Spoiler alert: Stop reading if you haven't yet seen last week's "Breaking Bad" finale on TV.
Count me among those who believe we’re living in a new Golden Age of Television.
While Hollywood caters to the tastes of teenage boys by churning out a never-ending series of superhero sagas for the big screen, complex and compelling human dramas are playing out on AMC, HBO, Showtime, FX,, and – most recently – .
Producers of the best of these non-network shows have created morally murky worlds that look a lot like ours, then populated them with sinners – with a capital S.
A Mafia chieftain in "The Sopranos." A serial adulterer in “Mad Men.” And a high school chemistry professor-turned-drug kingpin in “Breaking Bad.”
All “Difficult Men,” which is, in fact, the title of a new book about this mostly cable TV revolution. But also very human men. Watching at home, getting inside their tangled emotional lives, we may recoil at their sins, but still feel tempted to root for these sinners.
Our own misdeeds never rise to their levels, perhaps, but who among us can’t see a little of ourselves in the fears, the rationalizations, and the delusions of Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White?
But, alas, these TV characters live in worlds, again like ours, where crime rarely pays for long, where cheaters usually get caught, and where those who live recklessly nearly always crash and burn.
Enter the creators of these shows, who must eventually step in and play God.
Take last week’s “Breaking Bad” finale on AMC, which rained down more wrath on bad guys than anything since the Old Testament.
Yes, the avenging angel in the final show was Walt, the brilliant protagonist who evolved over five seasons from Mr. Chips to, in the now famous words of the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan.
But Gilligan wasn’t about to spare Walt, whose hubris – a sin as old as Adam and Eve – had led inexorably to the murder of his lawman brother-in-law and the alienation of the wife and son he told himself were the reasons he amassed millions in drug money.
Clever Walt figured a way for his son and baby daughter to get their tainted inheritance. Still, for them, “Dad” will always be a dirty word.
“If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad,’ it’s that actions have consequences,” the Virginia-born Gilligan told the New York Times in 2011. “It seems to me that (religion) represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. ... I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something.”
Walt’s story, then, qualifies as a cautionary tale: Here was an Everyman who took the wrong road and perished.
But there’s hope for 2014!
Don Draper, the ad man on “Mad Men,” another AMC hit, has one more season to find a right road. And it just might happen: He’s hit bottom, he’s done hiding his past, and he’s acknowledged his addictions and sins.
-- Tim FunkForgiveness, redemption, resurrection – those things can save wrecked lives and, just maybe, produce terrific television.