Thursday, July 1, 2021

Where’s The Baby?: The Mysterious Vanishing Child in “Call My Agent” and “Breaking Bad”

I’ve just finished watching the last episodes of Call My Agent!, the French dramedy about love and loss at a Parisian talent agency. The final season settled the future of the ASK agency, while also wrapping up the fate of passionate Andréa, scheming Matthias, idealistic Gabriél, and eager young Camille. While these and other major characters strutted and fretted (and while real-life French celebrities enjoyed poking fun at their own foibles), I came to appreciate how much of the last episodes was focused on a very basic human concern, at least among women: basic childcare.  

 When one of the series’ major characters very unexpectedly finds herself with child, she goes through with the pregnancy partly because she’s got a supportive romantic partner who longs to be a parent. Though she vows to be a fully engaged maman to baby Flora, her hectic schedule as an agent tasked with solving the sometimes childish problems of major movie stars keeps her hopping 24/7. Always at her clients’ beck and call, she often leaves her partner in the lurch, despite promising to do her share of nurturing Flora and participating in a trendy but rigorous cooperative daycare venture. Ultimately, at midseason, her insistence on putting work before family drives her partner away, leaving her in sole charge of her tiny daughter.

 So much of the last season is spent with this character trundling her baby around Paris, packing her away in the agency’s conference room, and deviously leaving her at the daycare center unsupervised, until the wee hours. (This is, of course, the world’s most cooperative little girl, one who takes all these shifts in stride and rarely cries from hunger or frustration.) There’s even one moment when the hard-working agent needs to show up around midnight to see Sigourney Weaver hosting a bacchanale at the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery (don’t ask!). At that point, I loudly asked my TV set, “Where’s the baby?”

 Mostly, though, I respect this series for recognizing that childcare is necessary, and that babies (however cute and cooperative) can’t conveniently disappear from their parents’ lives when the storyline doesn’t make room for their presence. In the series’ final episode, the question of childcare comes to the fore, leaving the mother forced to make an important life-choice.

 By way of contrast, I’m currently working my way through the five seasons of the AMC classic series, Breaking Bad. I don’t know how it all comes out in the end, but I do know that, for all its brilliance, Breaking Bad does prompt me to frequently shout at my screen, “Where’s the baby?”

At the very beginning of Breaking Bad, the loving wife of Walter White is hugely pregnant. While Walt evolves from mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher to drug lord, wife Skyler dramatically bears the child, contends with her husband’s cancer diagnosis, discovers his new secret career as a meth producer, and then embarks on a career shift of her own. Yes, baby Holly occasionally pops up, to be cuddled  by one of the characters and then plopped into a carseat, but she also disappears for episodes at a time, while her baby-free parents take care of business without explanation. Daycare providers are probably involved somehow, but the story never makes room to even mention their role in this dramatically evolving household.

 Which is not to imply that I’m not enjoying Breaking Bad. It’s a brilliantly suspenseful series, chock full of unexpected moments. But as a mother myself I know that bringing up baby is definitely a full-time occupation—for someone. Why can’t more dramas bear this in mind?



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