I wasn’t sure how I would feel watching Breaking Bad. Before I began binge watching the series a few weeks ago, I only knew the very basics of the story. High school chemistry teacher with cancer, desperate for money to support his family so he starts making meth. It had been on my Netflix to watch list for years. I admit I avoided it because I thought it would have the same impact on me that Battlestar Galactica had: stress. I watched BSG while I was working on my dissertation and realized only after I finished the series how it had added so profoundly to my stress at that time. I have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers.
The critical acclaim kept it on my radar and finally my husband decided to start watching it without me. He’s not a big fan of watching TV in general so when it was keeping him up late with the One More Episode Syndrome, I knew it was time to join the party. I posted a few #latetotheparty tweets about the show as I watched it, many times mentioning my disdain for Walt as a character.
Of course, that made me just that more curious to keep watching the show. What was it about Walt’s struggle that kept me coming back to watch the next episode? How could this character that personified selfish intentions ever redeem himself?
I said from the beginning that the one thing I knew about the story was that Walt had to die. There was no way to tell this story and not have him die. It didn’t matter if it was from the cancer or his nefarious actions. He. Had. To. Die. As the series progressed, as the depth of Walt’s selfishness came to light, I realized that not only did he have to die but he would have to die in a way that redeemed all of these terrible actions.
In the end it wasn’t his death that redeemed him, it was telling the truth, finally, to Skyler in the last episode.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really — I was alive.”
It is these words that finally redeemed Walt, to finally admit that he hadn’t done it all for The Family or for some noble intentions. He had, ultimately, done it for himself. The saddest part is he lost everything in doing it. The choices he made led his family to hate him and took away any time he could have spent with his infant daughter.
In the end, Walt’s journey broke my heart. I suppose that’s the pinnacle of good story telling, when even the most reprehensible character can break your heart. There was great satisfaction in the conclusion, knowing that beyond meeting his original goal to provide for his family, Walt saved Jesse’s life and released him from his servitude to Uncle Jack and Todd. Really, the money was the MacGuffin, not the real purpose of the story at all. The story was Walt’s journey through darkness, desperation, to his own selfish truth.
What characters do you hate but can’t help watching? How does the morality of a character impact your enjoyment of a story? Have you watched Breaking Bad? Let me know in the comments.