Thank you.

I mean it: THANK you.

10 July 2013

Winging Away

As promised (see 4/24/13), the Aviary is moving. I had my personal and aspirational reasons for doing so, which have lately been enhanced by some intuition about how Google will be handling their online offerings over the next few years. To wit: They will consolidate. Maybe this only means Blogger will become part of the G+ fold, maybe it means it will be replaced in lieu of a quicker, lighter posting platform. It's not for me to say, but when you add this belief to the priority of gathering myself under one domain, they only choice left is to pack up and move.

I'm a sentimental sort. Even something as pragmatic and insubstantial as changing a blogging platform gives me pause to reflect. We've had some times, haven't we...?


...Whew! Thank goodness you happened to have a meat craving and unlatch this freezer locker, otherwise we would've frozen to death any minute now, for sure!

(You've no idea how much I relish that Three's Company reference. Enough, shall we leave it said, to actually [if but casually] cite my reference.)

Mostly I think about many of the themes expressed in my No, YOU Tell It! contribution (see 4/15[-22]/13). Themes such as idealism, naïveté and self-control; growth and transformation; choice and chance. I hesitated to start this here 'blog. The notion of essentially "journaling" at that particular stage of my life and in such a public fashion bothered me for several reasons. It would be revealing, it would be eventually (though hopefully not quickly) outdated, it would be time-consuming, it would be kind of permanent in a new way. In particular, I was aware it meant I couldn't hide or lie very effectively anymore.

That suggests that I was some kind of flagrant and deceptive con artist, and I was not. I was, however, a young actor struggling to make it all work. So I'd say I lied as much as the next struggling young actor, trying to make it all work. My hat's off to those amongst you who found a way to struggle more honestly. I had a sheaf of ready-made lies and excuses for my work, my relationships, and of course myself. Writing it all down in a public journal would make me accountable. What I was surprised to rapidly realize was that I liked being held accountable.

I am embarrassed - very embarrassed - by old diaries. These are documents no one can ever read but me, yet all I can see in them is shame for how naïve or blind I was. They seem like records of ignorance, like I always manage to catch myself when I'm stuck or in-between discoveries. Somehow, having an audience for my diary helped me to grow through writing it. To capture my ignorance, yes, but also the realizations and growth that came about out of that blindness. I'm quite grateful for that. It wasn't what I intended.

What I intended was to grab a little corner of the Internet that I could personally impact (as opposed to my then-new, contracted website) and, out of that decision, eventually to create a record of the struggle to live a meaningful life. I suppose it was the twin goals of meaning and honesty that led me to where I am - meaning by purpose, honesty by accident.

This is not the end of that process. I am not yet as honest as I could be. There's meaning yet to be found. But progress is change, and change I must.

So, there will be one more post at this address - a bit of a perma-post - directing you to by all means pore over the back-catalogue, but also follow me over to the new base of operations. Who knows what we'll find there?

24 April 2013

Biding a Do: Change and Its...Anticipation

Hwæt: I am considering moving Odin's Aviary - which since its inception has called Blogger its home - on over to my refreshed website. The reasons are various and sensible; the hesitation largely ignorant and nostalgic. Yet I tarry.

This week I performed, and had my writing performed, at No, You Tell It!, which was a much-anticipated event on my part that I used as motivation to get certain of my creative goals in order, post-initiation into fatherhood. I try occasionally to set my own deadlines, but they're never as effective as those applied to me by an outside party.

Anyway, as I frenetically revised my personal narrative for April 22nd, I also finally got off my duff to re-engineer my website for April 6th, when the press for the event would start. When I passed around the new website for feedback, the ever-amazing Pavarti gave me a laundry list of "suggestions," primary of which was to get the dang Aviary over where I profess to call myself some kind of writer, and tout de suite.

There is an interesting thematic overlap here, of the sort I used to often experience early in my acting career. In those days, I attributed it to rather mysterious, quasi-Jungian synergy - a sign of "following the path." Now-a-days, I tend to think of it as me trying to tell myself something, quietly yet persistently, from the background of the daily struggle and strife. Either way, it is that weird sensation of life imitating art. Or whatever whatever.

I took to the revision of my website as something of a workshop in figuring out what in the hell I'd be doing as a creative person who's prioritized the support of his family over unbounded freedom to act like an actor. I took to the writing assignment for No, You Tell It! as a workshop in really going for effective and significant revision of my writing. We were all writing to a theme - in this case: "outdated" - and I ended up writing about becoming a parent, the life cycle of a theatre troupe and the regular yet somehow unpredictable rhythms of life itself.

All of this seems very well-ordered, connected and natural. I assure you: I PLANNED NOTHING. I'M MAKING THIS UP AS I GO ALONG.

As I always have. I need to surprise myself. It's at least to some extent a coping mechanism - aimed against depression, uncertainty, insecurity. There's a tension in my life - between a need for order and a need for surprise - that is mirrored in my writing process. I mean, I have written from an outline before. Usually it's under duress, on threat of torture by 1) a writing partner, and/or 2) an admittedly limited personal capacity for long-term memory. Generally speaking however, what I enjoy about writing is the surprises the process brings me.

It's not dissimilar to improvised comedy. You have an invisible framework - threes, setup/suspension/punchline, what-you-will - and just try to make poking around in the dark as interesting and relevant as possible until you hit on the hilarious. It is all about the moment, and nothing feels quite as like magic as that discovery. It would be a shame to capture it, mold it, distort what is plainly inspiration into something staid and flat and un-prophet-able.

So has gone my internal justification for not working over my own work when it comes to writing. Revision would squelch whatever was special about the original experience. Prove a dishonor to that inspiration. What an incredible excuse.

So how does someone who has it built into his philosophy not to revise, go about revising his life?

Though it seems grandiose to put it that way, it does not feel like an exaggeration. Even if becoming a parent hadn't meant sacrificing certain other creative opportunities, if I had attained a level of fiscal success that allowed me to keep acting up a storm and keep coming home by 5:00, parenthood still necessitates learning how to better order one's life. I laugh, derisively, at my younger self's occasional complaints of a lack of time or occasional boredom. Then I cry just a little bit, inside, before hitching up my (sexy) work slacks and tackling another day.

I did some good work through No, You Tell It!, work I'm proud about, toward learning how to effectively step back and revise. And my website looks much better. I count these successes. But: I did not succeed.

I did not succeed because the website, though it is pretty and more functional, still lacks direction - intention - and still emphasizes me as an actor. I did not succeed because my piece for the "outdated" event suffered in similar ways, still written in a voice aggressively eschewing an easy read, and still emphasizing exploration over communication. I still don't know what I'm doing. But I'm on the path, physically and metaphysically, which is sometimes the best you can do.

So there will be more changes coming - revisions, if you will (and whether you will or won't, frankly). Among these: Odin's Aviary will be transplanted to live under my moniker, part of the unified-field-theory of Jeff.

Perhaps somehow prescient of this, one of the live interview questions asked of me on stage at No, You Tell It! in prelude to my story being presented was about this here 'blog title. I explained about thought and memory, Huginn and Muninn, and how that seemed appropriate for a personal 'blog, without getting into my nigh fetishistic adoration of ravens. One interesting thing I failed to realize until just now, however, is that a primary characteristic of Odin himself is...fatherhood.

There might be something to this "reviewing what we create" after all.
Found here.

22 April 2013

NYTI FINAL: Pining 4 U

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13: 
"Pine trees are the first to grow back after a fire. Also, Euripides uses one to symbolize emasculation in The Bacchae."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm TONIGHT, Y'ALL, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation. It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know. Hope to see you there!

21 April 2013

NYTI #7: Slap Dash

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13: 
"I glance down at one of five insane costumes I will be rapidly tearing off and slapping back on between scenes as I transition from archetype to archetype. It is all tight, colorful stripes - vertical on the pants, horizontal on the shirt - with a vest and a bellboy’s elastic-strapped fez layered atop."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

20 April 2013

NYTI #6: Hang the Cheese

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13: 
"By 'backstage' in this context, I of course mean behind an incredibly tall hanging of cheesecloth, suspended from clothesline."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

19 April 2013

NYTI #5: Cherish with Care

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13: 
"She comes by her careful appreciation naturally, just like her über-organized, former-dancer-turned-archivist mother."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

18 April 2013

NYTI #4: Excessive Creative Force

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13: 
"I’ve willingly created someone who exists to replace and exceed me."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

17 April 2013

NYTI #3: Falling Behind

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13:
"I was a physical comedian - speaking of 'behind the times.'"
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

16 April 2013

NYTI #2: Paradise Lost

For context, please see the post of 4/15/13:
"Any new parent will tell you: Thank God for streaming television. I am enjoying the hell from out of Lost. You know: the television show? The one with which everyone seems still to be a little angry over its ending? I haven’t seen its ending. I haven’t even seen all that far past its beginning. And, as far as I can tell, people who are pissed about its potential Purgatorial persuasion envy me that. My innocence."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

15 April 2013

NYTI #1: Personal (Revisionist) History

Image (redacted) by
Sha-Nee Williams.
In about a week, I'll be performing on stage again. Twice, in a way. Once performing a reading of someone else's personal narrative. The same night, that person will be performing my own - and I will be sitting on stage while he or she does so (just as they will for my recitation). Of the two, I'm far more nervous for the latter, because I'm not sure I got my story right.

No, YOU Tell It! is a great "switched-up storytelling" event that I came to by way of my participation in Liars' League NYC a few months ago. It combines the experiences of storytelling and story-writing in interesting work, providing a venue not only for hearing your words performed by someone else, but one in which you workshop those words with your fellow performers, a couple of directors, and the NYTI organizers. Accordingly, for the past few weeks I've met with a group of collaborators to hammer out my written contribution to the evening. It's been an ideal situation in which to work on something I generally try to avoid - revision.

But how much revision can possibly be required of a personal narrative, in which the events are all a matter of historical record? I thought gamely to myself, imagining perhaps that I was getting away with a kind of self-congratulatory "discipline." Turns out: A lot. A whole lot.

I believe you cannot call yourself a writer if you don't thoroughly revise. Part of the beauty of writing is that one has absolute control, and can benefit from applying perspective broadened by almost limitless time and objectivity to a single moment of the audience's experience. So why do I avoid it? Frankly, it's painful. I've known writers who enjoy the process, who in fact struggle through the blank page and cranking out letter after letter just in the hopes of reaching the stage of the chisel. All they want is to refine, and cut away the excess. Weirdos.

Every error stings. Without getting too analytical: I think my pain has something to do with a need to be right, smart, and - as you might be inclined to infer - right smart. It is an indubitable personal flaw. Particularly when coupled with my propensity for excessive verbiage and high-falutin' vocabulary. And is it not truly intelligent to apply attention to turning out a finished and considered product? Ah, well. I am an convoluted conundrum wrapped in a non-redacted riddle.

I viewed this No, You Tell It! experience as a unique opportunity to challenge the pain and 1) write a first draft heedless of polish, and 2) revise it, cut it and "kill my darlings" all to heck-and-back. I even revised my website in the process, which was long overdue, and may soon be moving this here 'blog over to there. Consolidation is the key to an awesome thing.

But I had somehow to mitigate the pain of censoring my unbound, inspired genius (IRONY). So I collected the longer or more inspired cuts (read: I hoarded every last deletion) and will present one daily - without any particular context - leading up to next Monday's premiere of my personal narrative: Lost Track. And so, without further ado, I present to you the first in a series of excerpts not good enough for a final product:
"Theatre, you know, is widely considered to be behind-the-times. But it takes a particular appreciation to specialize in a form of theatre that had its heyday in fourteenth-century Italy. That means that when people ask you what you do, you not only have to hope they accept your willingness to invest time and energy into a medium that pays nothing and nobody seems to especially want around, but A SUBSET OF that medium that seems for all intents and purposes to be dead and gone."
No, YOU Tell It! - "Outdated" takes place 7:00 pm Monday, April 22nd, at Jimmy's 43, and requires no ticket, nor reservation (though you may have plenty after reading this). It fills up quick, and the bar is crowded so...you know.

30 January 2013

Tethered: Cell Phones and Perception

Found here.
When I leaned over the toilet to pick up my glasses from the back of it, the stupid, hipster, sideways breast pocket of my hoodie released my iPhone into the drink. Without hesitation (but not without some yelling) I plunged my hand into the toilet, pulled out my phone and plunged it into a jar of rice in the kitchen that had been sitting there almost as if it was prepared for just such an occasion. The Internet - though as-yet lacking in reliable and cohesive commedia dell'arte research material - is awfully good at keeping one informed of the restorative properties of monocot seeds vis-à-vis drowned status symbols.

I won't go into the state of the toilet's bowl when the dive and dunk took place. And you're welcome.

And so now, and in fact for the past >48 hours, my phone has sat idly in a soon-to-be-disposed-of jar of rice on my counter. Wednesday night, or perhaps Thursday morning, I will retrieve it, pick the grains from out its orifices, charge it and see what happens and what will never happen again once it is turned on. It's like an amazing game of chance that I did not wish to play, thrust upon me by eccentric fashion choices and erratic podcast-listening habits.

I'm hardly the first to write about being phone-less for a time, and my experience is not new. I've felt a phantom limb in my right trouser pocket, some wisp of a weighty wafer that occasionally buzzes against my thigh, and then is not there when I go to pat it quiet. I've felt lost, and been nearly literally lost in search of a particular coffee place on my lunch break. I've contacted my nearest and dearest in an email out of which I could not quite keep a semi-panicked tone, alerting them of how they could contact me, and of course all of my Facebook influence has gone into making sure my 600+ "friends" aren't confused by the sudden drop-off in visual media in my timestream.

I've also been reminded of something good, now thirteen years gone.

When I first moved to New York, I bought a pager. This was a half-and-half decision. Half was for want of liquid assets. The other half of my reasoning, however (bolstered as so many of my decisions at the time were by the friction of my then-girlfriend's opposite opinion), was that a cell phone would tie me down and make me a servant to its interruptions. This was, mind you, prior to email push notifications and in-plan SMS messaging, though not prior to the screening delights of caller I.D. It was just the notion of being called to which I objected.

In under three months, I closed my pager account and upgraded to a cell phone. I have never been without one since.

Those of you who have or do not live in an urban environment may not have a full appreciation of my relationship to my cell phone. I've written a little bit before (see 6/19/12) about the metamorphic effects that portable media devices have had on society. We could go on all day about the myriad ways in which these glorious, seductive machines have helped us carve out private space in an environment that would rob us of every inch of personal boundary. We'd need another day for how many ways the same tools have connected us with others regardless of differences in time, geography and even language. Just about anyone, anywhere, who has even the most basic mobile phone can at least appreciate the altered landscape of situations of emergency and plain ol' personal agency. For example, pre-info-phone I used to call my friends with desk jobs and ask them to look things up for me when I was on the go. People with flip phones still do that.

What I forgot, and that of which being phoneless has reminded me, is how it feels to be free. I know that's corny. I fully acknowledge that freedom is too abstract to properly define, much less describe as an emotion or sensation, and that anyway what I'm writing about here is little more than a personal perception. What's definitive, and what shocks me, is that I forgot.

I forgot this feeling, this sensation of being untethered, of stepping out the door - any door - and simply not knowing what might happen. Even happily (well: semi-happily) plugged into my blaring iPod shuffle, I am instinctively more alert, aware from a subconscious place that at any moment I will be called upon to be resourceful for myself. That makes it sound a bit panicked, and I admit to a mild thrill, but what the sensation is more akin to is that of arriving in a new country. Maybe even one in which you don't speak the language. All is slightly more interesting, slightly fuller with possibility.

An example: On my lunch break, I wanted to find a small side table for our nursery (finding Mud coffee was a little side-mission I tacked on to this). This table had to fit some very specific dimensions and criteria, and I wasn't sure where to look, and I didn't think of it while I was set at my computer and had Google at my fingertips. So I walked. I walked a lot, at a good clip, and past and through a variety of places, only half of them planned. I didn't find the table. Instead, I learned about options, narrowed my criteria and had new ideas about how to solve a mundane issue. Most significant - I wasn't bored. Nor was I anxious. I was engaged.

It's ironic how much discussion of engagement is involved when we discuss Internet media and marketing. Subconsciously, I've come to think of "engagement" as a kind of rapt attention, a push-button-get-pellet reflex, as whatever twitch has kept me comin' on back to build a quirky little empire in my Battle Nations app. But real engagement is something different, something more owned than possessing of us, and the ultimate irony is that real engagement has been my artistic focus for over a decade and I FORGOT what it FEELS LIKE.

My argument for the theatre as a relevant - in fact necessary - form of expression in contemporary society is: It is the most accessible one for carrying us from a virtual-experience comfort zone through to actual experience. Like it or not, we experience the majority of our entertainment (and an rapidly increasing portion of our life) through a window. We are protected, anonymous, insulated, with planned and recorded media for which we choose the time and place, brilliantly lit in a clean frame. Live theatre is uniquely designed to utilize this frame - this proscenium - to transport audiences from twitchy, push-button catharsis to actual engagement with stories, issues and communities.

I am not going to give up on-the-go Internet access. Much as I have flirted with quitting Facebook, I don't see that happening any time soon either (though really: gang: we can do all that stuff without their privacy and proprietary bullcrap: I'm just sayin'). What I may do, once this respite from personal technology has passed, is occasionally leave my cell phone at home. I may head out the door to where I do not know.

Many people I know can nurture that sense of freedom and engagement on a daily basis with full access to their technology. (These are often the same people who have no sense of shame about keeping me waiting for ten or more minutes, and who are way more fun at parties.) I can not. I'd suggest you test yourself - wherever you may think you fall on the scale - and see what being untethered teaches you.

16 January 2013

All Hail the King: Walter White as Tragic Hero

"This is the first day of the rest of your life, but what kind of life will it be, huh? Will it be a life of fear, of 'Oh, no no no I can't do this'? Of never once believing in yourself?"
-Walter White, Breaking Bad, Season 1, Episode 7: A No-Rough-Stuff Type Deal
For as long as I can remember, Hamlet has been my favorite classical play. At times, it has been my favorite all-around play. I have a personal theory (which I have absolutely no interest in proving) that a significant factor in Hamlet's continuing popularity is that it hits so many young men at just the right time in their lives for identifying with angst, indecision, patricide, and so much else. It is a truly great work of literature, and it's a great play - though that latter is as much for flaunting the rules as for any decent playcraft.

What I find extremely interesting about people's responses to the play, however, is something that I believe they tend to neglect in their interpretation of it. That is, the concept of divine order (or justice) that permeated Shakespeare's life at the time he wrote it. Very few people question the morality of Hamlet's actions in the course of avenging his father's death, apart from perhaps having some qualms about how it all works out for poor Ophelia. Yet the play is mercilessly just. In his pursuit of a murderer, Hamlet becomes a murderer, and is thus killed himself.

When Breaking Bad first premiered, the concept was so bizarre I and Wife Megan felt we had to give it a shot. AMC was just transitioning into its phase of incredible original programming, and that as much as the critical buzz and series conceit was so strange we just had to see what it was all about. Embarrassingly, I don't believe we made it through the first episode. I found it too bleak by half. Maybe if I had lasted the 45 minutes or so, I would've clued in to what makes the show so amazing but - as it is - I chose to leave it to the critics and cynics.

I'll admit I was wrong. I enjoy knowing when I'm wrong, even when admitting it is difficult. In this case, the admission is easy as pie. Breaking Bad is an exceptional example of drama and cinema, even outside of its television milieu, and I was a fool to wait as long as I have to catch up on its four seasons available to me. I'm now contemplating renting the first half of season 5, just to get caught up and experience the final episodes in real time - something I have never been compelled to do before.

I have another theory, one specific to Breaking Bad and its writers, and one that I've been debating a bit with a few people lately. This theory represents my personal hook into the series, which means I have a ready bias about it. If I'm wrong, I lose interest in the series or - worse yet - whenever the series finale rolls its way around I am bound for horrific disappointment in its story-telling. My bias is of course what leads me into debate about it. I need to test my theory against others' perceptions, to learn if I'm fooling myself.

It is so easy to fool oneself. You need only pay attention to yourself above all others.

My theory is this: Walter White is a character cast in the mould of the classic tragic hero. Furthermore, the writers know it, and use tragedy as their guiding principle for their tremendous, unified story arcs.

Found here.

Boring as it may be for a way to begin, I feel the urge (rising, UNSTOPPABLE) to define some terms. Many of the disagreements I have had with people on this theory have I believe sprung from one word: Villain. People seem very invested in the idea of Walter as a gradually developing villain, and when I call him a "hero," they take umbrage. They take it all the way to Mexico and back.

My use of the term "hero" in this sense is not strictly speaking the inverse of "villain." I mean a hero in the sense of a "protagonist." I'm not sure why the term "tragic protagonist" has never caught on - it has lovely consonance. Perhaps it's a preference for the inferred irony of some of literature's most villainous tragic heroes. And therein is the crux of the semantic difficulty - a tragic hero can be a real dickhead.

(Perhaps it's for another post, but I take umbrage [all the way to Umbria and back] with the misuse of the term "anti-hero." People seem to think they understand what an anti-hero is based on the concept of a hero as a swell, stand-up guy. Ergo, to them an "anti-hero" is someone imperfect or not nice. But that's rather missing the point, or at least beside it. Grrr. Anyway...)

So why is the definition of hero-protagonist (Snow Crash fans, amirite? Hello? Is this thing on...?) so critical? Well, to begin with, the dramaturgical definition of a hero is simply more useful than "a righteous dude." And to conclude: That definition supports my argument.

According to literature both literate and dramatic, a hero is:
  • Chosen, rather than choosing of his fate.
  • Reactionary, usually reacting to antagonist characters, but sometimes just to such forces.
  • On a journey, in which he will learn and gain things and eventually apply these winnings to the world from which he comes.
And that's about it, as far as commonalities go. Mythological heroes may be transformed, comicbook heroes may operate from super-natural abilities, and Scoob and the gang may always catch their criminal, but none of those factors define them as heroes. Heroes are our connection to a story of learning and change, our guides, and there are no promises either the story or the hero will end happily.

Enter tragedy. It's another much-maligned term, in that people tend to take the colloquial usage and apply it to fiction. It is of course tragic when six nuns die in a horrific and sudden bus accident, and still more tragic when sixteen newly ordained nuns on their way to give cookies to quadriplegic blind orphans die in a horrific and sudden bus accident, one that could've been prevented by the driver simply using Google Maps instead of Apple ones. But it is a travesty rather than a tragedy, in the dramaturgical sense.

In fiction, a tragedy has a specific form. It is not enough for things to end badly for all involved. If it were, you could have a hysterically funny play that in its last ten minutes kills every character you care for (Paging Martin McDonagh [Just kidding! {Really kidding - you don't care for his characters one bit!}]). Much as we might enjoy such a play or movie now, it doesn't qualify as a tragedy, because a tragedy has to do with inevitability. In a tragedy, we feel the end coming, and know 1) nothing will ever be the same afterward, and 2) there is nothing we can do about it.

So when I call Walter White a tragic hero, here's what I'm saying:

He is on a journey through strange territory, from which he is returning with things he applies to his origins. Hardly anyone would argue with this, I think. A good portion of the humor in the show has to do with Walter applying skills associated with his hard-earned "street cred" to his increasingly shaky suburban life. Whether it's carrying a second cell phone or learning how to get the drop on a thug, Mr. White has been on one darkly heroic cycle.

He reacts to antagonists. This is an easy one to get tripped up on. After all, Walt expends so much of his effort in maintaining or regaining control, and in the long run (to date) he's been very successful. He adopts little pretense by the end of season 4 - he is IN CHARGE, and "the one who knocks." It's also difficult to cite an antagonist to Walt when we first meet him. Who's got it out for him when he's a mild-mannered chemistry teacher? Certainly not his overbearing boss at the car wash? Nope.

No, it's cancer.

An antagonist isn't defined solely by being in opposition to the protagonist. Something very important is accomplished by the antagonist - the inciting action. The thing that gets the ball rolling on the plot, for the hero to react off of. It can seem counter-intuitive at first; we'd like to believe that we are good, and that good is active, but consider for a moment some incredibly heroic story (in the "heroism" sense). Odds are you'll see Superman doesn't appear until some schmuck falls off a skyscraper, and Beowulf can't get decisive until Grendel rends a few limbs himself.

Cancer incites Walter to his new lifestyle, and is what threatens to prevent him from achieving his aim of providing enough support for his family once he's gone. It does so directly, by occasionally crippling him when he has to cook meth or kill a dealer, and indirectly, by threatening to end his life before he can pull through enough business to make his gamble worthwhile. The antagonism passes hands (not to Tuco - that's a period during which the plot frankly frays) to Gus just about as systematically as possible. In the beginning, Gus is literally impelling Walt to return to cooking, and Walt's cancer even abates in conjunction with his increasing fear for his life under the threat of Gus's rule.

He has a fatal flaw that will prove his downfall. This is some of that inevitability I referred to earlier. Beyond the vague sense that this series of events can't possibly work out in Walter's favor, he has to evince some seed of failure or lack of insight that will eventually destroy him. Oedipus had his figurative (eventually literal) blindness about his parents, Macbeth his ambition, Lear his prideful vanity. Pride is a classic.

Hubris - overbearing pride or presumption. Mr. White has it in spades. It could be argued to be his characteristic trait. It prevents him from getting out of his dangerous business, from accepting financial help from an old colleague and flame, and drives him to improve and protect his product. So prideful is he, in fact, that Walt may have allowed Hank to find him out as "Heisenberg" rather than allow someone otherwise uninvolved in his affairs to believe he wasn't responsible for that magically pure meth. It remains to be seen if that moment of pure hubris will prove his tragic flaw. Walt's ever-shifting momentum and position make for some taut suspense on that count.

He is a noble/every-man, brought low for the gratification of the masses. With Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller very specifically made a tragedy of someone who was not a king, thereby implanting the idea of a tragic everyman as something of a contemporary American take on tragedy. We can certainly argue for Walter being an everyman like Willy Loman - an imperfect working man simultaneously sacrificing all for, yet undermining his family - but I'd also argue he can be perceived as something of the knighted class. He represents white, middle-class America, and though he's hardly well-off he also stands in stark contrast of benefit to the meth addicts and pushers with whom he comes to consort.

For a time, at least.

Walter White is chosen. This may be the toughest point to argue, and brings us back around to the beginning of the story of Breaking Bad. Walt proving a predominantly reactive character does not of itself indicate that he is chosen, merely that he is subject to much circumstance (which is of itself a rather Shakespearean tragic-hero trait; but never mind). No amount of strange conjunction (like the grief-addled father of his partner's deceased girlfriend crashing a couple of planes over his house at just the right time) or unique portents (such as a roving stuffed bear's eye) or elaborate subsurface camera angles proves W.W. to be the chosen one. The question to answer is, "Why must it be him?"

This is where kings have it all worked out. They are ordained by God, generally speaking, and the land suffers as they do. It's hard to get more chosen than that. It's difficult to say whether or not there is a God in the world in which Breaking Bad's story is told (and here again we have a whole other dissertation) but if there is, he or she seems to be pretty far from the crime scene, so to speak. Still, there's another divine factor that we contemporary audiences are somehow less reticent to accept as a part of our stories. I'm speaking of course of fate.

If you rewatch the first episode of Breaking Bad, it's hard not to feel as though forces are aligning to send Walt down his eventual path. Every incident gives a subtle, necessary nudge to him, from how his diagnosis is delivered to his being along for a scouting mission on a meth lab a former student happens to be involved in. In the hands of lesser talent, this would read simply as weak writing, but the trend of Breaking Bad has been to continue to make excellent use of far-reaching and interwoven influences. In fact, the structure of whole episodes and even seasons involves setting up a quixotic moment ahead of the story, in the future, making the action of the story a steady march to that inevitable conclusion. As though it's delivered to us by a soothsayer - we don't know what to make of the brief portent of what's to come when we receive it and once it becomes clear ... it's too late.

Walter White was destined to his fate, and it could be none other than him. All that remains is to see where that fate ultimately lands him.

Found here.

How I Will Know That I'm Right:
  • There will be an antagonist in season 5.
  • Walt will die - preferably as a direct result of his hubris.
  • There is a God. Or at least a sense of divine order.
  • You'll tell me.
I have plans (SECRET WAYS) to see what's been aired of season 5 soon enough, though I frankly expect it to seem to refute my argument. At least, if I were the writers breaking (har har) a fresh season at the midway point, I would probably raise my protagonist up pretty high. All in preparation for one very tragic fall.