Arguably my favorite television show of all time is Breaking Bad. That might seem kind of trite, to some. After all, how many people have sung the series praises? How much attention has it gotten, even being labeled one of (if not the) greatest television drama of all time? This series is amazingly intense and doesn’t let up for a minute. I am working on making a top 10 list of my favorite episodes, and as I rewatch the series, I am not the slightest bit disappointed with the amazing acting. While Bryan Cranston gets a lot of rightful praise for his work as Walter White, or Heisenberg, as I know him, Aaron Paul really deserves a lot of respect as well for his amazing performance as his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. This series wouldn’t have worked without either character, which is a testament of just how strong the chemistry between these actors was.
But, like most people, my favorite character was Heisenberg. Part of me wants to do my Communication Research paper on the descent of Walter White into Heisenberg. There are a lot of clear places where a person can make some inferences on Heisenberg being there, but the dynamic of these two characters was a lot more complicated than that. There were a lot of clear points where both of them are fighting for control as Walt gets further and further involved in his meth-cooking operation. I bet you could have a very heated and passionate debate in a classroom about the exact point where Walt became the voice in the background and Heisenberg became his active reality. Both of these two people had very different personalities.
There is an argument to be made that Heisenberg isn’t someone who grew in Walt’s mind, but rather a part of him that was always there. My coworker and I discussed that, actually, as we did the menial work at that shit job. I, for one, think it was part of Walt’s mind that grew. You see its first true expressions in the first season, when Walt has to kill Krazy-8. As he takes that first leap, a new part of his mind, a darker part, becomes open to him. A part that would change him forever. As he was forced to make harder and harder choices, he fell more under the sway of his darker side. You see clear points where Heisenberg comes out and makes himself known. One of my favorite was when he finds out that Jesse had been continuing to make meth and use his formula. This offended his pride in his formula, that he didn’t view Pinkman as worthy of using. The next was the famous monologue to his wife about when trouble comes knocking, how it’s him who is trouble.
As I said, it is a subtle point when Heisenberg took over completely in Walt’s life. We could argue from sunup to sundown when it was, but for me, it was in one of the most unnerving and nail-bitingly intense scenes in the film – when Walt is underneath the floor and finds out that the money is gone. Knowing that his family is going to be killed, he starts to scream and sob, only for it to turn into laughter. And once he kills Gus, his other half is now part of almost everything. Sure, Walt comes back through in scenes like when Hank is killed. There is still that part of him that wants to be a good person, but can’t, due to what he has become.
When looking at Heisenberg, it is important to note the role that Pinkman plays. To me, he is the innocence that Heisenberg helps to destroy. As he gets further and further down the rabbit hole, Pinkman is having to lose more and more of himself. He is like a living representation of how far Walt has fallen and how impossible redemption becomes by the end.
However, you truly see the debris field that Heisenberg left in his wake in my favorite episode of the series “Ozymandias.” For those of you who don’t know, the name of the episode is the same as the great conqueror who went by the same name, along with Alexander the Great. When you see how much Walt’s family hates him and how little he has left after all of what he has done, it becomes clear just how destructive his mission truly was. You get to see that it was NEVER about providing for his family, as he admits that much. It became about attaining power that he never had, about living life as he wanted to live and not giving in when anybody said otherwise. You see how much he resented the life he had in the second season, when he takes his ex-girlfriend and former business partner out to dinner. You find out that he was screwed out of a company he helped form and then subsequently lost everything. All of what he has done is to get back what he feels he was owed, using his knowledge and chemistry genius. Another great moment of Heisenberg appearing was how he ended that meeting with the ex-girlfriend, where you find out that he hated her, passionately.
There is a part of all of us that feels like we are wasting our potential. That part that wants to let our out-of-control side out to do whatever we want. This is a central part of the human condition. One of the biggest regrets people have when they die is that they didn’t live their lives the way that they wanted to. The beauty of the story of Heisenberg is that it shows the cruel reality of following the passion to live life how you want. It can often lead to hard choices, many of which you’ll get wrong. Walt got a lot of choices wrong, because his other side wanted to do whatever it wanted and have fun doing it. That’s part of the lesson that viewers get – that you are in charge of your life and that the choices you make affect who you will become. Great lessons like that, taught in a way where they don’t feel patronizing, is part of the reason why I love Breaking Bad so much. Hopefully you love it too.
Until next time, a quote,
“Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided not to go into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly-up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me! No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to. So let me clue you in – I am not in danger, Skylar. I AM the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that’s me? No! I am the one who knocks!” -Heisenberg, Breaking Bad