For the better part of five seasons on Breaking Bad, Walter White was considered an anti-hero, while his wife, Skyler, was often seen as the the antagonist. Walter White was directly responsible for or connected to the murders of 31 people. Skyler White killed no one, and yet she was seen as the bad guy. Jesse Pinkman killed three people, including one incident in which he shot a man in the face. Jesse Pinkman was a fan favorite on Breaking Bad. Mike Ehrmantraut has killed 11 people that we know of, already. He’s practically a hero on Better Call Saul. In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman defended drug dealers, laundered money, and attempted to orchestrate a hit on Jesse Pinkman. He’s beloved on Better Call Saul.
There are very few “good” guys in Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, so why is it we end up loving these morally bankrupt drug manufacturers, facilitators, and murderers? Or Tony Soprano? Or Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings? Or Vic Mackey? Dexter Morgan? Nucky Thompson? Or Jax Teller?
There’s no profound secret to it. It’s about point of view. Characters don’t have to be “likable,” we just have to be able to understand their motivations from their point of view. We understood and cared about Walter White, to a point, because we understood his motivations: To provide enough money to take care of his family after his death from cancer. It was only after that motivations became corrupted by power that some of us jumped off the Walter White train.
Similarly, as long as Mike Ehrmantraut is murdering people for the benefit of his granddaughter, we’ll probably continue to care about Mike, even as his “code” is bent and twisted in Breaking Bad. It’s why the more we learn about Mike, the more heartbreaking his death scene becomes. What may eventually transform Gus Fring from a “cool villain” to a guy we actually care about is what Lydia insinuated at last week: That Gus is so much more than a drug distributor. We may soon find out what his true motivations are, and maybe we’ll end up caring about Gus Fring in that way, too. The fact that he’s also a guy who saved the life of his biggest enemy in the season finale may move us along that path.