I just finished watching the finale of Breaking Bad, and was immensely pleased with how it turned out. Not only did it tie up all the lose ends, but it brought meaning and self realization to a series that’s been an incredible journey. As I like to say, it’s a good story well told, and it completes the perfect arc for one of the most inspiring and unique mythological characters ever created for a television series. Walt’s journey is a mythical one, as it is fraught with serious choices and major consequences. But after awhile, Walt starts to take it in stride, and embraces the side of himself he calls Heisenberg. Here’s the thing, however. I think there is a large misconception among people about Walt’s character. Most people see him as an evil person or a villain. I highly disagree. I think Walt is a much more complicated character than to so neatly fit into one of those persona’s. If I had a reason why people think of him as evil, its a reason for them to feel okay with watching his character do the things that he does. As long in the back of peoples minds they acknowledge him as a bad person, it creates an easy disconnect so that the audience won’t fully have to identify with him.
Well, if you’re a fan of the show and you think Walt is evil, I’m going to challenge you on that perception. Walt is not a villain. He does a lot of terrible things, sure. He kills people. He’s gotten many innocent people killed because of his actions (the plane collision for instance). He’s been terribly sadistic towards Jesse, even to the point of almost having him killed by someone else. For awhile, his thirst for power and money consumes him. There are many reasons for us to easily judge him as an evil man. Except he’s not.
Walt is engaged in a spiritual journey. The way it begins for him is harsh as he is pushed through desperate needs, because of his cancer, his pride, his failed opportunity to be a part of a multi-billion dollar corporation, his lack of health care and life in the poor house…his life is considered all for nothing. Until he finds his calling as a meth cook. With his incredible chemistry skills, Walt’s path to becoming a meth cook brings out the best and worst aspects of him. The universe has guided him on several instances, and the best aspect of Walts journey is that he owns his destiny. It’s a life that he admits at the end of the series that he built for himself. Because he wanted it. What he wanted most was for his life to matter, even if it meant going down as a criminal meth kingpin. What is actually happening is an incredible transformation, as a butterfly of a whole new color begins to emerge. And you know what? Despite the fact that Walt dies at the end, he gets everything he wanted and does everything he set out to do in the first place. Skyler finds it in her heart to forgive him. He gets his money to Walt Jr. And by setting Jesse free from the meth lab, in so doing he sets his spirit free. There’s a reason Jesse, representing Walt’s younger self, is imprisoned in that meth lab by the end with no way out. By the time Walt sets him free, Walt can begin the next leg of his journey.
I’ve thought of Walt’s death scene being a comparison to the end of American Beauty, just in the same way as Lester is looking at the photograph of his family before he goes…as Walt is looking around the meth lab before he goes, there is that moment where it all comes together, where the two characters see it all before them, their lives and everything that brought them to their current path. They get it in that moment. Walt doesn’t actually die at the end. His spirit lives on through Jesse. What I love about the end, is that when he falls to the ground, there is a sight smile on his face, just in the same way after Lester is shot, he has that same smile in his own pool of blood. It’s an absolutely beautiful moment as Walter White has finally come home.
I’m sure what I’m saying might be a little difficult to understand about why for this reason I don’t consider Walt an evil person. I don’t even consider it redemption. I believe the purpose of everything he did was to lead up to this moment of self realization. His path has a kind of flow, where we might put meaning to the death count in his wake, except in the end, it really has no meaning. It’s just about this singular moment.
Like I said, calling Walt a villain makes it easier on people so they don’t have to connect with him. But that’s not the reason we watch him. We watch with fascination, wondering how and if this character is going to find his way to bliss, after committing so many horrible, awful acts. I was watching Vince Gilligan on Stephen Colbert, and it’s interesting because he talks about Walt as being an evil character. Except it’s a lie. He knows consciously that Walt isn’t evil. But he has to say it because otherwise people aren’t going to understand him and believe that he’s condoning meth distribution and murder. Which he’s not. Gilligan does the most noble thing he can do with his hero character, and that’s to not judge him. None of the characters are judged personally through their actions. There are prices to be paid and consequences for sure. But we love these characters because they are being allowed to find their own way. It makes them even more funny, sadistic, or even tragic. It’s the best thing any writer can do for their characters which is to just let them go in their own way. The characters story wants to be told. And it’s a mythological journey about someone finding their place in the universe. Walt thinks he’s going against the universe, but it’s actually there with him the whole time, allowing him to chose and find his own path.
So if you’re a fan of the show and you love Walter White, don’t be afraid to step outside for a moment that the character might be evil. There’s more to him than people give him credit for. I think there’s an important reason why so many people are in love with the show, and the reasons are because of our connections to myths. Walter White will go down as one of the greatest hero characters ever created, and we have a lot to thank Vince Gilligan for his understanding of that.