My car is not the stuff of dreams. It’s more like the stuff of landfills.
It is eight years old and overly salted, like a bad French fry. The side-view mirror is cracked and sometimes falls out, the casualty of a long-ago car wash.
Worse, however, than the faint smell of manure, ground forever into the stained carpet by my boots, is its obsolescence. It is a make and model of a car deemed so commercially unpopular that its maker stopped production after just five years.
But there is this: A friend of my son climbed in recently, and over the din of the radio and the rough teen-aged banter, I heard the boy say, in hushed decibels of reverence, “This is Hank’s car, isn’t it?”
Hallelujah, thine the glory, as my sainted grandfather used to sing. On behalf of Jeep owners everywhere, thank you, Vince Gilligan, for making the Jeep Commander relevant again.
In Breaking Bad, Gilligan gave us Walter White, the most endearing villain in television history, and his equally lovable brother-in-law, the bull-headed Hank Schrader. It was Schrader who drove a Commander just like mine, and in doing so, snatched the car from the brink of malicious parody that befalls so many discontinued autos.
AMC Gremlin, anyone?
But my Kelley Blue Book value may hold firm thanks to the other AMC.
Although the finale aired nine months ago, Breaking Bad’s popularity has yet to diminish. The box set of the series sold out within a week despite its price, $225, and it’s still fetching twice that on Amazon. The show garnered 16 Emmy nominations last week. It has legs like Meb Keflezighi– as does my Jeep, sudden of the teen-aged noblesse.
This is not the first time that a television show has jump-started a sputtering car. Edmunds.com listed the top 100 movie and TV cars a few years ago. The Monkees’ Pontiac GTO was No. 100; the Dodge Charger of The Dukes of Hazzard made No. 1. That car, known as the General Lee, remains a quasi-religious icon down South. Maybe the Commander will fare the same in the Southwest.
As much as Gilligan, I must thank the Breaking Bad writers for that, for it helped that Dean Norris’ Schrader broke good as the series played out. Had Schrader’s seedier side prevailed – and he was occasionally a narcissistic boor, was he not?— my car might have gone the way of the Ford Pinto, buried in the dry sands of memory.
But Hank turned out to be the good guy, perhaps the only actual grown-up in the Breaking Bad universe. His shoot-out with two murderous men called “The Cousins” was knee-gripping television that made you wonder why you ever go to the movies.
And there by Hank’s side, keeping him alive, was his stout-hearted, bad-ass Jeep.
Or, shall I say, my stout-hearted, bad-ass Jeep.
In real life, the Commander fared more like the unfortunate Cousins in its brief spin through the marketplace. Introduced in 2006, Chrysler sold just over 88,497 the first year, and the numbers plunged each year after that. The 2010 model, the last produced, sold just 8,220. It may not the worst selling Jeep ever; the nondescript Compass isn’t doing so great. But the Commander was doomed by its boxy silhouette, poor driver visibility, and lousy fuel economy, just 13 mpg in the suburbs of Albuquerque.
In shoot-outs, however, the truck rocks.
My Jeep joined the family in 2006, back before the housing bust. At the time, there was a radio commercial airing that made fun of big mortgage payments and how they drain money from other wants and needs. Want to take a vacation? Big Mo says no! Want a new car? Big Mo says no!
We laughed at the ad, and someone suggested that Big Mo would be an excellent name for our imperial, outsized Commander. And so he has ferried us about, mostly reliably, for 140,000 miles, except for that little episode with the MAP sensor. (If you have one, and haven’t had it replaced, log off and get to a dealership right now.)
When Breaking Bad began, Big Mo was 2 years old, and already looked a little like the man who drove it: somewhat oafish, arrogant and crusty. But by the time Hank died in the desert – noble, defiant, contemptuous of the surrounding moral vermin – the Commander, too, had been redeemed. Like its owner, it was bullet-riddled, but strangely virile in repose.
The car will endure so long as Breaking Bad does, which right now, appears to be forever; the spinoff, Better Call Saul, debuts next year. Can’t wait. Gilligan promises that some beloved Breaking Bad characters will recur in the prequel. Hallelujah, thine the glory. I fervently hope they are driving.