Breaking Bad: Walter White – How a Man Becomes Evil

Breaking Bad: Walter White – How a Man Becomes Evil


Vince Gilligan pitched Breaking Bad as a show
about change. “Chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change.” He promised studios he would “turn Mr. Chips
into Scarface.” Based on that it sounds like Walter’s change
was from good to bad. But let’s look at the first time Walter
was violent in the very first episode. “Having a little trouble walking?” We feel it’s justified — the bully was
making fun of his disabled son — but look at Walter’s face. That is the expression of a man who has just
realized something about himself, and who is strangely pleased. So Breaking Bad raises the question — “Some straight like you, giant stick up his
ass, all of a sudden at age what, sixty, he’s just gonna break bad?” was Walter White really good to begin with,
and if not, what did change in him? Before we go on, be sure to hit subscribe and click the bell to get notifications on
all of our new videos. In the pilot we meet a man plagued by humiliations,
small and large — one underwhelming job, another job that’s
even worse, veggie bacon on his birthday. “It smells like…band-aid.” Walt doesn’t seem to be a bad man, but he
is a bit of a pushover — he lets his brother in law make fun of him, “You’re gonna man up or you’re gonna puss
out?” his boss be rude to him, and his students disrespect him. Taking all of this lying down can be interpreted
as being good, because he is, after all, turning the other
cheek, but this virtue is passive. Walt is good only through inaction. “Walt, just say a word and I’ll take you on
a ride-along.” “Some day.” Walt is also a very talented chemist. He contributed to science that was awarded
the Nobel prize. The fact that he is staring at that plaque
at 5 in the morning is even more revealing, and it tells us a little something about his
ego. The ego and talent hinted in Walt become evident the first time we see him cook meth. In that RV, Walter is Spiderman discovering
his powers. He is a new man — a talented, passionate,
demanding genius. “This is art!” He discovers what’s been missing in his
life — control over his existence, the belief that his actions can change the world — and after, he feels he can’t go back. “I am awake.” Walt is hooked on his new sense of agency. If before he couldn’t stand up for himself,
now he can’t stand down. Which bring us back to Walt’s face after
that first fight — You can almost see him thinking “Hey, finally, I am having an impact on the
world. I matter.” Walter didn’t change from good to bad, exactly. He went from inaction to action. “Get up, get out in the real world and you
kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth.” Letting Heisenberg out feels good because
Walt finally got to say — “I am the danger.” As he enters the drug trade, Walter himself
becomes addicted — not to drugs, but to having power. “I won.” Like an addict, he comes up with far-fetched
excuses just so he can stay in the game that makes
him feel so powerful. “You and I need to cook through to next Tuesday.” “Yeah? And why exactly is that?” “Our methylamine. It’s going bad.” “Eleven more drug deals.” “This is my formula. This is mine!” And he always needs one more hit before he
quits. “One cook.” “How much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?” True to the motifs of the show, Walt’s change
feels like a chemical reaction — a combustible combination of great unrealized
potential and wounded ego stews in the pressure cooker of a very stressful
life, and with the catalyst of a cancer diagnosis, all this reacts to create a deadly, unstoppable
explosion of violence. Many viewers look for the turning point when
Walter White stops existing and Heisenberg takes over. But the truth is that Heisenberg is part of
Walt all along. “What I need is for you to climb down out
of my ass.” Walter White and Heisenberg are like Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde. In Stevenson’s famous story, Dr. Jekyll
creates the evil Mr Hyde by finding a way to temporarily restrain all
of the good in himself. It’s the same with Walt — Heisenberg appears
like a monster within him, and Heisenberg seems to have his own consistent
personality traits, distinct from Walter’s. The two even look very different. Bryan Cranston is phenomenal at playing this
fluid, almost split-personality type, slipping between dad to supervillain in the
twitch of a jaw muscle. The names, Walter White and Heisenberg, have
underlying significance that puts them in opposition — Walter White was a civil rights activist in
the 30’s and 40’s, and Heisenberg was one of the leading scientists
in the Nazi Nuclear Weapon Project. Heisenberg brings certain repressed elements
of Walt to the surface. First of all, there’s his talent as a chemist. Whenever he’s using his chemical genius,
he’s always in powerful, decisive Heisenberg. “This is chemistry. Degrees matter.” Second, his pride and ego. When Walter feels like his dignity is somehow
being hurt, there’s a glint of Heisenberg in his eyes. Third — his desire for ever-more power and
agency. “I’m in the empire business.” And fourth — his affinity for violence. This is connected to the desire for power, because hurting other people to get your way is an ultimate, extreme form of agency. Heisenberg feels joy from violence, but he
also expresses joy as violence. Like Dr. Jekyll, Walt isn’t really in control
of the monster inside him. Here Walt has just found out he is in remission. His reflection in the mutilated cover of the
dispenser feels like a Dorian Grey moment. That monster face is what just came out of
Walt. Sometimes Heisenberg appears at inappropriate
moments “Sir, listen –” “No, no, no. You listen to me. It’s time for you to listen to me.” and threatens to blow Walt’s cover. “Sir, calm down.” “Hellfire rained down on my home!” Anytime he loses power, he can go from mild
to monster in seconds. “Bring the bottle back.” There is not one moment when he definitively
turns in Heisenberg, just as Dr Jekyll is tortured by the duality
of his personality — as he puts it — “Even if I could rightly be said to be either,
it was only because I was radically both.” “But — although they may look the same, they
don’t always behave the same. mirrored images, right? Active, inactive. Good, bad.” Breaking Bad scares us with the thought that
being evil and not being evil aren’t as far from each other as we imagine, because the two are really mirror images that
both exist within us. “Run.” “I can’t go to the police. I can’t stop laundering your money. I can’t keep you out of this house. I can’t even keep you out of my bed.” Walter White was refreshingly different from
other powerful men onscreen in his time. His maleness had nothing to do with sexual
prowess. From the first moment his tighty-whities made
their famous appearance on screen it’s clear that Walter is no suave womanizer. He’s not a stud — he’s the quintessential
dad. “Sitting around, smoking marijuana, eating
Cheetos and masturbating do not constitute ‘plans’
in my book” Fussy, “You wouldn’t apply heat to a volumetric flask.” very particular, “There’s the easy way and there’s the right
way, right?” droning on about things “I mean, does bubble gum belong anywhere near
ocean spray? No.” and just incredibly middle aged. “I’m not the street guy, yo.” Walter’s dadness adds comic relief to balance
out his descent into darkness. Even at the height of his power as Heisenberg, Walter is still not portrayed as alluring. He doesn’t take up with a hot younger woman
to symbolize his new kingpin status. “What? Is he having an affair?” “Walt? Please.” This trope is subtly but deliberately teased
in the one-on-ones he has with the vice principal at Junior’s school. There seems to be sexual tension, but when
Walt acts on it, “Hey!” he’s immediately rebuffed. Several times, after a successful deal, Walter initiates sex with Sklyer because he’s
aroused by his own power, not because she is. After his altercation with Tuco, he comes
home and sexually assaults her. In our visual culture, sex is often portrayed
as another dimension of power — if a man is powerful he must also exercise
power over women. “Sex is about power.” So at times Breaking Bad shows Walt acting
out this idea that our society has about powerful men and
sexuality, but it doesn’t work — the show refused
to glamorize Walter or excuse this behavior. “I’m talking with Ted!” At the start of the show we go along with
Walter’s choices, morally speaking. We assume that his thinking goes something
like this: a) he has, at best, a few years left to live, b) he is the only one who can provide for
his family, c) meth dealers can make a huge amount of
money in a short amount of time, “How much money is that?” “It’s about seven hundred grand.” and d) as a phenomenal chemist, he can make
excellent meth. Thus would it not be selfish not to cook meth and leave his family completely destitute
after his death? So Walter convinces himself that it is morally
necessary to cook meth. “What I do, I do for my family.” “I do it for my family.” “Protect your family.” “Family.” But over time, his actions grow increasingly
harder to justify. “I will not have my children living in a house
where dealing drugs and hurting people and killing people is shrugged
off as ‘shit happens.'” Meanwhile, he stays remarkably committed to
making up explanations for why he does what he does. “There are — there are many factors at play
there.” Walt will take any justification he can get
his hands on, even if it comes from someone whom he doesn’t
respect at all. “Get back on the horse and do what you do
best.” As Heisenberg, Walt is very good at lying
to others but he is best at lying to himself. “You’re a drug dealer.” “No.” Heisenberg is like a devil on Walt’s shoulder, convincing him that what he is doing is justified. Heisenberg uses these mind games to hide from
Walt, so that he won’t be pushed back down into
oblivion by Walt’s conscience. Walter’s moral philosophy is actually reminiscent
of another literary classic — Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The hero, Raskolnikov, decides to murder an
old woman. He comes up with a bunch of different reasons
why he’s doing it — for the good of his family, for the good of
society, or because fate gave him a sign. But he eventually confesses: I simply killed — killed for myself, for
myself alone. Walt says almost exactly the same thing. “I did it for me. I was good at it.” Raskolnikov goes on to say he wanted to find
out, “Whether I was a louse like all the rest,
or a man? Would I be able to step over or not? Would I dare to reach down and take, or not? Am I a trembling creature or do I have a right…” The same ideas are key to Walter’s philosophy. “A guy opens his door and gets shot and you
think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!” So both split people into two groups: the the trembling creatures who open the door
and get shot, and those who step over the line, who are
the danger, the ones who knock. “Get out!” Walter was driven by a desire for power. But at the end of it all he has nothing. He lost his money, his family wants nothing
to do with him, his empire never came to be and his cancer
is back. But as AV Club’s Donna Bowman points out, that Walt in the pilot didn’t know where
true power lies. It’s not money, or an empire — because those
can be stolen or destroyed. She writes: “True power lies in your name. Your legend.” “Say my name.” “If you can make that bulletproof, then you
are immortal.” “You’re goddamn right.” By the time we reach the finale, the Heisenberg
name is legend. Walt is quiet, almost reserved, but Gretchen
and Eliott Schwartz are scared senseless. His name precedes him, so he can operate from
the shadows. Walt is calm because he knows he will get
everything he wants, even after death — his family will take his money even if they
don’t want to, Lydia will die and so will Jack and his crew. On a whim Walt decides to save Jesse and so
he does. Even though his life has been stripped of
every real value, his power is complete, and so as Walter lies dying he is happy and
peaceful. Walt is never redeemed in our eyes. “Just die!” He doesn’t repent or feel the weight of
a guilty conscience. The only sadness he seems to feel dying is
some bitter sweet nostalgia for his glory days. He did not made evil seem glamorous or sexy
and mysterious. So by avoiding glamour and forgiveness, even
in its end, Breaking Bad achieves what it set out to do
— show the transformation of a supremely insignificant
man into a significant but truly evil one. “He poisoned a little kid! Just as a move!” The evil Walt became was like a terrible chemical
reaction to the end — it could not be stopped. It just had to consume everything around it until it burnt out on its own. “It is growth then decay — then transformation! It is fascinating, really.” Thanks for watching. If you like our videos, please consider supporting
us on Patreon. Just click this link here. We spend a lot of time making these videos,
and every little bit helps. And of course, the very best thing you can
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Author:

100 thoughts on “Breaking Bad: Walter White – How a Man Becomes Evil”

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  • PrefrontalOxymoron says:

    That teaching monologue scene about change seems painfully explicit, how did I miss that entirely on my first viewing?

  • I fundamentally disagree with you.He didn't become to "evil" man.And world isn't divided to white and black.He actually was a good man,if we can say so.

  • How insightful! Walter White went through a change from mild-mannered to a violent drug kingpin? How do you glean that off a show that didn't give any clues to his transformation? None at all…

  • Could you guys please do a comparison of Breaking Bad vs. Weeds? As a whole? I've just finished watching the latter in its entirety and over the course of it I've noticed some similarities between the two despite being drastically different with regard to characters, setting, etc. I think it would be great to hear your perspective on the two shows.

  • George Giesbrecht says:

    Cain and Abel, Thor and Loki, Jekyll and Hyde, white and Heisenberg. How many times will we have to see the battle between darkness and light to realize that the battle is inside each and everyone of us. The worst atrocities were committed by humans, a human like you or me.

  • Ha! I just finished s2 last episode..so far so good… But thanks for this video, I don't have to waste any data any more on last season's episodes…coz I got the story gist

  • I didnt watch this video yet. Just came to comment.

    Im in season 2 episode 4 rn and I fucking hate Walter White. Bruh he's sooooo damn annoying. Am I the only one who hates him???!!

  • I think generally Walt was good…sick of being walked all over, disrespected…. So I will leave you with the words of Danzig… "The Twist of Cain, it makes me come alive" 😂

  • It was impossible to feel any empathy for him by the last season. He became such a manipulative piece of s*it. Everything he did to Jesse over the course of the show made him irredeemable, even when he “rescued” Jesse from those scumbags in the end.
    Can’t wait for the movie to come out. I hope Jesse gets a happy ending. If anyone deserved it, it would be him.

  • Walt's biggest flaw was his insane need for recognition. His jealousy about what gray matter turned into put this anger in Walt but the cancer diagnosis is what brought it to light because Walt no longer feels he has to live the same life, as he won't be living a full life anymore. Obviously other things brought this anger and egomaniac behavior out but those were the underlying reasons, in my opinion.

  • Without having watched the show yet, but with your analysis at hand, I wouldn't even say that Walter becomes genuinely evil — which villain would try to justify their doings in front of anyone? He still has his moral compass. Someone genuinely evil wouldn't care about right and wrong, but about ways to achieve whatever they want. I think, as long as he's not willing to confess what he's doing (and he doesn't even have to label himself as "bad", bc which bad guy would?), he's not really the bad guy, but a kind of good guy seeing himself forced to do the bad stuff. He obviously gets caught up in it. Still have problems to see him as truly evil in his core.

  • Universal Page says:

    Walter went from inaction to action this is absolutely true he was just afraid to get out of his comfort zone when he understood he had cancer his ego saw no more reason to stay inactive and it turned Walt on. I have a personality similar to walt people think im a nice guy but that's only becuase im inactive I don't say what i mean I don't do what i want etc.

  • Jeremy Lindemann says:

    I had a theory through some of the show that Walt was Jesse's saviour and he had to go down a long road through hell to save him. But in the later series as Jesse get severely fucked over by Walt my theory proved not to be the case.

  • REIGREHGKJREHGER says:

    interesting how she left out the fact that at the beginning, his wife and son are also incredibly demeaning to him as well…humm wonder why that part was left out…hmm

  • خالد - Khalid says:

    12:14
    Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick , a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow

  • Another early sign of Heisenberg is when he's offered money for his cancer treatments but his pride and bitterness forces him to decline. After that it was no longer necessary to cook meth but a purely selfish choice. On the flip side by admitting his true reasons for cooking meth to Skylar and then rescuing Jesse, I think his long buried better nature did start to resurface towards the end.

  • The moral of the story is that jesse shouldnt have turned snitch you either play the game for keeps or you dont play at all. Shit is real out there no room for half assing it peoples lives are in the balance 24/7.

  • Personally I can SOMEWHAT relate to the early changes in Walter White. Not so much the criminal part, but the cancer/ aggressiveness/ anger/ violence parts. At one point in the early 1990s after Desert Storm where I was seriously wounded, I suffered a very severe spinal injury on an poorly-planned parachute drop. My wounds from the Gulf weren't completely healed and it appeared I'd only be able to walk again — maybe after several years. By that time, I'd worked my way from young Private with 2 years of college to Staff Sergeant, then thru Officer Candidate School, becoming a commissioned officer, and by 1992 was a superbly trained Infantry/ Combat Engineer/ Ranger and Special Forces Senior Officer with a Master's Degree. The Army was my life's work and my IDENTITY. Suddenly I was placed on the "Temporary Disability Retired List" with a poor outlook for ever returning to Active Duty. I was technically still in the Army, but realistically not. Needless to say I was angry, frustrated, and severely depressed. A year or so afterward I was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin's Lymphoma. At that point it was too much. I started drinking more and sometimes LOOKED for fights whenever I saw bullies or loudmouthed obnoxious people. Needless to say, no matter how tough those clowns acted, they were out of their league with me. And I LIKED IT. Like Walter White with his chemistry, I was proving to myself that I still "had it." Also, like Walter confronting the store bullies, I did it to protect others, especially those who couldn't effectively protect themselves, but also to vent my anger. And like Walter, who'd effectively lost his identity as a great chemist, I'd lost mine as a superb soldier and officer. Fortunately I never crossed into any type of criminal activity and the drinking hadn't gotten out of control (I quit completely well before it became a problem) there are many aspects of Walter White I can understand and relate to. I can even understand — as most of us with families can — why he INITIALLY produced meth to provide for his family after his death. In my case, I was finally recalled to Active Duty (on a limited scale, not fully for combat) from 2001-2004. Which helped me have some closure with my military career. I suggest many of us look inside ourselves and see if we share certain of Walter's traits as his character developed.

  • this video is so great. I really like it

    it would have been even cooler if the equation at 3:49 was in the form of a chemistry equation

  • I love this idea that the character's moral philosophy transitions from good to evil because he changed from inactive to active. It seems analogous to the ACTUAL Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in that we cannot definitively measure, or predict, the change in momentum of an object. It's just like Walt's transition to and from Heisenberg!

    God damn, what an amazing show…

  • We all have evil in us. We all choose not to do the wrong things all the time. Walt just refused to act all the time even when it would be in his and those around hims best interest.

  • I think heinsberg took control when he was in the crawl space laughing, and walter white again when he was in the bar in New Hampshire

  • I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't watch Breaking Bad until 3 months ago. I'm grateful I didn't know any spoilers. Such a powerful, raw game changing show. And seeing as how I just finished the finale last week, this analysis feels refreshing and accurate. Well done!

  • Ronald Reagan Is The Devil says:

    How is he evil? He was just expanding his business. His product was meth, so we call him evil, but if he had done the same with a legal product, would we just call him a success? 🤔

  • This is a show. Think about real life.
    Young healthy American Adults without a solid stable job, in a country filled with distraction entertainment, addictive medicine, readily accessible weapons and an undercurrent of division and hatred. How long does it take for a person to go crazy, to decide that its been long enough that they have been ignored, decide to be famous, to get excitement, to stand for a cause as if that would make them somehow matter more, to unite with others similarly disillusioned individuals like them. And most of all, like Walter, to get the AGENCY they been lacking their whole life?

    Think about that, and you realise its a line of thought that leads to suicide, mass violence, shootings, riots etc. Its despair, and its etched onto every word of a mass killers manifesto.

  • 200 Subs & No Content says:

    Some of the perspectives and comparisons in this video are so in depth and well written. I’ve been aware of Walter White and especially Heisenberg but I’ve never thought to contrast their real “versions” to each other and it surprisingly works perfectly with the character Bryan Cranston played.

  • The point where he could never go back was Jane's death. His transformation into Heisenberg was gradual and never pinned at a single point in the series.

  • Heisenberg weakened during To'hajiilee. He finally broke during Ozymandias. In Felina, he was Walt once again, one last time

  • "I define a 'good person' as somebody who is fully conscious of their own limitations. They know their strengths, but they also know their 'shadow' – they know their weaknesses. In other words, they understand that there is no good without bad. Good and evil are really one, but we have broken them up in our consciousness. We polarize them." – John Bradshaw

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