The Breaking Bad finale — an analysis of the outlaw chemist
What do you do when your doctor tells you that you have cancer? You start your ambitious crystal methamphetamine empire, duh!
Walter White (WW) from the TV series Breaking Bad was told he might have one year to live after his lung cancer diagnosis. Some people fold in and await death. Some people fight the diagnosis and try to find a way to live. WW choose curtain number three, liberated himself, and begun what he always wanted to do. He decided to live for himself.
No more middle of the road for WW. No more driving to a job where no one seems to pay attention to him and see his true expertise as a first-rate chemist. No more working a second job that humiliated his ego.
Walter lived the life of freedom – the freedom to succeed and the freedom to feel the free-falling of failure.
What is more empowering than knowing you have the chance to succeed and control your own destiny?
Remember, in the beginning of the series, we discover that WW had a chance to be a partner in the highly successful company Grey Matter Technologies. He sold his share of the company out early and years later regretted his decision. Oddly enough, WW’s cancer diagnosis gave him a second chance to build a new enterprise – a new empire.
It just so happened that this new business venture was absolutely illegal and immoral. How did WW fight with this immoral choice? He kept saying the mantra to himself – I am doing this for my family.
I suppose repeating the mantra was the way WW tried to cleanse himself of the guilt of creating poison and misery. His own ego couldn’t let him reflect upon his immoral choices – he carried on his pursuit of empire.
What do we know about empires? Eventually, empires fall. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. No different with this show. WW tasted power for a brief moment and the tighter he tried grip upon the situation, the quicker the situation slithered through his fingers.
As soon as WW had toppled his enemies and tried to insulate and isolate his power, it all started to fall apart. I claim this was the beauty of the show – no matter how hard WW tried, he only had his kingdom for a moment.
Things literally broke bad for WW.
All of WW’s genius, ambition, and drive couldn’t stop his eventual demise. All things eventually decay and disintegrate – you cannot avoid fate.
WW tried like hell to avoid his destiny. It certainly was entertaining to watch.
Ironically, in the last episode, WW did do something he always said he wanted to do. He did set up his son and, by proxy, his family, with a small fortune. WW saved America’s favorite junkie – Jessie. WW was able to give Marie some peace of mind by revealing where Hank and Gomez’s bodies were buried. WW vanquished his enemies who threatened him directly and indirectly.
WW dies knowing he was a genius chemist and literally dies in a place he enjoyed being in the most – a chemistry laboratory.
Imagine you knew you had only so much time to live. What do you do?
WW lived to his passion and lived in the moment. He had the courage to live outside the conventional life, the acceptable life, the life of rules, the life of expectations. He escaped the suit and tie bullshit. He escaped weekend golf, clipping coupons, going with the wife to Home Depot, and attending boring dinner parties. I believe that is why the fans cheered WW’s Jessie James lifestyle.
To be an outlaw is to have maximum freedom and liberty – to live in a Hobbesian state of nature.
One of my favorite scenes of the show is when Jessie, Mike, and WW are splitting up the money from selling crystal meth. WW starts to complain that the money he was earning was less than it was when Gus (a drug kingpin) was running the empire. Mike tells Walter, “Just because you killed Jessie James doesn’t make you Jessie James.“ I’d argue that Jessie James was only Jessie James for a moment. I think that is what the phrase king for a day comes from – you only get to be king for a moment.
WW lived despite dying inside. He built his kingdom only to watch it burn like Caligula.
The creator of Breaking Bad knew what he was doing. Great cast, great writing.
I believe that the true genius of the writing was irony. I need to take a moment and thank Vince Gillian and his staff writers for closing all the loose ends of this television series. The finale wasn’t like The Sopranos finale – open-ended and left to interpretation. The show ended and you know it’s done.