The Killings of Walter White: Season 5 (*SPOILERS*)
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(Link: Part 2)
(Link: Part 3)
(Link: Part 4)
The Killings of Walter White: Season 5
When the creators were making the fourth season, they did not know that they would be able to make a fifth, and this shows somewhat in the first half of the fifth season. Walt hit his moral low point at the end of season four, and in the fifth season he has simply been stewing in this moral sludge. He has been highly detached from the feelings of those around him, and at times has completely dropped the guise of concern that he had employed to keep his relationships afloat.
Walt’s detachment from humanity is emphasized by the fact that these episodes are far less focused on Walt. Being directly focused on Walt’s struggles allowed the audience to better identify with him during the first four seasons, and allowed us to better justify his darker actions through our familiarity with him. By pulling back the lens and focusing more on the struggles of the other characters—Mike’s need to provide for his granddaughter, Skyler’s feelings of imprisonment and hopelessness, Linda’s neuroses about her work—the creators allow us to better understand what Walt has become, and how he affects those around him. Through focusing less on Walt, the creators shift the emphasis from his human qualities to his immorality.
Just as Walt does not experience fundamental character changes in these episodes, there is no great shift in his killings. Most of the killing in these episodes are distanced from Walt, as in the train heist scene. In this incident, Walt, Jesse, Mike, and the fairly unknown Todd steal one thousand gallons of methylamine from a train. They go undetected by the conductors, but are seen by a young boy, who Todd immediately kills.
This is the first moment that has defined Todd as a character, and like Jesse and Mike, the audience is inclined to feel outrage towards him, as we cannot identify with Todd and therefore justify what he did. Yet the logic that Todd uses to justify himself is the same logic which we have accepted from Walt, as exemplified by Todd saying of his decision to kill the boy, “It was him or us.” Just as shifting the focus onto other characters emphasizes Walt’s immorality, shifting the crime onto an unfamiliar character and imbuing him with Walt’s logical justification emphasizes how warped Walt’s reasoning has become.
The killing of Mike demonstrates Walt's growing penchant for violence and irrationality, as it is his only completely unjustifiable murder. Walt kills Mike not out of necessity, but anger, and a petty desire for respect. Mike bruised Walt's pride, and Walt retaliated irrationally; the list of names was merely an excuse. It's not a thought out action, as we can see that even Walt seems shocked by what he's done. He expresses real regret towards Mike as he dies, but that doesn’t stop him from dissolving Mike's corpse like all the rest and carrying on with his plans.
The near murder of Linda exemplifies much the same point that the poisoning of Brock did: Walt is entirely willing to kill anyone that is unnecessary to him. The fact that she lives only matters to Walt because she will be shipping his product. Had she not made that offer, he would have simply poisoned her in the name of tying up loose ends.
It is at this point that I would like to diverge slightly and talk about something that has bothered me about how this show is described. I have seen multiple comparisons of “Breaking Bad” to “The Sopranos,” and in many ways this is fair. “The Sopranos” certainly laid the groundwork necessary for a show like “Breaking Bad” to exist, and the shows have some similar character archetypes. What bothers me is when people say that “Breaking Bad” and many other shows about anti-heroes are “The Sopranos,” in that they are all about “a strong male antihero's journey to redemption."
This bothers me for two reasons.
First, the fact that shows use similar archetypes to tell a story does not mean that those shows are the same. All stories use a few archetypes that the creators invest with unique qualities to craft a compelling story. Treating the use of such archetypes as something to be scoffed at does a disservice to the value that such a story can have, and ignores the ways in which different creators can use similar character types to build unique and compelling stories.
And second, evidencing a way that “Breaking Bad” differs from its predecessor, Walter White is not a redeemable character. The creators said as much by playing “Black,” by Danger Mouse over the closing of season four. Walt has traveled past the point of no return, and the nature in which he has changed puts him beyond the veil of redemption.
I believe this notion of Walt being redeemable is bolstered by the fact that he abandons the meth trade at the end of the first part of season five, but meth was not the cause of Walt’s change. Walt was driven into the drug trade by a desire for power. This desire took the shape of the power to provide for his family, but later morphed into the power to run an empire. Walt gives up his work because he has more money than he can use and has become bored with his empire, and thereby lost the desire that drove him. However this desire was only what kept Walt pushing forward in the drug trade, and not what pushed him to kill.
No, Walt’s killings were brought about by his need to survive, and throughout his arc, Walt has always had a few key rationales that justified his actions: keeping himself safe, keeping his family safe, and keeping Jesse safe. The lengths to which he has been willing to go have changed, but these rationales remain at the bedrock of every immoral action. It is the bending of the moral compass that defines Walt’s change as a character, and in the same episode where he gives up his business, the creators show exactly how warped that compass has become: Walter White murders ten innocent people using neo-Nazis.
Walt has ventured into the heart of darkness, and coming back doesn't mean that he hasn't brought that darkness back with him. And now, with Hank and the DEA soon to be after him and the final showdown with Hank on the horizon, we get to see exactly how that darkness has warped him, how much he has grown—or if you prefer, mutated—as a character since his days as a car wash clerk, and, after all of the terrible deeds he has chosen to commit, who Walter White really is.
It starts tonight, ya'll! In about...oh, 10 minutes. Get on that! - Typical Michael
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