On Breaking Bad Season 5 Midseason Finale
“Nothing stops this train. Nothing.” —Walt—
In Plato’s The Republic, Glaucon, an older brother of Plato challenges Socrates to refute the claim that right conduct is anything the rule of the stronger determines it to be, the “Might Makes Right” argument. Glaucon aruges that anyone will pursue their own self-interest regardless of law or justice and he cites the Myth of Gyges to support this claim. In this myth, Gyges discovers a magic ring by which he ultimately enters the castle, seduces the queen, murders the king and takes the throne for himself.
A powerful argument indeed.
In Season 1 of Breaking Bad, we are introduced to Walter White, a man who has followed the rules his entire life, both the rules of society and the moral rules he has placed on himself—dedication to family, friends, his profession, his employer and the published laws of society. Throughout these four and a half seasons, we watch Walter White come to the same realization that all successful tyrants in history have learned, that seizing power becomes a systematic mathematical process once one completely abandons all adherence to the social constructs that civilized individuals agree upon as the foundation of their relationship to one another.
I define a tragedy as a narrative where an individual brings ruin to himself and on others innocent of culpability in their actions and they do so by following their natural inclinations, without regards to the social constructs like laws and manners that would stop others from taking the same actions. Tragedy of this nature is the essence of the timeless Greek theatrical pieces which later fueled Shakespeare’s plays and which have filtered down the ages to Tony Soprano and Walter White.
With each episode of each season of Breaking Bad, we have watched Walter White shed his morals and adherence to laws like a Christian convert disrobing before entering the river to be baptized except that Walt is baptizing himself with blood and money, the two primary ritualistic tools of worship for the modern American; he is high priest in a church of one. What began as a crusade to protect his family has lead Walter White to a situation where what he once espoused as the meaning of his existence has become nothing but a menagerie of plastic figurines placed in primary positions to reflect light and simulated joy into the eyes of anyone who tries to look beyond them, preventing view of the filth that lay behind it all. One could argue that this is the same filth that lies behind all of human history, a patchwork menagerie stitched together by hundreds of thousands of Walter Whites, each of them wading in blood to the waist.
There must be a point in the progression of cancer where the disease proclaims itself master of the host organism. But as with all mathematically determined processes subject to entropy, the cancer itself soon flames out in a smoldering heap of convulsions as the host organism succumbs to the inevitable. With this break in the final season, I believe we have seen the moment in which our "hero" reaches this realization. Walter White, the man who believes he has no positive actions to take inside the social construct that the rest of us adhere to, the man who believes he has found a loophole that can be sustained indefinitely, the man who has doused the world around him in gasoline, now is beginning to understand that a lit match was tossed the moment he broke bad and that the invisibility he has prided himself upon, this shield of Heisenberg, will never withstand the flames once the match strikes ground. Walter White knows chemistry, how to forcefully determine the end product of chemicals combined through material violence.
It’s a mathematical certainty.