Boss Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) fires henchman Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui) with a box cutter in the episode of 'Breaking Bad' entitled 'Box Cutter.'

Native Influences on 'Breaking Bad': Murdered on the Best Show Ever

Gyasi Ross
4/9/14

QUICK STORY: We didn’t really grow up with that much TV-watching opportunities; sometimes I feel like I’m making up for lost time.

We only had two channels for most of my early life—we were DEEP in the country and it was pretty much impossible to get any channel particularly well. Every once in a while we’d also catch the Canadian network. As a teenager, I still had to go to my friends’ house to watch some good sports; my teenage fantasies of being rich and famous pretty much only consisted of the dream that one day I’d own one of those really huge satellites and a big screen TV to watch it on (and to play Nintendo). That never happened—we didn’t get cable at my mom and dad’s house (in the form of a SMALL satellite called “primestar”) till LONNNNGGGG after I was out of the house. 

Thanks, folks. 

So now, as an adult, I feel like I’m making up for that lost time. I watch television at an alarming rate during football season all the way until March Madness; sometimes I worry that my skin will begin to fuse itself to the couch on football Sundays. (As an aside, I had a “proud daddy” moment a few weeks ago when my son wanted to watch Keith Olbermann instead of cartoons. My work as a daddy is complete). 

Now that I DO have cable, I’m the guy who will ask random people if they watched a particular show or game on TV. And then I ask the wrong person, some smarty-pants who acts like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction looks down his or her nose at me and take great pride in the fact that they “don’t really watch TV” or “don’t even own a TV.” 

Smarty Pants: “I would never let my children watch TV. We only watch Hulu.”

~Insert Eye Roll~

Ok, well good for you. But I like TV, dammit! And my son likes TV too—Planet Sheen, Back at the Barnyard, Regular Show—educational stuff!! But now with the NCAA basketball championships closing out this week (great season, Schimmel sisters!), football season ending a few months ago (Seahawks!) and the NBA season ending soon…there’s a television malaise. Sure, the occasional episode of River Monsters or Ancient Aliens or Chopped is still good medicine, but…

I’m missing good TV right now. I’m REALLY missing the best show of all time that we had the good fortune of watching (that also happened to have a MAJOR Native influence—coincidence??): Breaking Bad. See, some Natives have this conspiracy theory that TV executives WILL NOT show fair/realistic/respectful images of Natives. Not true. TV executives will show ANYTHING that makes money; if we can show a compelling story that captures the public’s curiosity and, most importantly, MAKES MONEY, they will support it.

The way that Breaking Bad did. 

WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS?

Breaking Bad was historic and amazing for a couple of reasons. Number one, the show was simply the hottest freakin’ show ever. Number two, its individual episodic budgets were astronomical—like movies. But for our purposes, it was historical because here was this MAJOR big ticket show that had a backdrop of Indian Country and Native characters in a lot of the episodes. Almost as amazingly, that nobody on the show REALLY CARED about them being Native or not. No, those poor Native saps on Breaking Bad were just another person on the show who died a horrible death (because everybody died a horrible death on the show), not because they were Native, but just because. 

Imagine that—Native people who were just “people.” They didn’t have to wear tons of turquoise or earrings or “represent.” They didn't have to. They just lived. And died. And got murdered. And got arrested. Beautifully. Like everyone else in Breaking Bad

Dead Indians isn’t something that I would usually rave about. But the chance to be killed on Breaking Bad?? An honor. 

Therefore, in the spirit of missing my favorite show ever (Wonder Years being a distant second), I want to offer a few of my favorite characters/moments that involved Native characters in Breaking Bad:

4. Hugo “Mr.” Archuleta Getting Framed By Walter White
Hugo, played by Pierre Barrera, was one of the first people whom Walter White ruined. He got blamed for stealing Walt White’s chemistry equipment and was later (probably) killed by a guy named “Spooge.”

But before that unfortunate demise, there he was in all of his Native splendor NOT painting with all of the colors of the wind or anything like that—just being a normal school custodian and sh!+.

3. Saginaw Grant Slanging His Old Pick-Up to Walt
In this world of predatory economics, where white folks have made fortunes selling Natives useless trinkets and goods, it’s nice to see a BIT of turnabout on the show. In “Ozymandias,” the follow up to one of the most heartbreaking episodes in the history of episodes, Walt knew he was stuck futilely pushing his barrel of blood money. Saginaw Grant (unnamed in the show) sold Walt’s greedy ass his old truck, hopefully at an incredible profit.

2. To’hajiilee
This remote Eastern part of the Navajo reservation (yes, you’ve passed it on your way to Albuquerque on I-40) looms very large in Breaking Bad, indeed getting an episode named after it in the final season. It’s the place where Walt first started cooking meth and also where things really go to heck.

(Spoiler Alert: Hank and Gomey, as my mom says so eloquently, meet their Waterloo here. This episode is heartbreaking.)

1. Victor Getting Sliced and Diced
Victor (played by Jeremiah Bitsui) was a pretty good villain. Very convincing. I mean, I don’t want to stereotype, but this Navajo brother played a pretty good bad guy. Coincidence? I don’t know. But what I DO know is that, despite Victor’s competence as a bad guy, he shouldn’t have let the witness see him at Gayle’s murder scene.

Bad move.

Bad, bad move.

“Hey Victorrrr…you’re dead bro.” Good job, Victor.

I TRULY think that Breaking Bad did more to normalize the presence of real life, contemporary living native people (and the killing of actual native people) in mainstream media than any other device or show ever. Big statement, but I think it's true. Someone needs to help me find another show—something ELSE that shows that Native people can be killed with the best of them. Any suggestions? What were your favorite moments from Breaking Bad?

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Dad/Author/Attorney
New Book, How to Say I Love You in Indian—order today!!
www.cutbankcreekpress.com
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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koolkila's picture
koolkila
Submitted by koolkila on
During the series, I noticed how much they stayed true to the ethnicities of the locale. Great show.

marc_valdez's picture
marc_valdez
Submitted by marc_valdez on
I'm thinking that "Breaking Bad" also did something very subtle. When undergoing interrogation, Lydia lets the others know of a railroad radio dead zone, and points at a map. To me, it looks like she is pointing at Pueblo Pintado, part of the Anasazi's Chaco Canyon complex. They may have been trying to suggest an altogether-different level exists at which the show should be understood.

Cynthia Lockard Benning
Cynthia Lockard...
Submitted by Cynthia Lockard... on
You forget one...a BIG one - the tribal policeman who went out to check on the old woman Tuco's cousins killed. He got a nice ax to the back for his efforts. He was played by a local actor...nice guy and beautiful Native American.
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