Breaking Bad: A Philosophical Point

The AMC original series Breaking Bad is one of the most popular shows in television history. Beginning in 2008, it tells the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. In an effort to leave his family financially secure, Walter partners with a former student, Jessie Pinkman, and begins manufacturing and selling chemically pure methamphetamine, more commonly known as “crystal meth,” “crystal,” or “glass.” From there, the show chronicles the duo’s rise from smalltime dealers to international drug lords.

I enjoy the show because I understand the decision to enter a life of crime in such a terrible situation. Walter White is broke, dying, and in desperate need of money for his family’s security. A temporary foray into the criminal underworld, given the circumstances, seems justified. Also, given Walter’s intention to manufacture a chemically pure – and thus safer – form of crystal meth strikes me as altruistic. People will get exactly what they pay for. What could go wrong?

Walter soon realizes that treating the illegal narcotic trade as a come-and-go buffet line is pure folly. The people involved are ruthless and diabolical by nature, and to survive in their world, things must be done a certain way. Thus, the straight-laced Walter White becomes a manipulative, murderous monster willingly to step-on anyone that gets in his way.

Yes, nearly all criminal schemes sound brilliantly simple and foolproof in theory. It’s not difficult to make money as a criminal, but nor is it difficult to lose yourself. The show is nothing if not a warning.



  1. Absolutely a warning. I can’t wait to see how it ends. It’s been getting harder and harder to want it to end well for Walt. It’s a story of change, like you say, for sure. But IF it’s intended to be a warning, Walt needs to get what’s coming to him in a big way.

    We’ll see.

    • Consevative2Cents,

      I agree. I was pulling for Walter at first, but now I pull for Jessie. And while Jessie has certainly done some terrible things, he at least expresses remorse. Walt does not.

    • Ive never seen the show. I hear everyone fawning over it like they do for Dexter. I can see how even a good motive like that will change you for the worse, but is it because the game he is playing in is nasty, or is it the effect of power on a fallen human nature?

      I think people are natturally addicted to money and power. For example, my wife and I are proficient couponers. We pay about 40-50% for groceries and toiletries (most of our toiletries are free). We both get excited about how much we’re saving and when we get a really good coupon. Its the cornyest thing, but it’s a rush.

      I imagine that someone like this guy got into it with the best of intentions but soon became engulfed in the way a drug manufacturing and distributing line of work entails. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly boiling water. You dont realize the things youre doing and the person you’ve become until its long past.

  2. It follows the classical unraveling of the anti-hero/protagonist and transforms him into his own antagonist. As we see Walter grow he is actually devolving, his mental emotional idiosyncrasies become his undoing and we start pulling for Jesse.

    And now we wait for Walters comeuppance…

  3. The thing I’ve been noticing is how, because Walt has broken so bad, everyone around he cares about is becoming increasingly bad.

    He’s laid the groundwork. His friends are his enemies. His friends are each others’ enemies. It’s going to get ugly for WW.

  4. John,

    The money drove Walter originally, but then the chemistry, the purity of the product, also played a role. For example, Walter made the amount of money he set out to make and then decided to quit. His partner, Jessie, wasn’t ready to quit, so he began manufacturing meth on his own using Walter’s recipe. To keep the product pure, Walter reentered the trade. And if you’re thinking that’s merely an excuse, you’re probably right.

    And I know what you mean about the rush. One of my hobbies is to junk or trash pick. I drive around in my pickup and see what I can find. Yesterday I found a couch that was in remarkably good shape and I was super excited. Today, I sold that couch for $100. I’ve found and sold couches, chairs, bookshelves, curio cabinets, hutches, trunks, kitchen tables, you name it, I’ve found and sold it. Some weeks I make enough for it to be a full time job. One week I pulled in $700. It’s fun. People throw away all kinds of stuff for no particular reason.

Any Thoughts?

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