Walter White of Breaking Bad an American Success Story?


Why is it that many, if not most, viewers of Breaking Bad still would like Walter White to succeed? Why is it that, despite Walt’s increasingly violent acts that he still engenders sympathy from log-time fans? His code of morality has shifted dramatically from episode to episode and season to season, prompting discussions of what is “good” and “evil” across the country, from families to the classroom. Is Walter White an example of the American success story, or is he a symbol of how evil can corrupt the most innocent among us? Everyone, the show seems to say, under the right circumstances, might “break bad.”

For me, personally, it’s maybe a little bit like watching a train wreck. Everything starts off nicely, there’s an anticipation that there might be something dangerous around the next bend, then things get progressively worse, but you keep watching, anyway. You’re hooked, in it for the long haul.

A “train wreck” isn’t the best analogy to make, but it’s apt in some respects. Walt’s illegal activities begin right from the very first episode of Breaking Bad, and his joining up with a former student does not speak highly for the moral code of either one of them.

And yet, Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White, chemistry teacher turned meth cook turned drug lord, and Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, are such excellent actors. The scripts are so well written, and the special effects are so well done, that the violence becomes a part of the landscape.

The murders go with the territory. They are not really what Walt nor Jesse seem to really want to happen at all; they are, though, a necessary aspect of staying in business — the cost of doing business with other people who are not above breaking the law.

But, one cannot wade in filth and pollution without also getting polluted. Walt becomes addicted, not with meth, but with getting away with criminal behavior, with fooling the DEA, and with getting one over on fellow criminals.

The train ride’s been a wild one, for sure, with a lot of hair-pin curves and ice on the tracks.

Maybe Walt will storm into Uncle Jack’s (Michael Bowen) compound tonight to rescue Jesse and get back his drug money. If so, he will likely kill his enemies in Uncle Jack’s neo-Nazi compound with extreme prejudice, either by using guns, poison, or both.

Walter was easy to sympathize with, when he was dying of cancer, and his supposed purpose was to cook meth until he had gathered together enough cash to make sure that his family had enough money to pay off their bills and live on without him around.

Killing people and disposing of their bodies in chemical-filled barrels was disgusting, and definitely immoral; means like those don’t really ever justify the ends; but, Walt was dying, at the time, and sometimes eggs have to be broken to make an omelet, right?

But, even when Walt’s cancer eventually went into remission, and his and Jesse’s levels of violence, murder, and mayhem, kept increasing, people watched, and the fan base of Breaking Bad continued to grow.

Why is it that people have continued to watch, as the horrors have unfolded? Is it to see to what ultimate lengths a man who once was relatively innocent might go to, the depths to which he might fall, and drag down everyone else around down with him?

I’m on the ride to the end, as millions of fans around the United States will be. I bought the ticket, and I want to see how the ride turns out. Is Walt White an example of the American success story, or is he an example of how innocence can be so easily corrupted by evil? Please leave your comments and opinions below!

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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