The Fascinating Metamorphosis of Walter White
I know I haven’t been going to the theatre less often lately, but honestly I’ve been too preoccupied catching up on Netflix. As we all know, Breaking Bad has been rocking the small screen ever since its emergence in 2008. Apart from the gripping, well-written story, I believe that the performances on this show are probably the most impressive displays of acting prowess I have seen in a long, long time. In order to discuss the metamorphosis from dead man to death dealer, I will do my best not to spoil key events of the show that are not already known by means of advertisement or whatnot. Granted, I’m still catching up myself (only getting what I can from Netflix) so I may be a little more in the dark than some. Regardless, I will do my best to dissect the psyche that is Walter Hartwell White.
The Birth of Heisenberg
In the beginning, Walter White is a pathetic little weenie of a man with a bad mustache. Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who also works at a car wash in order to make ends meet for himself, his pregnant wife, Skyler, and their disabled son, Walt, Jr. Just to paint a little picture of his family life, there seems to be a small power struggle between Skyler and the influence of his in-laws, while his own son prefers to be called “Flynn” as opposed to “Junior” – so the discontent with his home-life has been well-established.
After months of being afflicted with a pestering cough, Walt visits a doctor and discovers he has inoperable Stage 3A lung cancer. For some reason, Walt doesn’t tell his family about this discovery – not right away at least. I’m not sure if it is mentioned as to why, but I think it’s because he wants to regain a sense of control over his own life as well as the future of his family. Obviously, control is a constant issue with Walt.
Not wanting to leave his family in financial ruin, Walt takes it upon himself to find alternative means of income. Considering he’s a chemistry genius, cooking meth seems like a desperate but ideal outlet – he figures he can cook the stuff and have someone else handle the business end. No big deal right? Get in, get out – an easy business transaction with a huge payoff. Though he’s aware that his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent, this does not deter him from his easy-money scheme. After contacting former student/drug dealer Jesse Pinkman, their business is soon established, and Walter White is cooking meth so pure, it comes out looking like blue rock candy.
Once Walt’s blue meth hits the market, this causes all sorts of trouble with rival distributors, as well as earning attention from cartel. As these tensions rise, Walt builds a new identity to face these local mobs: Heisenberg. Behind this guise, Walt finds within himself the ability to be intimidating and thus earn respect. Now we’ve created the anti-hero.
Come season two, Walt is caught between being hunted by the cartel while struggling to keep his work a secret from Skyler. Jesse has become less inclined to help Walt due to the jeopardization of his friends/dealers. On top of this drama, his medical bills have become increasingly daunting. He needs to stay in this business, but will need more help in order to protect himself and his family. Walt’s choices not only determine the future of Walt and Jesse’s partnership, but we also witness the cogs in Walt’s brain turn as he determines what is really the “greater good.”
What we learn from season three is that fear is not only a great motivator, but also an excellent catalyst. In this season Walt becomes under the employ of Gustavo Fring, a fried chicken tycoon with strong ties to the cartel. Giancarlo Esposito plays this character exquisitely: this is a man with two faces, the exceptional and the terrifying. There is very little we know about Gus’ past, but from what we can tell, Gus understands the sacrifice needed to build an empire. It is only when Gus intimidates Walt and Jesse in order to keep them focused, that’s when things go downhill; Walt understands this man’s potential, truly fearing him while simultaneously envying his control. Ultimately, Gus acts as the catalyst for Walt’s full transformation.
It is in season four when the villain emerges from Walt. He believes Gus has driven him to take drastic measures to protect his family. Though it is true that Gus threatened his family, Walt never tries to call his bluff. It is this season that Walt performs actions that are desperate, cruel, and powerful. I’d give examples, but again, I don’t want to spoil things. I will say we also see the dynamic between Walt and Jesse shift even further – Jesse is teased with the idea of partner-hood, but Walt manipulates him to the point of near-insanity. One could discuss the growth and potential for our young accomplice, alas this article is all about Walter White.
As we enter season five, everything has been set into overdrive. We know that Walt is building an empire, but in the process has become a total monster. There is no longer the man who simply wants to provide for his family. For all Skyler can tell, he doesn’t care about his family, he wants control. The same message can be read by the audience, though some take this badassery to heart without realizing that the Walter White that we grew to empathize with is dead and gone.
Or is he? I don’t know – like I said, I haven’t seen the newest episodes yet.
Walter White began as an underdog, became an anti-hero, then morphs into a full-on villain. While his actions have been impressive, his intentions have often had bafflingly terrifying implications. It’s great to see the little guy win, but to quote JoBlo “even Tony Montana had his limits.” Additionally, Skyler’s behavior, though having received much flack, is completely justifiable. By all means, I am not saying that I am not a fan of the character – I just find this transformation to be incredible. I can’t wait to see what happens to him and Jesse. I want to know what becomes of Walt’s empire, and the aftermath that will surely reign upon his family. All I can tell is this is going to be good.
In memory of Gale Boetticher.