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What Breaking Bad Has to Say About Control and Moral Failings

Nah, come on man. Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass at like what, sixty, he’s just gonna break bad?

Breaking Bad


So, I’m late to the party on this one, but Breaking Bad is one seriously good show.  Srsly.

As a briefing for those who haven’t watched the show (don’t worry, this is in the pilot), Breaking Bad is about a brilliant chemistry teacher by the name of Walter White who is diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer (a revelatory Bryan Cranston) and decides to start cooking meth to pay for his treatment.

Seeing the former father of Malcolm in the Middle commit various crimes is weird and disturbing enough, but it’s deeper than that.  On a similar level to shows like The Shield and The Wire, Breaking Bad explores morally grey areas that are tough to look at.  They put a mirror on situations we’d rather ignore, showing what can happen when people falter and the tremendous fallout that can transpire when people rely on themselves to be saved.

**Warning, there be some spoilers from here on**

This Sunday, I heard a sermon on how we as people consistently fail.  It is true: no matter how much we try to prevent it, we are imperfect creatures and *will* fail at some point.  This concept is so hard to grasp because try as we can, we (mostly) try to do the right thing, at least what we view as being the right thing at the time.  And when we do fail or somehow don’t have things turn out the way we wished, we are devastated.

This is the major failing for Walter White; he believes he can save himself and his family, even if there may be some corners cut along the way.  The problem is that it is never enough.  Even if he makes a million on a batch of meth, there’s always another million around the corner.

This is what makes Breaking Bad so gripping and so hard to watch.  We are bystanders, watching a man and his “cooking” partner–Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul–fall apart and eliminate any sort of ethics slowly, but surely.  We are voyeurs, watching Walter transform from a man who cares deeply for his family into a ruthless drug kingpin of sorts.

A large turning point for me in the series was the first season episode “Gray Matter”.

During this episode, we learn that in his younger years, Walter White had the opportunity to work with a colleague at the organization Gray Matter.   He turned it down, deciding to enlighten youth as a high school chemistry teacher, a job he learns to loathe.  At a birthday party for his friends at Gray Matter, Walter learns one is willing to pay for his chemotherapy treatments.  But Walter turns him down.

These types of prideful decisions doom Walter throughout the course of the series, with much of his subsequent decisions a result of his despising his previous life as an underpaid, overqualified high school instructor.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Walter’s  decision to go in the opposite direction ends up slowly destroying his (and his family’s) life.

This one decision largely sets the rest of the series into motion, with Walter making the choice to no longer explore legal means to pay for his treatment, his belief that cooking and selling methamphetamine is being a “provider” to his family.

This belief that excessive control over our own lives brings freedom is a common struggle we often face and Breaking Bad is a brilliant example.

Watch Breaking Bad.  Seriously.  Like now.  Follow John on Twitter, if you so wish – @jododojo10


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