After seeing young Sally Draper down a Seconal, it occurred to us that while AMC’s current roster of hour-long dramas may not seem to have all that much in common, there is one unifying trait that bonds the lives of Don and Betty Draper, Walter and Skyler White, Detective Sarah Linden and Rick and Lori Grimes: They all love to neglect their children. Not since the heyday of the desperate, late-season new baby/orphan story lines of our childhood (where are those other Full House twins now?) have there been so many unwanted TV kids trying to stay out of their parents’ ways.
Walter White Sr. has always claimed that he became a meth kingpin on account of his family, but by this point, he doesn’t even pretend to want to hang out with his son.When Skyler offered to let him come home, Walt Sr. opted instead to return to his pre-furnished bachelor pad. He missed Walt Jr.’s birthday and then called him by his “true” son’s name, Jesse. Nothing Walt Jr. does is good enough to earn his father’s approval, not even the charity website he starts that ends up providing the perfect solution to the problem of how to launder drug money.
Number of times in danger: Once, directly, when White Sr. forced him to pound shots of tequila. Often, indirectly, given the everyday threat of death that he lives under depending on whichever sociopathic rival drug dealer is currently pissed off at his father.
Most obvious acting-out moment: When he dropped his father’s name and started going by Flynn.
Who is to blame — parents or circumstance? Oh, the father, definitely.
Likelihood of long-term psychological damage: Mixed. If his dad dies next season, he has a fighting chance at “normalcy.” Otherwise he’s probably in for a lifetime of jail visits and sad breakfasts at home with Holly, since that’s the only meal he was ever taught to make. Learning about Jesse will mess him up more than finding out about the meth and cause him to go through an unfortunate midlife fashion crisis. The damage caused by receiving a purple PT Cruiser for his birthday is incalculable.
Abandoned by his dad as a baby and his detective mother on a daily basis, this 13-year-old spends his days ditching school, sneaking smokes, and being confined to a hotel room where, for some reason, he never turns on the TV. He went from not wanting to move out of Seattle at the beginning of season one to just wanting his mom to commit to something (we can only imagine how often she’s dipped into his college fund to pay for all those airplane cancellation fees
Number of times in danger: At least twice if we’re saying that drug tunnel story line happened. The other time was during the paintball outing with his friends (those things can really smart!). Also, he seems generally malnourished.
Most obvious acting-out moments: E-mailing Rosie Larsen’s crime-scene photos to his friends; hanging out in a drug tunnel; cutting school.
Who is to blame — parents or circumstance? We give twenty percent to the environment — with all this rain, who wouldn’t have some form of mild depression — but it’s clear that this mostly falls on the ‘rents. In the beginning, you could’ve made a weak case for blaming Sarah’s boss, who made her stick around to handle Rosie’s murder, but we always knew that was just a dumb plot device.
Likelihood of long-term psychological damage: He is probably going to turn out like his mom. She was moved around from foster home to foster home as a kid and so doesn’t know what a stable home is or how to provide it. You’d think she might at least guess, though, that it doesn’t involve a motel room. He’ll follow the same pattern.
Photo: Carole Segal/AMC
Like Walt Jr., Sally’s neglect is written into her character. Betty’s bored disappointment with her life and Don’s own lack of parental role models have made Sally into who she is. Over the course of five seasons, we see her transform from a little girl who lolls around idly to a tween who regularly (and to great comic effect) lashes out at her folks, ushering in the entitled baby boomer generation one surly pout at a time.
Number of times in danger: At least four: when she was allowed to “play” with her mother’s plastic dry-cleaning bags over her head; when her grandfather allowed her to drive a car; when she ran away to Don’s office by herself; when she was given a Seconal by her step-grandmother.
Obvious acting-out moments: Smoking cigarettes; running away from home; falling for the bad boy who vandalizes her home; cutting off all her hair; enjoying a friend’s slumber party a little too much.
Who is to blame — parents or circumstance? It’s the sixties. Don’t you remember that scene in that Didion essay where the hippie parents leave their 3-year-old to chew on an electrical cord? No one’s paying any attention.
Likelihood of long-term psychological damage: High, likely to manifest in the form of an eating disorder and lifelong daddy complex. She’ll definitely be sleeping with her college professor. It’s about 50/50 as to whether or not she’ll turn out to be like her mother. She definitely exhibits Betty’s “poor me” tendencies and appears to be on her way toward developing a Seconal addiction.
In the grand history of starved-for-supervision television children, from Punky Brewster’s pal Cherie passing out in an abandoned fridge to this bit of “I guess this was okay back then?” business
, none have been saddled with heavier circumstances or stakes than Carl Grimes. Just look what happened to Dale after Carl was left on his own, with nothing to do but wander off into the woods and provoke zombies. He’s like Billy Mumy in that Twilight Zone episode, where he banishes anyone who crosses him into the cornfield or turns them into a jack-in-the-box. The minute there’s not enough attention being paid to Carl, someone ends up dead.
Number of times in danger: At least six times that we’ve seen — twice at the original campsite where Amy dies, once on the Sophia is Dead highway with the herd, in the woods with the zombie in the mud, in the field when he shoots zombie Shane, and in the season finale when he and his dad outrun the zombie masses. Still, it’s only slightly more than the threat of indirect death by his idiot supervisors, who allowed him to: get shot in the stomach by Otis after his mom lets him go zombie hunting with his dad, get stranded on the highway without food in the finale, and almost get blown up at the CDC.
Most obvious acting-out moments: His constant requests for loaded guns; refusing to take off that sheriff hat; sneaking into the barn to get a look at the farm’s prisoner; going and getting himself shot like an idiot.
Who is to blame — parents or circumstance? Normally, given that they are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, one would be inclined to give Rick and Lori Grimes a pass for any missteps made. But they are just so goddamn stupid. Parents FTW!
Likelihood of long-term psychological damage: Tremendous, if he survives. He’ll be taking showers with that hat on for the rest of his life and will forever feel guilty about never having had an actual conversation with Sophia while she was alive. Still, in this world “long-term” is relative.
Photo: Gene Page/AMC