How is a Drug Dealer Not Like a Police Detective?
Thoughts on Breaking Bad, Foyle's War, and the Shortfalls of Consequentialism
by Laura Scanlon
I have eight episodes of Breaking Bad left to watch, and I can’t wait to get them over with. Seriously, I need to get on with my life, and I can’t until I finish the show. It’s just that good.
My husband and I tried to think of what other shows can hold a candle to Breaking Bad, and the only one we could think of is Foyle’s War. Admittedly, we’re not avid television watchers, but I think the two shows are interesting to compare.
In Breaking Bad, Walter White’s downward spiral illustrates the mistakenness of letting ends justify means. He begins his life of crime in a sincere, if wrongheaded, attempt to provide for his family. In the end, though, his criminal enterprise becomes a quest for money, power, and revenge. Instead of protecting his family, he endangers them.
Walt’s good intentions cannot prevent his evil deeds from turning him into an evil person. What’s more, in attempt to provide for his family materially, he denies them what they really needed from him in the first place: his love, his presence, himself.
(A little aside here: I really do hope that an insurance company ran commercials during this show when it was airing. What a marketing opportunity! If ever there were a dramatic example of the importance of life insurance, this is it.)
And then we have Foyle. A police detective story set in England during World War II, Foyle’s War is not quite the equal of Breaking Bad in terms of acting, script, and plot. But Foyle as a character is. . . wait for it . . . the perfect foil for Walter White (groan . . . sorry . . . but I’m in good company here).
In episode after episode, Foyle faces temptations let ends justify means. For instance, more than once Foyle faces pressure to turn a blind eye to crime when the perpetrator is more valuable to the war effort than the victim. In every case, Foyle pursues justice and defends the dignity of his fellow man, regardless of the cost, even when his own career is at stake. In doing so he is preserving the civilization his country was fighting for.
Walter White chooses the wrong path for what seems to be the right reason. In the end, his pride and greed eat away at his inmost self. Foyle, meanwhile, chooses to do the right thing even when it compromises a seemingly more important end. In his own way he fights against forces like greed and pride that would eat away at his country from within, even as other forces attack from without.
Come to think of it, a new season of Foyle’s War is airing now. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to Netflix before the new year, because I have a lot to do before Christmas.
Laura is a Catholic Christian, a mother, a part-time lawyer, and a recovering overthinker. She writes monthly here at Atelier on books and culture, and blogs regularly at This Felicitous Life.