I now know what is going on my “book” board for at least the rest of this week – “Breaking Bad” (sticking with the “B” theme:) ). The boyfriend and I watched seasons 1-3 last winter on Netflix and we are now watching the reruns of Season 4 on AMC in order to be properly prepared for the final season which begins this weekend. I love the acting, the drama, and the complex story lines, but I mainly find the show compelling for its psychology. I feel like it gives me a glimpse into the path that can take good people and break them into bad. It gives me a window into my ex-husband.
(This post will have some general spoilers, but obviously nothing past Season 3!)
Walt, the primary character, is a 50-something high school chemistry teacher when he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. At first, he seems likable, normal even. He is even-tempered and family-focused, a sharp contrast from what he becomes. So what goes wrong? He starts off slowly enough. His first deception is to try to conceal his diagnosis while undergoing treatment, presumably to shield his pregnant wife from the stress of his cancer. This lie has a relatively short life as the effects of the disease become apparent, yet the precedent has been set.
Shortly thereafter, when the financial burdens of the treatment become too high for the family bear, Walt again turns to falsehoods when he pretends to accept money from a family friend but really begins manufacturing meth. This time, the origins of the lie are not so rose-colored. Walt refuses the money offered out of pride. He was looking out for his family, but he wanted to be the one in control. Unlike the first lie, which was made to protect others, this one was made to shelter his own ego.
After beginning a life of crime, not surprisingly, the lies mounted. His family had no knowledge of his secret profession and he had to tread carefully in order to keep them in the dark. Not surprisingly, his relationship with his wife suffered as he had to distance himself to keep her from discovering his secrets. Lying became a habit for Walt. No one knew all his secrets; he sequestered different pieces in his different lives.
You can see the tension catching up with him at the same time the lies gain traction. It’s a vicious cycle – his sense of right and wrong diminishes with each lie, which leads to more appalling behaviors and actions, which then have to be concealed with more lies. He’s in free fall and cannot halt his descent.
As the seasons continue, his family is drawn in as well. They each become aware of some of the deceit and they begin to tell lies of their own to protect him. Deception effects everyone around you. The whole show is like some demented Rube Goldberg machine – you can pretty much tell how it’s going to end, but it isn’t clear how one piece influences the next until it is set into its unstoppable motion.
Machiavelli claimed that “the ends justify the means.” Walt seems to think in reverse; “the original intent justifies the means.” I’m not sure those caught in the webs of his lies would agree and they all spiral towards their ends.
As far as I know, my husband never had a brain tumor, manufactured meth, or taught high school chemistry, but I see some of him in Walt’s character. Like Walt, I think my husband first lied out of fear and wanting to protect me. I think he was also trying to shield his ego from the realities of a failing business. The lies fed themselves and became ingrained. It was his way of being and he took others along for the ride. He lied to try to dodge the repercussions of his choices and his actions.
But eventually, the truth came out. And truth always has consequence.
- The Beginning Of The End Of Walter White (npr.org)
- ‘Breaking Bad’ Season 5 Promo: Because Walt Says So! (hollywood.com)
- Here’s What You Need To Know Before Season 5 Of ‘Breaking Bad’ Premieres (businessinsider.com)