Margrethe Bruun Vaage is a lecturer in Film at the University of Kent. Her main area of research is the spectator’s engagement with fictional films and television series, and more specifically the imagination, the emotions and the moral psychology of fiction. She has published in journals such as such as the British Journal of Aesthetics, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, and Screen.
How suspense in Breaking Bad makes us root for the antihero but dislike his wife
Wednesday Wed 14 May 2014 | 4.00pm, Room 246
Walter White, the antihero of the American television series Breaking Bad, is clearly not a moral character. He makes drugs for a living, and has killed people in order to go on doing so. Nonetheless, spectators seem to sympathize with him. This paper investigates how suspense is used to enhance sympathy with Walter.
In Noël Carroll’s classical account, feelings of suspense are tied to a moral evaluation. The spectator wishes for one outcome – the moral one where the hero conquers the villain – but fears an immoral outcome. However, in his discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Richard Allen argues that suspense is not necessarily tied to moral evaluation. On the contrary, suspense sequences can be used to encourage sympathy with villainous characters. Allen labels this moral inversion of suspense.
I will argue that moral inversion of suspense can at least partly explain why we as spectators root for Walter. Furthermore, suspense is used in a way that even enhances antipathy towards Skyler, Walter’s wife, although rationally speaking Skyler is morally preferable to her husband.