Blue Stuff, fat stacks, Badger, Heisenberg. If you’ve seen the show to which I am referring your mind is already filling with images of Los Pollos Hermanos, a scruffy pink stuffed animal missing one eye, and perhaps a large black man lounging on a pile of money. The images conjured will depend on how deeply into the series you’ve allowed yourself to go. The series about which I am speaking, of course, is Breaking Bad. Don’t worry! I will not subject you to any spoilers.
I have watched Breaking Bad twice in its entirety: all 5 seasons. I am now casually making my way through the series a third time as I begin season 4. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, I will provide a two-sentence synopsis: Walter White is a chemistry teacher who finds out he has cancer in episode 1. He decides to use his chemistry skills to cook crystal meth as a means of providing money for his family after he is gone and, as you might suspect, his decision causes all manner of anarchy.
This idea—this philanthropy of the heart—is complex. At first glance, it holds shades of nobility. There are broad strokes of selflessness and humility, as well as highlights of valor tempered by shadows of lacking wisdom. Like any dynamic work of art, the story painted by the writers looks different depending on the perspective from which you view it. Isn’t this also true in real life? We human beings are well versed in pursuing positive things, and looking good from several angles, while also allowing our own weaknesses and sin to taint our best intentions. I don’t think it is over-dramatic to assert that any one of us is always 2 or 3 steps away from becoming the worst version of ourselves. Even in the midst of pursuing positive objectives.
At the beginning of Walt’s journey we see a man who is living below his potential. He is a brilliant mind able to solve complex and significant questions in the field of science through his knowledge of chemistry. We learn quickly that he could have become a millionaire if he had made a decision in his early 20’s to continue building a company he helped create with a fellow scientist. Had he chosen that path, he could have provided a very comfortable life for his family and he would have acquired fame and prestige in his field.
Instead, Walt prematurely sold his shares of the company when he married his wife Skylar and they became pregnant with their first child. He used the money to purchase the home in which they planned to raise their family. Walt gave up his position and potential: instead of becoming a notable chemist he became an undervalued and underpaid high school teacher. The status quo at the top of the series is that Walt is lacking confidence, money, respect and purpose. His perception is that he is deeply entrenched in a banal life of disappointment, broken expectations and, most importantly, insignificance. So, Walt opens the door to one bad choice and chaos flies in.
This is a dangerous place to be: this place in which wounded pride finds a staircase to significance. Walt decides to use his knowledge of chemistry to cook a little meth to make enough money for his family. As he climbs the staircase, he finds some financial success, he gains a sense of power over his circumstances and he begins to revel in the control he gains over some of the people around him. He feels vital, needed and important. As he says himself, “For the first time in my life I am alive.”
Have you ever made one bad choice that you assumed you were making in isolation, which ultimately affected both you and others adversely?
Chaos Flies In. By Jill Szoo Wilson
A window open with no screen allows
One insect, which you choose, and ten behind
To crawl and buzz and closely follow
In line toward sofas, tables, hearts and minds.
The darkest portal of the soul sprawls wide
When filled to rim with all that it can take
Like burlap laden deep with rotting hide,
Old skins grow fat with maggots and mistakes.
To close the gap ‘tween open air and soul—
Thus thwarting ‘way the demons in the draft—
A shutting off of all that one would hold
Lays barrier to sin through God’s true craft.
Obedience, though contrary to thought,
Secures the dreams by which each soul is wrought.