I’ve visited this topic before back when I first started watching the show. Now two years later I’m caught up with every episode (and webisode) made for the show and know the ins and outs of it and a lot of the characters that live within it. Breaking Bad has got to be one of the best shows to ever grace the screens of television. From its depth of character and story to the character study that is Walter White. Just about everyone and their mom has lauded Breaking Bad for its addictive plot, ground breaking camera work and characters that are so original and well written that you know you’re looking at something that really doesn’t come around that often. Breaking bad is the character study focusing on the age old saying, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We, as the audience, watch the lead character transform from an inept man, powerless to control just about everything in his life, to a man who has all the power he could ever want, and lose a good part of his soul in the process.
What makes Breaking Bad work, the thing that has helped it standout from so many other shows, is that as a fan of the show you actively root for the protagonist. Now bear in mind, this isn’t a guy you should be rooting for in the least. He’s a lying, murdering, child poisoning sociopath who uses most of the people he comes in contact with as an ends to a means. So despite the fact you know all this about Walter White, the man who is the focus of the show, you still root for him, despite knowing he deserves the special place in hell that’s awaiting him. And therein lies the magic of the show. If you watch the show from the very beginning you’ll find a man who’s a bumbling fool of a chemistry teacher, stuck in life and is essentially a doormat for everyone else. So when he finds out that he has cancer and decides to put his chemistry skills to a different use, to leave something behind for his family before he’s gone, and goes on a journey which will see this man become the biggest meth kingpin in the southwest, you want him to win.
You want him to win because despite the things that he does, and some of these things are bad, some would even say evil, the man himself isn’t. During the course of the show Walter loses himself in the power that he finds that comes from being Heisenberg (his ruthless alter ego), but he never loses his humanity, not completely anyway. Walter may do bad things and even be a bad person, but he’s not bad for bad’s sake. There is a means to an end, a method to his madness (even with the poisoning of the kid). Despite all that he’s done, Walter is a family man, placing his family above anything and everything else. They’re the reason he’s done all this to begin with. He’s also loyal, maybe even to a fault, and it’s because of those qualities that so many who watch the show want Walt to win. We want him to get away with it. And if he does wind up dying by series end, at least have him die on his own terms.
We live in the era of the Antihero, from Dexter Morgan, to Jax Teller, television is littered with them, and they’re all complex characters that are more than just their actions. None more than Walter White, who will go down in the annals of pop culture and television history as one of the most iconic characters ever written. He will surely be a lightening rod when it comes to the discussion of right and wrong, and can someone still be good (or somewhat good) while doing very bad things? As of this posting there are three more episodes left until the series finale and the ultimate fate of Walter is revealed. As a fan I’m both anxious to see how it ends and sad that it actually is. But when I think about the approaching ending of one of the best shows to hit television in years, this quote comes to mind: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile…because it happened.”