Is Walter White a Monster?

I watched the season premiere of "Breaking Bad," and found myself in a heated discussion: Is Walter a monster or not?

Aug 12, 2013 at 10:30am | Leave a comment

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Warning: Please do not read this unless you have seen all of "Breaking Bad" so far including last night's premiere. Spoilers within.

One of the things I like about this guy I've been dating is that he managed to catch up on "Breaking Bad" -- all four and a half seasons -- in a matter of a week before the season premiere tonight.

He also likes Skyler.

Sold.

But tonight, as we were watching the show, I asked him who his favorite character is. "Walt," he said. "No question."

Uh-oh.

"But he's a monster," I said. "He's a sociopath. He didn't have to go down this route. If he wasn't so prideful he could have just taken the job at Gray Matter and all of his problems would have been solved."

"You make a good point," he said.

Then we watched the premiere.

My jaw was slack as I watched Walter threaten Hank with the garage door closed, with Walt not pleading for mercy as the amazing Rolling Stone recapper noted, but instead -- going all Gus Fring on him.

"If that's true," Walt says. "If you don't know who I am. Then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.

The only thing that could have made the tension more unbearable would have been if Skyler and Walt Jr. and Holly were standing right beside him.

You know, his family. The reason he did All of It. His justification for everything. (If W.W. were honest, he would be able to say his real reason is his pride, absolutely.)

On the one hand, Walt does not seem to be the same wild-eyed psychopath that he had evolved into the first part of season five, where he was delivering none-too-subtle warnings to Jesse like: "I've been thinking about Victor. All this time, I was sure that Gus did what he did to send me a message. Maybe there's another reason. Victor trying to cook that batch on his own, taking liberties that weren't his to take. Maybe he flew too close to the sun and got his throat cut."

Jesse looked at him with a horror that registered in the viewers even more.

On the other hand, maybe he is more so in some pathologically creepy way? In that he can so false-soothingly tell Jesse that he "has to believe him" that Mike is alive -- even though Jesse clearly doesn't believe him.

But the good we have seen from Walt is that he did actually "get out." He didn't have to. But he wanted his family back. Something finally got through to him, his wife Skyler.

And then Hank used the bathroom and wanted some reading material.

Now that we've seen the season opener we know how it ends. With ricin, a machine gun and HEISENBERG graffiti-ed on the walls of his once not-very-happy home.

But will Walt go out in a blaze of monster glory? Will he add to the body count calculated so expertly by observers online at 247? Speaking of body count, here's one not-a-monster-argument.

"He saved more people by killing Gus Fring," the man I'm seeing tried to argue. "OK, so all those people were killed, but I would argue the body count could have been even higher if Gus was still alive."

I realize that part of him sticking to this argument is him goading me, but I'm also fascinated by what actually constitutes evil. What actually makes a man a monster.

In my eyes, Walt is.

He became one when he stopped feeling. Remember the list he put together in season one that was a pro's and con's of why he should or should not kill the man chained to the pole in Jesse's basement? He had moral regret. Soon after, one of his students asked him a question: "Will this be on the midterm?" We see Walt, horrified, because he is traumatized and haunted at this early point in the show's run and he hears: "Will this be on the murder?"

He has a conscience. That is, until it either becomes too heavy to bear or until he realizes he actually is capable of justifying whatever he wants by lying to himself. He can put his morality in a box. He has discovered a neat trick.

He can rationalize anything if it is done with the intention of "family." He tries to comfort Skyler with this, once she is roped into the business that "it gets easier."

But I would say that murder never gets easier.

Unless you are a monster.

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