Contains some spoilers (relating to the end of Seasons 2 and 4).
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Walter White’s actions at the end of Season 2 and the end of Season 4. In both cases, he causes harm to someone close to Jesse, and I’ve been thinking about how these two acts of Walt’s alone tell us so much about the dark turns his character has taken. Even though what happens to Jane is worse (she dies) than what happens to Brock (he’s fine, as far as we know), the progression of Walt’s moral demise is still evident because what Walt does to Brock is in some ways worse, for Walt’s part anyway.
At the end of Season 2, Walt watches as Jesse’s girlfriend Jane chokes to death on her own vomit. When Walt goes over to Jesse’s apartment and finds Jesse and Jane passed out in a heroin stupor, he shakes Jesse which causes Jane to roll from her side onto her back and start choking. Walt mumbles, “No, no, no” to himself and you think he’s going to go over and save her but then he stops himself and lets her die.
At the end of Season 4, Walt poisons Brock, the son of Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea, a boy whom Jesse has become very close to. Walt does this as an elaborate plan to manipulate Jesse into thinking that Gus Fring has done it (Gus has used kids in the drug trade before, as well as allowing his guys to kill Andrea’s little brother, both points that Walt uses to convince Jesse that Gus would poison Brock) and win Jesse back on his side so they can work together to kill Gus.
So already, you have intention. With Jane, Walt didn’t go over there with the intention to do her any harm. He didn’t plan for anything bad to happen to her. In the moment, he decided not to act. With Brock though, Walt poisoned the kid on purpose. He did have intention. He made a premeditated plan and (it’s assumed) hired Saul to carry it out. So that already points to the dark turn that Walt has taken.
Then there’s remorse. Walt felt bad about Jane. He goes to some lengths to help Jesse afterward. When Walt rescues him from the crackhouse and Jesse is crying over Jane, Walt seems remorseful. Then he checks Jesse into rehab and lets Jesse stay with him (briefly) after he’s out. It’s almost like he’s trying to make up for what he did. He’s in denial about a lot of things at that point (the best line of that is when he’s talking about the plane crash and says, “I blame the government”) but it seems like he’s harboring secret guilt. There’s a reason he’s so out of touch with his responsibility in things: he wouldn’t have to go to such lengths to rationalize and absolve himself of responsibility if he didn’t, deep down, feel responsible. He also tries to get out of the drug trade at this point, refusing Gus’s offer. (One of my favorite lines at the beginning of Season 3 is when Walt says to Gus, “I’m not a criminal…no offense to those who are,” because it’s funny when he catches himself and attempts not to offend Gus, and because it shows how out of touch with reality he is). Heisenberg sorta goes away for awhile after Jane’s death.
And then, when Walt is going crazy in “Fly” and Jesse drugs his coffee and Walt, as he always does when drugged in any way, starts talking a little too much and a little too honestly, his remorse becomes even more clear. He says twice, “I’m so sorry about Jane,” and his tone of voice as well as his drug-induced lack of a filter, make his words sound heartfelt. Of course, Jesse has no idea exactly what role Walt played in Jane’s death and Walt doesn’t divulge that little tidbit, but his remorse seems sincere.
With Brock, there is no parallel. Walt doesn’t seem to have any remorse or guilt about doing it. He replies in a positive way when Jesse says Brock will be fine but that’s about it. There’s just something so cold and heartless about what Walt has done. Brock was an innocent (and adorable) little kid, and as Jesse says, “it was touch and go for awhile.” Walt could have killed him. There is also no such retreat after he does this, no going back to the old Walter White we once met, no shying away from the drug business that led to all this in the first place. Instead the poisoning is coupled with planting a bomb in a nursing home, killing Gus’s guys at the lab, torching the superlab and in the middle of all that, bringing a bomb into a hospital.
(By the way, I LOVE the callback. In episode 209, “4 Days Out,” Walt says with disbelief to Jesse, “You brought a meth lab to the airport?!” and then in episode 413, “Face Off,” Jesse gets to say to Walt, “You brought a bomb to the hospital?!” Love the symmetry.)
The other major difference I see in the two events is that in Walt’s mind he can rationalize letting Jane die as somehow being something he did to help Jesse. Of course, Jane had just blackmailed Walt, and I’m sure that was part of his decision to not save her; that alone could motivate Walt to stand by and watch her choke. But I think in Walt’s twisted mind, he was rescuing Jesse from this girl who had come in, turned his life upside down (though Walt has done that too) and got him hooked on heroin. I think the part of Walt that feels like a surrogate father to Jesse was weighing all of that in those moments Jane was dying. Again, this is revealed more fully in “Fly.” While drugged up, Walt recounts to Jesse that he had a drink with Jane’s father on the night of her death. He mentions that Donald told him to take care of his family, and Walt says, “I did.” In his own mind, part of his reason for not doing anything was for Jesse’s sake.
(BTW, I have to interject again to say that I think that Jane’s best line in the whole series is when her father storms in and finds her with Jesse and sees all the heroin paraphernalia, and Jane says, “We talk about rehab every night. It’s his idea.” That line is so brilliant, it’s exactly what she would say. It works on so many levels.)
But again, there’s no parallel with Brock. There’s no way he could rationalize it being for anyone but himself. Jesse would’ve been fine (okay probably eventually Gus would’ve found another Gale and offed Jesse, way down the line, or some shit would have gone down if Gus had killed Walt but in general, Jesse was doing okay with Gus and Mike), the only person who benefited from what Walt did was Walt. He clearly didn’t even fill Saul in on what he was asking him to do and Saul was pretty freaked out by it and wanted out, which Walt did not allow. Poor Andrea has lost her brother to drugs, then to death by Gus’s guys, then thinks she is going to lose her son.
All of this points to how far Walt has fallen, how dark and often heartless his character has become. What is he going to do next? Maybe murder Ted? You know he must want to, and now that he could use the excuse that Ted is a liability, maybe he will do it. Or would Walt kill or hurt Hank if Hank gets close to catching him? So far, for all Walt’s moral decay, he has always tried to protect his family, even as it’s his actions that put them in danger. He made sure Hank got put under protective custody when Gus threatened him. But if Walt continues down this path who knows what he’ll be capable of. Might he hurt or kill Jesse or Skyler? I tend to think that as bad as Walt’s gotten, he wouldn’t do that, that he still loves his family enough to not directly and purposely hurt or kill them, but I’m no longer so sure. But might Walt do something more to Brock? Is he a liability now? What would happen if he said something like, “the nice lawyer man gave me the berries?” to Andrea or Jesse? Is Brock another loose end that Walt must deal with? And will Jesse ever find out about Walt’s role in either of these events?
I hope it’s none of the above honestly, but with all the talk about turning “Mr. Chips into Scarface,” I have a feeling we haven’t seen the worst of Walt yet. On the other hand, I have a feeling (or a hope?) that after being the king for awhile, Walt might get some comeuppance and may wrestle with who he’s become.
Another note on Walt’s moral demise: Have you ever noticed that he’s the one character who never has any psychic pain over murder? Hank kills Tuco in that shootout and gets really bad PTSD for awhile, culminating in the moment when he tells Marie that things haven’t been the same for him since he shot Tuco. Jesse kills Gale (to save Walt) and he is a freakin’ mess for months, culminating in that brilliant rehab scene. But Walt never seems to suffer internally after killing Emilio or Krazy 8. And then his body count just racks up from there. Why do you think that is? Has Walt always had that cold-blooded killer side to him that the others don’t? Is he, at a core level, that damaged even when we first meet him back in the pilot episode?
Oh by the way, if anyone knows the answer to this, I’ve been curious about it for ages now: Who the hell is Mr. Chips???
- I hate Walter White – Salon (salon.com)
- Breaking Bad 501 “Live Free or Die”
- Why Breaking Bad Needs Season 5
- My Official Breaking Bad Season 5 Predictions Post
- That “Leaked” Breaking Bad Season 5 Premiere Script
- Awesomely Creative Fan-Made Breaking Bad Media