I1 Commentary: Breaking Bad

In I1. Salt and Alcohol Dan cleans a bong. We’ve gone full circle: the bong named Leo from C3 has now been properly introduced. I didn’t think I had much commentary to this section, but I’m watching Breaking Bad right now and I realized that Dan’s downward spiral is worth reviewing.

Breaking Bad was a TV show about a high-school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth when he’s diagnosed with cancer. It was and still is highly regarded, not least for its grim depiction of an ordinary man whose decisions drag him deeper and deeper into a life of darkness.

Dan’s experimentation with drugs is totally different (in fact, I only mention Breaking Bad because I feel like mentioning titles of popular things will catch people’s interest). But Dan’s still an ordinary-ish person, and his path from normalcy to a horrifying drug-trip is illuminating.

In the last sections we’ve watched Dan watch his dad die. We’ve watched Dan’s smoldering anger stoked by Leo. We’ve watched Dan leave his beloved Beatrice to pursue that anger. Now even Faith has kicked him out. For me, it’s not much of a stretch to think Dan would want to unwind with some substance abuse. He smoked his first cricket the previous night with Beatrice; maybe he hopes to recapture the magic of that moment by smoking some ground-up cricket from Leo’s bong.

But not before he cleans it. In cleaning the bong, Dan externalizes his desire for self-cleansing. He names the bong Leo and throttles it to further externalize the parts of himself he does not want to acknowledge. He wishes to undo actions, rewind time, and absolve himself of perceived sins; he only manages to scrub the bug-crust from his water-pipe.

Dan’s meticulousness in cleaning the bong makes it a little ironic that he doesn’t make sure the bong contains only cricket powder and not any centipede. In later sections, when Dan regains his composure but is still hallucinating, he’ll wonder if Leo purposefully prepared the bong with centipede powder to trick Dan (which is ridiculous; Leo couldn’t have known Dan would end up with the pipe). But it’s possible Dan realized there might be centipede in the bong, and he decided not to check on purpose. In his mind, he’s lost everything he lived for. If he smokes centipede, so be it.

His bad drug-trip begins so abruptly I don’t soften the transition: I throw Dan from his couch into the afterlife. Dan appears as an amoeba in unthinking agony. He has no arms or legs or sense organs; he’s built only to be torn apart by teeth. The teeth inside him mirror the jagged salt and burning alcohol he used to clean Leo.

He has no mouth but he tries to scream, a quick reference to a famous short story with that title. In that short story, a giant computer torments the last remaining humans and turns one of them into a blob which can’t scream. Eventually we’ll learn this reference is a little on-the-nose, but so far we haven’t seen any giant hell-computers in Akayama DanJay.

The Heart of the Mountain wanders by Dan and apologizes for not being able to help him. The If Dan gets out of this situation, he’ll have to do it alone.

Thanks for reading! Keep eating your worms!

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