Monday, September 16, 2013

Walt, Jr., Hank, and Tio Salamanca

I've been burning through episodes of "Breaking Bad" on Netflix. I'm almost done with Season 4, and there are more interesting disability themes than I thought. There's Walter, Jr. of course. His CP lays nicely in the background, only very rarely playing a crucial part in a side story or two. But a couple of those times have been really interesting interactions between Walter, Jr. and Hank, who is slowly, painfully recovering from terrible injuries that have him still in a wheelchair what seems like months after being attacked.

At first, I didn't buy Hank's infantile pouting, self-pity, and meanness to everyone around him. I get that Hank has always been a physical man, who might be expected to take possibly permanent disability pretty hard. On the other hand, he's also supposed to be be about perseverance, outside the box thinking, and swagger, which could lead a man like him to tough out rehab. and even disability with more aplomb that he has.

Now Hank is back on the case, so to speak, his attitude does seem to have changed. In the meantime, we got a couple of strong but subtle scenes where Walter, Jr. and Hank almost seem to bond with each other over the common experience of disability. I might be reading too much into these little scenes, but I felt like I saw it, and I liked it.

Plus, there's Tio Salamanca, the old Mexican Cartel dude who's been around on the show, off and on since the Second Season … the guy in the wheelchair, with the oxygen cannula and the "Ding! Ding! Ding!" bell he uses to communicate … along with his intense facial contortions … presumably because of a stroke some years before. Gus Fring, in particular, uses Salamanca's "helpless" situation to sweeten his revenge. Salamanca has no choice but to sit there in his wheelchair, in the nursing home, and listen to Gus describe the latest details of his revenge against various members of his family. He can't say anything, or do anything about it except tremble with rage. It's a potent way to underscore what a badass Gus is, and don't get me wrong, the old man is a horrible human being, we know this. But, what should we feel about how the old man's disability is used here, by the characters, but also by the writers? Earlier in the series, it helped emphasize his power. The sheer intensity of his will and the loyalty of his family made Salamanca powerful, almost in reverse proportion to his physical abilities. That little bell spoke loud. Now, it seems the opposite is true. All he can do is sit there. He doesn't even seem to have his bell anymore. Is that what happens when you go into a nursing home, you loose whatever bit of power and autonomy you had left, even if you are a feared drug lord?

It seems like disability stuff can show up anywhere in pop culture these days, and the parts it plays can be complex and multilayered as some of the shows in which it appears.