Breaking Bad-ology Final: 11 Lessons Taught by Walter White and Friends

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This is the end my friend…

As we embark along with Walter White to find out his fate, it’s a good time to reflect on the Breaking Bad series as a whole. Although many shows have been labeled as “just television,” or merely entertainment, there are some that stick with us because they are much more than that. Those in the geek set are more likely to analyze a show in order to garner a deeper understanding of what it all meant. Stories are more than a way to pass the dark of night or to liven up the spirits of those who hear them.

There’s a lot to be learned about the human experience through this form of cultural transmission. Our primitive ancestors knew this. The Greek epic writers—such as Homer—still echo through time; Shakespeare still underpins almost all screenwriting and fiction today; Campbell’s hero’s journey is as prevalent as ever. Breaking Bad has been a perfect molecular combination of lessons in morality, philosophy, family, business, and some may say, in fate.

Chemistry is a study of change, as White conveyed during the Pilot. In chemistry, change occurs through some kind of interaction, mainly based on connections via bonds with other elements and molecules. Heat, cold, and pressure also act to impart change. In human terms, people form connections and their interactions can also be affected by pressure or “heat.” Relationships and chance connections alter the destiny of an individual. Like a molecule, a person’s behavior can be completely altered, given the right circumstances.

Life’s experiences are all useful teaching opportunities, both the good and those lived through Breaking Bad. Here are some to consider:

Every decision has outcomes and consequences

We are free to make choices in life. If you follow a Judeo-Christian mindset, this free will is what makes humanity special—it is a gift from God—but that freedom can lead to making choices that are rife with “shoulds” and “should-nots.” A choice made can have a desired outcome. But there are repercussions, or ripples,  that may manifest later down the line.

For instance, Walter chose to let Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, die from a heroin overdose. He watched and did nothing. As a result, her father’s life was destroyed, and so were those of the people on two airplanes whose pilots received fatal instructions from the man—an exhausted air traffic controller. Walter later revealed his inaction to Jesse, and that truth may come into play for the final episode.

Who Are We to Judge?

It is difficult to draw moral lines that are permanent. Many people do not know how they will react until thrust into a given situation. While we can damn Walter for what he has done, this story provides a good mirror to hold up to ourselves. If you were dying, but could ensure your family’s future by making a drug that ruins the lives of others, would you do it? Each character on the show has lines that he or she will not cross. Jesse Pinkman has a soft spot for children–any children. Skyler wanted to keep the truth from her children. Walter let numerous people die in any number of gruesome ways, but he was not prepared to watch Hank die. We are not Dredd here. We all have our own demons, weaknesses, and moral failings. It’s part of being human–we are flawed.

Little “White” lies come back to haunt

Walter’s own little game of thrones led to a veritable cascade of outright lies and deceptions. But the most damaging of his words were often just plain omissions of facts. All of these things hidden by him would either lead to a death, or to someone finally discovering the truth.

Accept a little help from friends

Sometimes you just have to accept that your friends won the game. Think of it as like a game of player-versus-player, and you were PWNED.  So what if they took the company that you helped to build and made it into a pharmaceutical industry empire? Becoming jealous would be like leaving a gaming guild that became one of the top-rated raiding guilds on a server, only to fume that you left before they made it. It is my belief that Walter’s pride is what led him to the road of building something of his own—an empire—only to watch it shatter due to the same pride. History and lore are full of tales of the prideful either falling into a descent of oblivion, or of those who came back to Earth with their tails tucked between their legs. He should have just taken the offer made by Gretchen and Elliot to pay his medical bills…

Go with your gut

Walter knew the pharmaceutical business with his friends could be big, but chose to sell his share instead. A fear of going big at first is what stunted Walter’s career and economic growth. Being a chemistry teacher was easier and safer. But his resentment and jealousy finally drove him to pursue an empire on a level that HE could control. Geeks can kind of find a parallel here. Many of us are complacent, but have dreams that we bury. Geeks often rule the world because of risk-taking.

Say what you will about Skyler, but she knew something was going on,  and did not pursue it. In her own way, she also had a hidden ambition. As a wife and mother with part-time employment at Beneke, things were safe. Underneath, Skyler showed a knack for business, and this talent was seemingly being wasted—until Walter needed her number-switcheroo skills.

 

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Plans can easily fall apart

Part of the fun and frustration of dealing with other human beings is that we are so darned unpredictable. The best laid plans cannot account for all of the variables.

Bald guys mean business

Seriously…

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Better living through chemistry

An understanding of basic chemistry principles can help on a practical level such as dissolving evidence (body soup… yum) and making the perfect coffee. (Because that is what really matters.)

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Be careful with bathroom reading material

It is said that you can tell a lot about a person by what is on his or her bookshelf. The same could be said by what magazines and catalogs may be found in the “throne” room. But who in the world keep such “light” reading material as Leaves of Grass there? After such meticulous planning and cover-ups, I sure wouldn’t want to essentially be outed by a nineteenth-century poet.

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Be nice to fast food workers and managers

You never know who might be running a front for one of the largest cartels in a region from their chicken or taco shack …

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Is there hope for forgiveness after breaking bad?

I’ll be honest: I lost whatever hope I had for Walter White in season one. Part of me had wanted him to prevail. After all, the concept of just how far one would go for their family is one that resonates in my favorite show, Fringe. But whereas, Walter Bishop truly sought forgiveness for his noble intentions that altered universes, I have little hope for Walter White. Deep down, I do wish that he sees that all he has left is an empire of dirt, and that yes, even he can have his own forgiveness. Even so, I see this fully heading into the “best love stories are tragedies” territory (Casablanca). Has he truly “left the station,” never to return?

But maybe, just maybe, the final lesson will be that even when we think we’re too far gone, there is a chance for redemption after all. The alternative is a kind of living hell that may be worse than death–the death of the soul.

Here’s hoping that Walter White gets a “white tulip” of his own.

Check out some Breaking Bad Pop Culture References Here.

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