Today we are bringing on guest writer Dr. AquaMan – yes that’s what he prefers to be called – who has some very interesting insights into the true nature of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, and why we identify with him so much.
Take it away Doc,
The Strange Case of Mr. White and Dr. Heisenberg, Bitch!
By Dr AquaMan
So, I just saw the last episode of Breaking Bad (right, like, I‘m the only person with too much of a backlog of episodic TV on my DVR), and, no, this is not a review, but, yes, expect spoilers in case you want to skip this article until you see the final episode.
Anyway, I was thinking about how Walter White has gone on to become the most iconic villain to be the central character in a TV show. He, obviously, is not the first. I recall a show called Profit way back, but, it didn’t last long, maybe because it was ahead of its time, or bad, I can’t recall. The Sopranos started a wave of villain centric shows, from Sons of Anarchy to Dexter to Breaking Bad itself. But, what is interesting about Walter White is that the average person really has become enamored to him. I’ve seen people wearing Heisenberg t-shirts or the “I am the one who knocks“ t-shirt (though my favorite is the “Magnets, Bitch!” t-shirt, but, since this does not relate to Walter White directly, I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned it). Also, I have seen a bunch of people dress as him for Halloween last year, whether it was in his Heisenberg outfit or the yellow jumper with gas mask that he wore while he was making crystal meth. I have seen action figures of him, bitch! I never saw anyone dress as Tony Soprano, or even Dexter, or seen a t-shirt of either one, or for that matter seen action figures made of either, but Walter White has all of this, so I started to wonder what makes Walter White so special.
I came to the conclusion that, though Breaking Bad is basically a show that prides itself on its grim and gritty realism, it has just one itty bitty fantastic element: Walter White is a super villain.
My first piece of evidence to this is the fact that he does create a new form of crystal meth, a kind that has never been seen before or actually exists in the real world and glows blue like it was a new form of Kryptonite. (Okay, for those Superman nerds out there, it glows like blue Kryptonite, the Kryptonite that can kill Bizarros. So, get off my back, bitch!) True, this is not creating a man out of dead body parts or building a sophisticated heat beam that we call a “lasar”, but this in itself should point to the fact that Breaking Bad is, in fact, science fiction, and thus Walter White is the mad scientist in this science fiction epic.
Second, he robs a train. There are only two types of people who rob trains: cowboy desperadoes and super villain masterminds, and Walter White is NOT a cowboy desperado.
To further prove my point, one just has to look at his back story. He’s a talented chemist who got a Ph.D. at some hoity toity university or something, and went on to be part of a scientific team that won a Nobel prize for some extra cool sceincy thing or other. If you don’t believe me, look it up on Wikipedia. Anyway, he started a business with a partner, Elliot Schwartz, which they dubbed Grey Matter Technologies, and he left because his lab assistant Gretchen, the girl he loved, decided she would rather marry his partner than be with him, thus he sold his interest in the company for $5,000. The company later made millions. This creates a typical set up for why someone becomes an evil genius, since evil geniuses typically have as a motivation of envy, because others they consider their inferiors have gone farther in life than them. You see this with Lex Luthor, who becomes evil because more people pay attention to Superman than him, or Dr. Frankenstein, who is angered that the scientific community thinks he’s nuts but respect doctors who have less grandiose ideas, or Dr. Horrible, who is basically a nerdy guy who wants to beat out the jock guy who always steals his thunder and brags about boinking the woman he loves. But, the main writer, Vince Gilligan, is wiser than to just leave it at that.
For, the series begins a few years after this back story, with Walter White being a married man with a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy. He works as a chemistry teacher with students who laugh at him, but, because it is not enough to pay the bills, he also works part time in a car wash where his boss constantly belittles him. Just from this set up, Walter White is not Tony Soprano, who probably whacked his first stoolie when he was 12, or Dexter, who probably decided to be a serial killer after pulling wings off a butterfly when he was 6. Instead, Walter White becomes somebody many of us can relate to, especially in this modern day world, where many of us are forced to work jobs that are way beyond our education and often demeaning, but, because we have a family to support, that’s just what we have to do. So, right away, Walter White is someone we root for. So, when he finds out he has cancer and cannot pay the medical bills, and will have nothing to leave his family, he does the only thing he can do, something anyone of us would do if placed in that situation and with his basic skill set: he makes and sells crystal meth. And, yes, there is bloodshed and the owner of a fast food franchise gets half his face blown off, but, lets ignore that fact for a bit, okay?
By having this set up, Vince Gilligan has pretty much borrowed from the Universal movies method of creating monsters by starting off with someone we feel sympathy for, whether it is Larry Talbot who is a decent guy though a bit of a womanizer and maybe a peeping tom who gets cursed with being the Wolf Man, or the Frankenstein Monster who just wants to throw flowers in the water with a little girl when all those pesky townsfolk start chasing him with pitch forks, or the Mummy who just wants to hook up with the reincarnation of his ex-girlfriend. Walter White, though, most resembles Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in that he continues walking the world as Walter White while his secret identity of Heisenberg creates crystal meth and kills a few random people here and there. But, it can be argued that Heisenberg is not just a secret identity, but Walter’s other personality. For, Walter continues living life as a loving husband and father who ‘only does the other stuff for his family’, while Heisenberg seems to get a lot more joy from what he does than you would expect Walter to feel. Just look how Walter acts when he is playing Heisenberg: he stands more purposefully and looks like he is in command of his surroundings, and his facial expressions are more severe making you realize he is more than willing to do whatever it takes to survive, and, more importantly, to win.
In the final episode, it is really a breakthrough for Walter when his wife asks him why he did this. She is expecting him to say what he always says, that it was all for his family, since Walter has put himself in such a state of self denial about what he has done. Instead, he answers that he did it for himself, because he was good at this and it made him feel powerful. Once he does this, he gives in totally to being Heisenberg and, surprisingly, wins.
By the end of the show, he belittles the boss at the car wash who made his life horrible by buying his business and letting him know what he really thinks of him, he puts the fear of God in both his ex-partner at Grey Matter Technology and his ex-girlfriend now his ex-partner‘s wife in such a way that they will spend the rest of their lives watching their backs, he kills all of the people who have been trying to kill him since the show began, and he actually does provide for his family and even ends up protecting his surrogate son Jesse. Ignoring the wake of human lives that were destroyed by him, the only downside is that he then dies, which would be a big deal for me since I spend most of my life trying not to die. But, there is always a price paid for being a super villain, and, if you think about it, Walter White ends up doing a lot more than your average super villain. Lex Luthor, for example, always ends up in jail before actually getting rid of his arch enemy, while the Wolf Man, as another example, ends up with the embarrassing death of getting clubbed to death by his own dad in front of the girl he’s been trying to impress this whole time. If you think of it that way, Walter White kind of ended up ahead of the game.
By Your Command