On television, the most memorable example of a man physically running from harm and trampling all expectations of masculinity and chivalry, was a moment from Seinfeld. You guessed it: George Costanza. In George, Seinfeld was constantly presenting the flimsiness of the male ego with a character who tried to woo women but was forever emasculating himself with his own pettiness and neuroses. The apogee of this behavior occurred in “The Fire,” when, at a child’s birthday party, George fears there’s a fire and tramples children, a clown, and an old women to get out the door, later saying that he was trying to clear the way for everyone. Similarly, one Thomas apologist in Force Majeure says that perhaps he was acting not out of selfishness, but out of the desire to be able to dig people out of the avalanche, which would surely be needed.
While Breaking Bad may not have featured a scene that was exactly similar, the whole show was a slow-burning reproduction of this momentary impulse seen in these other works. Walter White runs from the weak man he sees his cancer turning him into — and the weak man he’d previously been — at the risk of his family’s lives. The scene in the episode Ozymandias where a wailing Skyler runs out into the street after Walter steals their daughter expresses that, finally, she’s gotten to the same place the spouses of the Force and Planet cowards have arrived at: a feeling of being ripped away from all notions of human connection by the dismantling of the performances of marriage and masculinity.
It’s funny and kind of awesome to see these film and TV characters — themselves pieces of the mediums that perpetuate the pressures of glorified masculinity — buckling under the weight of the images of manhood that TV and film hold up to them. There’s no denying that it exposes a form of utter patheticness in all of these characters, and that these knee-jerk reactions are quite obviously more detrimental than the things the characters are reacting to. When this does happen onscreen, it’s still taken as an anomaly: the characters are surprised, appalled when a man runs away. And we, the audience, are surprised and appalled, and that’s why Force Majeure is so interesting.
In life, men run away all the time. People run away all the time. It is a lonely planet, and it’s funny, then sad, then existentially horrifying when someone runs away onscreen, and we’re reminded of the potential brittleness of other peoples’ care. When a man does it, it can be funnier, sadder, more horrific, because TV and film usually insist on telling us that they don’t.