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The Darkly Changing Life of Breaking Bad's Walter White

Updated on June 17, 2017

The first season of AMC's Breaking Bad reveled in truly ingenius dark humor. Eliciting laughs from episodes dealing with cancer, drug addiction, and methamphetamine production in not exactly an easy task for writers. Amazingly — and morbidly — they did so. The lead actors deserve enormous respect for credulously making the dark comedy work.

The dark comedy side of the series did not last for long.

The tale of Walter White's descent into a life of crime started out humorously. As the series progressed, the humor faded and a foreboding sense of menace and suffering took over the series.

The adventures of Walter and his partner, Jesse Pinkman, slowly transitioned from black humor slapstick to complete tragedy. Walter's motives are somewhat understandable. Stricken with life-threatening cancer, he chooses to cook and sell meth to provide for his family. Ironically, in death, Walter White is able to provide for his family. This he could not do in life.

More ironically, his ill-gotten gains pay for previously out of reach medical care. The medical care saves his life as the cancer goes into remission.

Walter White's life, however, is ruined because he has reinvented himself as a criminal. The life of a criminal is not what Walter White is cut out for. Its not who he is, but it is who he becomes.

Breaking Bad Means Breaking Into A Disjointed Life Transition

Both Zen and western empirical philosophy suggest life is the result of experience. The things one does in life -- the experiences undertaken in life -- craft and shape a personality. A person's perspectives on life are shaped by how he or she lives life.

Breaking one's life in a different direction means major changes. Walter White is not a criminal or so he believes. His perception of himself is that of a man providing for his family. Perceptions mean nothing as they are simply biased perspectives on experiences.

Experiences flutter through the lens of the mind. The human mind has the potential to be rational. The human mind is often irrational. Human actions do frequently follow the path of the irrational.

Walter White may not perceive himself to be a criminal. The motivations behind his actions create a shield designed to rationalize his actions and free him of guilt or misgivings.

Perception is irrelevant. Walter White is a criminal.

Personal perceptions and self-serving moralizing mean nothing. The actions Walter White takes turn him into a criminal. White suffers because his transition to a criminal was far rockier and rushed than found in the life of "traditional" criminals.

Walter White's suffering derives from his lack of life experience as a criminal. Walter White remains, in many ways, the person he was before entering a life of crime. Once he moves into his new life, Walter cannot properly balance his prior persona of a family man with his new persona of a criminal. No complete transformation occurred. White's half-measured approach to embarking on a life of crime is the source of his pain and misery.

Breaking Bad and No Going Back

Walking a balancing act between beloved family man and a member of the criminal underworld is not possible. At least not for Walter White. In the world of Breaking Bad, any involvement with the drug syndicate requires an acceptance of clinical murder. Lives are to be extinguished in a cold-hearted, emotionless, and calculating manner. Ruthless criminals perceive murder no different from how any business terminates an employee. A criminal syndicate's approach to termination is much more final.

Anyone can be terminated at any time. Lives are to be extinguished without warning and without any second thoughts, moral qualms, or guilty misgivings. Walter cannot go that far. His inability to look the other way at the violence, death, and nihilism around him. Walter White's inability to fully absorb the criminal life create the conflicts that prevent him from "taking yes for an answer."

Walter White's refusal to fully embrace criminality is selective. White kills others. He attempts to kill others. The actions are born of self-preservation. While Walter White may maintain a moral code, the code is limited. And quite honestly, the code breaks down at numerous points as the series progresses.

Breaking Bad is exactly what Walter White does. Walter White travels to a place he cannot come back from. The uncontrolled nature of the universe causes Walter to break bad in an uncontrolled direction. Chemistry and lab experiments may take place in a controlled environment, but the chaotic nature of life is not so easy to measure.

Walter White chose the path of breaking bad, but the path took differnet courses and Walter White ended up breaking bad in ways he neither wanted nor could imagine.

Should he have expected any other outcome?



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    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 5 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      Awesome, I will definitely have to check them out. I just binged watched GOT not to long ago. Always wanted to see because I heard nothing but good about it. Jon Snow is another badass. I cannot wait for the new season.

    • TCaro profile image

      Tony Caro 5 months ago

      AMC always delivers. I added links to my Hell on Wheels (and Ray Donovan and Game of Thrones) pieces to the end of the article.

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 5 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      Hell on Wheels was amazing also. Cullen is one bad ass man. Common was great on the show as well.

    • TCaro profile image

      Tony Caro 5 months ago

      Yes - great show. AMC airs a lot of great programming. I truly enjoyed Hell on Wheels as well.

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 5 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      Breaking Bad is one of my favorite TV series. And one of the best ways to end a series. The show just got crazier and darker as the seasons went on. This show was amazing.