The Killings of Walter White: Season 3 (*SPOILERS*)
The Killings of Walter White: Season 3
(Link: Part 1)
(Link: Part 2)
There are only two direct killings in the course of the third season, however the beginning of the season is defined by death, in which Walt is made to suffer for his decision to let Jane die. Shortly after Jane’s death, her father returns to his job as an air traffic control operator. Distracted by the thought of his recently deceased daughter, he misdirects two planes in the air and causes them to crash together, killing all 167 people on board.
This incident occurs at the very end of the second season is not felt until the third, and it is the aftermath of this incident that is important, as it serves to illustrate the lengths of Walt’s self-justification. While Walt seems shaken by the deaths of Jane, her father, and the people on the plane, he wants desperately to absolve himself of guilt. He illustrates this through a speech to the school in a massive group counseling session, telling the grieving students that this wasn’t a very big plane crash. He says frantically that neither plane was full, and that the planes themselves weren’t very large. He says that people need to move on, demonstrating his desire to forget the guilt he feels over the suffering he has caused.
When Jesse returns to town after going through rehab, and blames himself for the crash, as he believed himself responsible for Jane’s death. Walt insists that there are other factors to consider, that Jane’s death was not the sole cause, and he himself is therefore not responsible. Yet Jesse rejects these rationalizations, accepting what he sees as his place in this situation: “I’m the bad guy.”
This insight by Jesse about the role that is truly Walt’s prompts Walt to reject an offer by top-level drug distributor Gustavo Fring of $3 million to cook for him, telling Gus, “I can’t be the bad guy.” Yet despite this rejection, Walt is eventually coerced into the deal out of pride in his product, a desire to provide for his family, and fear of the drug cartels, from who Gus is protecting him.
While he accepts the job, Walt still carries the guilt of killing Jane. This guilt comes to a head in the episode “Fly,” in which Walt and Jesse try to rid their lab of a fly. During the episode, a sleep deprived Walt tells Jesse that he has “lived too long.” He feels that there was some perfect moment at which he could have died, left his family cared for, and still be missed in death. He identifies this point as the night Jane died, saying, “I should have never gone to your house.” Walt doesn’t confess his role in Jane’s overdose, but nonetheless tells Jesse that he is sorry, trying to find some forgiveness for his actions.
This festering guilt is coupled with a growing sense of fear and helplessness in Walt caused by his contract with Gus, and Gus’ subsequent control over both him and Jesse. This becomes a problem when Jesse discovers that some of Gus’ distributors have been using a child to assassinate rivals, including one of Jesse’s old friends. Jesse informs Walt of his plan to kill the two distributors, but Walt, fearing for Jesse for fear of Gus, stops him, and informs Gus of his plans. Walt still wants to avoid violence, and sees a reliable business partner in Gus, but even more than that, fears what could happen to Jesse if he attacks.
In order to placate Jesse, and out of his own sense of morality, Gus instructs his men that they are not to use children anymore. But instead of simply letting the child go, they kill him later that night. Walt learns about the child’s execution, and deduces correctly that Jesse will seek revenge. And just as Jesse is approaching the two armed men with a gun in his back pocket, Walt runs them down with his car and shoots them.
This is notably the first time Walter has fired a gun, showing the change in the character from the pilot, where he broke down in hopelessness at the mere thought of entering a shootout with police. It also serves to extend the rationale he used when killing Domingo and allowing Jane to die. The danger Jesse is in is danger he created, but Walt is willing to kill Gus’ dealers, risking his own life, to protect Jesse from himself.
Beyond that, it signals something about the relationship between Walt and Gus. Previously, Walt had respect and fear for Gus, seeing him as a reflection of himself, and treating him with a sense of servility. Yet with the knowledge that Gus’ men killed a child, that respect evaporates, and in his murderous act of defiance, so does the servility. While Walt continues to work for Gus, it is always with a sense of hostility, a desire for control over their relationship, whatever that may mean.
After the two dealers are killed, Jesse goes into hiding, and Walt goes back to work with the chemist Gale as his assistant, as assigned by Gus. Gus has instructed Gale to perfect his knowledge of Walt’s cook in case Walt dies suddenly, and Gale has to replace him permanently. This time, it is Walt who pushes for murder when in bed with a dangerous dealer. By Walt’s thinking, Gus will need a cook to run his operation, and without Gale, he’ll have to keep Walt and Jesse alive. Jesse says that there must be another way, but according to Walt, their survival is dependent on Gale’s death, or as he puts it, “It’s him or us!”
Walt plans to kill Gale himself, but when he sets out for Gale’s house, he is brought to the lab to be executed by Gus’ men. Walt pleads for them to spare his life, offering them Jesse instead in panic. He calls Jesse, allegedly to order bring him to the lab, but instead instructs Jesse to pull the trigger. As soon as the call is made, the panic falls away, and tone shifts to that of the man in control.
There is a lot that can be gleamed about Walt from this situation. Once the call is made, Walt assumes the tone of power, standing with leverage over his would be killers. Yet in the moment before, Walt seems every bit the frightened, cowardly man willing to sacrifice anything for his own survival. One could say that it signifies that Walt is still the sad, in over his head chemistry teacher at heart. While there is some validity to that line of thought, it is equally possible that the opposite is true, that Walt has become alienated from his former self to the degree that any appearance of his former self is just an act. It is difficult to say which is more likely at this juncture, but given that at this point Walt has begun using the lives of the innocent as bargaining chips, I lean on the pessimistic view.
Got a different view? Let us know in the comments. Catch all new Breaking Bad this Sunday, August 8th at 9/8 PM Central on AMC.
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