Theodor Adorno in his essay, “How to Look at Television” encourages viewers to see what hidden messages are in our television shows, lurking maliciously to uphold the capitalist establishment and undercut revolution. So if a hidden message “aims at reinforcing conventionally rigid and ‘pseudo-realistic’ attitudes,” (165) and conversely to allow repressed gratifications to creep into the show, what is hidden beneath Breaking Bad?
It is obvious that the Breaking Bad episode “Peekaboo” is attempting to turn its viewers into receptacles for the forthcoming totalitarian regime, but how is it they are going about it? On the surface level, you have a drug dealer using violent methods to retrieve his property. This setting is ripe for pro-totalitarian messages, until we realize that the drug dealer is the protagonist. But Adorno states that even if a show can be anti-totalitarian on the surface, a majority of them have hidden totalitarian messages. The hidden messages in “Peekaboo” are barely even hidden. As soon as Jesse shows the viewer that he is really appalled by killing, he is rewarded with a “bank error” in his favor. When he calls the cops on the two, although really one, addict, the audience expects that the life of the child will at least marginally improve. So the cops are seen as a force of good in this episode, potentially saving this child from his situation. Cops are vital to a totalitarian regime, as is a willingness within the populace to call them on neighbors and strangers alike. On the surface Breaking Bad seems to humanize the world of drugs, but rest assured it really wants strict obedience to the law. Now this may seem odd to many as Hollywood is supposed to be a liberal hotbed, but rest assured that is only a front; one that Adorno easily saw through. So begin looking for these hidden messages on your own time: listen to music backwards, look at blurry photographs of national tragedies to find the government conspiracies, it’s all right below the surface.