antiheroes and the viewers who love them

Can We Make Walter White Our Last Antihero, Please?

At some point during the Breaking Bad finale, my feelings shifted from tense anticipation to increasingly calm relief. It wasn’t that the action of the episode had abated — everyone’s heart races when they hear a machine gun, no? — but I started to realize, as the Walter White saga wound down, that television was coming to the end of an era, one I’m more than happy to say good-bye to. The end of Breaking Bad also marks the end of the antihero. One hopes.

It’s not that I can’t enjoy an antihero show. The Shield changed my life. (And not just because it’s excellent; I landed my first writing job after pitching an article about the show.) I’ve never taken a show more seriously than I take Mad Men. And it’s been my experience that all television writers are legally required to leave offerings at the altar of The Sopranos. Also: I recommend Justified to people all the time; I stuck with Dexter to the bitter, bitter end; and I have enjoyed, with various levels of delight, the antihero showcases Luck, Prison Break, House, Rescue Me, 24, Lights Out, Boardwalk Empire, Terriers, House of Cards, and Sons of Anarchy. Somehow, I even watched five seasons of Californication. On the rare occasions that antihero shows are about women or people of color, I’ve watched those, too: Weeds, Damages, Nurse Jackie, Luther, Thief.

But now I’m done! We all are! We don’t want to watch another troubled special snowflake purposefully glare into the camera while the muzzle of a handgun obscures his body in the foreground. We don’t want another scene with someone waking up next to a dead stripper, or relying on the sage and salty wisdom of a crusty old street prostitute, or silently but potently resenting a distant spouse and onerous children. We get it already. My antihero exhaustion may explain why I couldn’t power through Ray Donovan or Low Winter Sun. I just can’t do it anymore.

It’s not that antihero shows are inherently bad. Many, like the dearly departed Breaking Bad, are excellent — so many, in fact, that the antihero genre has become semi-synonymous with prestige, which is how merely okay shows like House of Cards wind up being praised far beyond their actual level of quality. But with the end of Breaking Bad, we’ve seen the quintessence of antiheroes come and go. Until Walter White’s star fades at least a little, it’s pointless trying to outshine him. We have Mad Men, Justified, and Nurse Jackie to help ease us off the sauce, and after that, it’s time for something new. To everything, there is a season — and here’s hoping a new one will usher in anything other than antiheroes.

Let the Antiheroes End With Walter White