Breaking Bad is a show about the drug trade and the drug war parallel alongside it but it’s really a show about criminal capitalism. The unchecked, unfettered, ‘invisible hand’, Adam Smith style, free market which knows all and dictates all type of capitalism. There are no laws which should interfere with capitalism, it should be allowed to do as it pleases because if you interfere with it, bad things can happen. There’s no better way to demonstrate that than with the illegal but unfettered drug trade. The underground illegal drug trade, which requires the organization, knowledge and skill set of running a Fortune 500 company is the best way to demonstrate capitalism. A Fortune 500 company has to deal with legalities, the SEC and ‘rules’ – even if they are routinely broken, but to appear legit, rules appear to be followed. Walter White doesn’t see himself as a drug dealer, or a drug manufacturer he sees himself as creating an empire, a legacy, not even for his children, but for himself, to satisfy his own ego. What started out as a panic to raise enough funds for cancer treatment and provide for his family in the event of his death, became a desire to satisfy the unfulfilled ambitions of his youth. The youthful pride that forced him to walk away from Gray Matter is what got in the way of his empire dreams, he should have forced Elliot and Gretchen out, he won’t make that same mistake again at fifty. He replaced his pride with ego, which is where he should have operated from in his twenties. His pride got in the way, his ego will now find the way.
When Walter was a graduate student at MIT, he and two other people founded a company called Gray Matter, Gretchen and Elliot Stern. Gretchen was a former girlfriend of his, Elliot was his best friend. Though the reasons were unspecific, according to Gretchen, Walter just woke up one day and packed his stuff and left. But it appeared as if she was sleeping with his best friend (Elliot) type of scenario – after all, they did marry. He left her and the company they founded. The company was founded on a lot of the research Walter worked on, he was the real brains behind it, but he chose to leave it and accepted a $5000 buyout as that time the company was in its founding stages and worth nothing. The company now is worth $2.12 billion, he checks it every week he tells Jesse, his friends are rich beyond their wildest imagination. Walter had no share in it. He is still seething from that. And he’s using his blue meth formula to create a new empire and exact his revenge. It didn’t matter to Walter that Gray Matter is legal and ‘Heisenberg’ isn’t. Legality is arbitrary – alcohol (another kind of poison and causes one to have an altered state) is legal, so the fact that meth isn’t legal, is just law enforcement BS. Walter had no moral qualms about supplying people poison to smoke, snort or inject. Addicts are addicts and they’ll get their drugs from anywhere, so why not me. My product is consistent, it’s good and achieves the desired results the meth heads want. Walter spent over 20 years eking out a living as a high school teacher, making $43,000 a year when he should have been a millionaire – he cannot go to his grave without redressing this injustice. The bodies that pile up along the way is just collateral damage.
“Heisenberg” is code name for Walter White. It’s the name he uses when he is appearing as the Albuquerque drug kingpin. The practice is common. Drug dealers of all levels have at one time or another, use nicknames to avoid being identified by law enforcement. The nicknames they choose is usually a childhood nickname that is not widely known with no identifying features. Walter White chose Heisenberg, who by the way was Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winning physicist in Germany who served in the Third Reich. Though he was never brought up on war crimes, he had to belong to Nazi Party in order to remain employed in Germany’s educational institutions.
The name choice is clever. It is obscure, not many people will know who the real Heisenberg is unless they are an advanced scientist or they go and look it up. Secondly, whoever chose this name is obviously a white man and wants it be known that he is a white man. This name choice also reveals Walter’s ego and how he thinks of himself, a Nobel Prize worthy scientist who never got the chance to showcase his brilliance. Heisenberg is not some low level or even cartel level drug dealer like a ‘Tuco’ or a ‘Combo’ or a ‘Badger’ or a ‘Skinny Pete’ or even the more mafia-like Don Eladio. Walter White is not any of these people, he is highly intelligent, educated at the most elite institution chemist, he is not just some random meth cook. He is the best meth cook who came up with his own formula. The fact that he chose a Nazi era scientist with a distinctly German name reveals his latent fascism and contempt for those who are his intellectual inferiors. The meth trade is a legitimate business to Heisenberg, worthy of being “listed on the Nasdaq”. Though he cooked tens of thousands of pounds of meth, he never once tried it or had the desire to try it. That’s not entirely surprising since he knows all of the chemicals that go into that dreck and the user is basically smoking or snorting poison. The “blue meth” which Walter cooks, had it not been an illegal substance, he would have patented that formula and make billions from it legally. Besides never trying the blue meth he created, he is contemptuous of addicts themselves, the exact people who he is selling it to. Walter’s biggest problem with Jesse Pinkman, well, besides Jesse Pinkman himself, is that he uses drugs and to Walter, it’s a weakness. It’s what gets guys in their line of work in trouble. Gus Fring, the North American distributor of blue meth says “You can never trust a drug addict.”
Death is a looming reality for Walter. The only factor is the manner and time of death. Will he die from cancer, which in his case would be a natural death or will he die as a result of the meth trade. He is fully prepared to be taken by cancer, but as he gets deeper into the drug trade, it’s apparent that he doesn’t want to die at the hands of his adversaries. That would be a sign of weakness. Since Season 3, Walter’s cancer has been in remission. His chemotherapy and radiation treatment had been a success and his tumors have shrunk by 80%, and they were able to remove more of the tumor with surgery. Walter, in the foreseeable future, will live. He will never be cured of cancer, he’ll eventually die from cancer some day but not in the next 6-8 months like they originally thought. Instead of being delighted at this news, Walter was angry. It meant that he did all of that illegal stuff for nothing. In the perfect plan which exists in his head, he was to hear that the chemotherapy and radiation didn’t work, and on his deathbed he is to inform his wife that he had found a way to take care of them and how he got that money. By then, it won’t matter how he got it, because he will die and his wife will take care to not let others know about the drug money.
But God had other plans. He did get well, he will live and it’s long enough to get himself in serious trouble with the law if he wasn’t careful. Walter White the part time criminal, the chemistry teacher cum meth cook is to transform into the biggest, baddest meth cook and distributor Albuquerque has ever seen.
In season 5, Walter White ripped off the good guy mask. From seasons 1 through 4, Walter, at least from time to time, felt remorse at the upset he caused his wife, his son, to Jesse and felt the need to apologize for his actions. Ever since killed Gus Fring without being detected, he grew emboldened. Walter White, the former high school chemistry teacher and law abiding citizen, only existed on paper, he became Heisenberg full time. He didn’t bother to hide his evil behind a veil of maintaining a good front, there was no more ‘I am sorry but this had to happen’. It became, ‘I made it happen because I want it to happen’ – “I run things” is what he often says. In the last season is where it also ties up all the loose ends of his life story.
Towards the end is when the bodies really begin to pile (unnecessarily) up at the hands of Heisenberg. When Walter successfully killed Gus Fring, he became emboldened and he decided to go after all of Gus Fring’s associates and his would be adversaries. His verbal threats went from a polite ‘I’ll tell the DEA who the real Captain Cook is if you don’t agree to work with me – so please don’t make me do this’ to the direct “you work for me and you are done when I say you are done”. The only person he bothers with niceties is his wife Skylar, because she’s doing the washing of the drug money and perhaps there’s some real affection there. Skylar had many chances to spill his secret but she chose not to because Walter will die sooner or later, if not from cancer, then it’s from being shot and dumped in a ditch somewhere. Walter Jr adores his father, she didn’t have the heart to let Walter Jr know that his father is a drug dealer. She also had a real legitimate concern of taking care of her family in the event of his death and it’s best to deal with the situation and wash the money than worry about the morality and legality of it all. What’s done is done, and if Walter were to get locked up and all that money confiscated, she’d be homeless with two children, one with special needs and another just an infant. Hank and Marie will unlikely take them in if they find out Skylar knew all this time and didn’t report Walter. She is also an accessory after the crime. It’s best that she covers it up as best she can and hope nature takes its course with Walter sooner rather than later – probably not the ending she imagined as she walked up the aisle to greet her future husband.
Walter White reveals himself to be pure evil. In two years time, he committed crimes which would probably take a career criminal his whole life to complete. Killing people when they get in the way became a matter of routine, not really a situation to anguish over. He is a dying man, in every sense of the word. Since he chose the fuck-it list and not the bucket list to live out his last days, he felt no compunction to behave ethically or morally. People with nothing to lose and nothing to live for are very dangerous.
Breaking Bad first aired in 2008, at the height of the recession. This show is about unchecked criminal capitalism. The drug trade is an allegory for capitalism, Wall Street and its players. They foreclosed on Americans, but lined their own pockets. They had golden parachutes when millions of people lost their jobs and lost their pensions to Wall Street. Many of those people will never be able to recover their fortunes. Politicians hide behind capitalism and carry out their agendas to line the pockets of the rich. Unrestrained capitalism has been touted as the way to prosperity and stability. That is a lie. Capitalism has created two classes of people, the haves and the have-nots and political and economic instability in many parts of the world. Capitalism is where criminals go to hide in plain sight.