Warning: Here there be spoilers, including the current season. Like, for serious.
Less than a year ago, I decided to overcome my resentment toward Bryan Cranston for winning all the Emmys I wanted to go to either Jon Hamm or Matthew Fox and give Breaking Bad a go. I made my way through the first season via Netflix, immediately surprised by two things. 1) My friends had all told me the first season was “just OK,” but everything after that was great. I was therefore surprised by how much I liked season one from the beginning. 2) It seemed a common theme focused on by fans of the show was that of a good man gone bad. “Good man?” I thought. “When was Walter White ever a good man?”
I have since come to understand the characterization of season one as “just OK.” So stunning and powerful are season 2-4 that in retrospect, the freshman season IS just OK. I’m still not sure about Walter’s virtues, however.
Let’s talk about this. Going into the series, I had put together a narrative in my mind based on what others told me about the show that went like this: a dying man turns to selling meth in order to spare his family the financial devastation of the cost of his disease, and leave them money for their future. Back in my teaching days, in AP Psychology, we discussed the relationship between beliefs and actions. We all want to believe that our attitudes and beliefs determine how we behave, that we act in accordance with them. Often, however, our actions have as big an impact on our beliefs as vise versa. A child who firmly believes cheating on tests is wrong, but faces panic at the prospect of flunking an English test and copies off a friend’s paper is more likely to adjust her belief with something like, “it’s OK if the test is unfair” or “it’s OK in English because I don’t care about English anyway” than she is to confess her crime. Also, she is more likely to cheat in the future, and build a growing list of exceptions to her “rule.” So, as I started BB, I anticipated seeing this theme play out – Walter takes small, increasingly disturbing actions in order to achieve what was at first the noble goal of providing for loved ones until he becomes a man who stands on the precipice of evil.
Instead, I felt what I was watching was a man driven far more by pride than love from day one. The “he did it all for his family” argument does not hold much weight, as WALTER WAS OFFERED THE MONEY BY WHAT’S-HIS-FACE. I get that he didn’t want the man’s charity. I get that there was a long history. I get that men like to be the ones to provide for their families. But, sorry, that’s all bullshit when it comes to getting involved with a profession that could easily get yourself and your family killed. The real reason Walter wouldn’t take the money is that he had his pride wounded and spent the next 20 years feeling sorry for himself and building up a destructive amount of resentment. Ugh. Boo! Boo, Walter!
Almost the entire series, Walter has been not a man slowly changing, but one slowly becoming liberated – becoming the power-hungry, petty, mean-spirited man he always was, or at least has been ever since the whole scientist love-triangle of his grad school days.
And yet…and yet, I still find myself rooting for Walter – or, at least I did until the end of the Sunday, August 26th episode. I wanted him to get away with it – all of it. Maybe I wanted it so that he’d have a chance to become the man he told himself he wanted to be back when the whole thing started. Don’t mistake my conviction that he’s a bastard with me not having cared about him. I did. Mostly, I cared and I rooted for him because his one redeeming quality, something that ironically came crystal clear in the very same season in which he let Jesse’s girlfriend choke on her own vomit, was his loyalty to Jesse. For as long as he could, he protected Jesse from having to kill anyone, he never sold Jesse out to save himself, and in fact he demanded Jesse be kept alive on multiple occasions. Even letting Jane die was in a twisted way an effort on his part to protect Jesse from living the life (and death) of a junkie. It was Walter’s interactions with Jesse that showed his capacity for empathy and made him a sympathetic character.
Sympathetic no more, however. After the events of this season, in particular his vicious treatment of Skylar and his rash, stupid, pride-driven murder of Mike, Walter White is officially off my list. I fear that his actions have destroyed any hope he had of coming through this without ultimately betraying Jesse too. I don’t root for Walter anymore. I root for Skylar or Jesse to take him out before he drags them irrevocably into the fire. I root for Hank to catch the son of a bitch. Sometimes, like Skylar, I even root for the cancer to come back and finish the job.
How did this happen? How did I become so angry? Maybe this is the real plan of Vince Gilligan – not to corrupt Walter White, but to turn the audience into a blood-thirsty mob.
So, am I wrong here, folks? Is there hope for Walter’s soul? Was he truly a good person all those months ago when he found out he had cancer? Can he be again?
In spite of it all, the fact that he at least had the decency to look horrified after shooting Mike makes me want to believe there’s hope. But, it will take good deal of convincing.
Stuff we geek out about…
- A Little Something for the Fellas (2)
- A Little Something for the Ladies (9)
- Avengers Boot Camp (9)
- Before the Movie – Trailers (13)
- Editorials and Reviews (135)
- Interviews (19)
- Miscellaneous Geekery (48)
- Nostalgia (17)
- Sandman Re-Read (11)
- Three Favorite Things (4)
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- Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches
- Syfy’s Defiance- Hope They Didn’t Blow the Budget on a Song
- Cover Reveal for the New Liz Long Novel Witch Hearts
- From Gen-X, To Chris Hardwick With Love
- Before the Movie: G.I. Joe Retaliation