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Breaking Bad, A Study of Morals

Breaking Bad, A Study of Morals

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Breaking Bad  is a story not of moral redemption but of moral decay. It’s a fascinating study of what motivates human behavior within the context of laws, morals and ethics. Morals being what is, or what is not considered appropriate behavior in pursuit of our values. That all depends on what your values are, as the characters in  Breaking Bad  artfully demonstrate. 

When we first meet Walter White, he is a 50 year old high school chemistry teacher who is brilliant but fear based. Up to this point, he has let many opportunities pass him by. When he discovers he has terminal cancer, something within him shifts upon the realization that he has very little time left to do anything with his life. He has reached the eighth stage of Erick Erickson‘s model of psychosocial development: integrity versus despair. At this stage of life, Walter is reflecting on his values and the sparse achievements he has made. Does he face death with a sense of contentment or with deep despair based on the life choices he’s made?

Jesse Pinkman is one of Walters’ past students who failed chemistry. Despite that, Jesse has subsequently dropped out of school and now cooks and distributes high quality, chemically sound methamphetamine. Jesse is also highly intelligent; he is “street smart” not academic smart. He uses drugs and currently lives in his deceased aunt’s house. He is no longer welcome at his parent’s house after several unsuccessful interventions on their part to get him to “stop ruining his life on those awful drugs.” Walt, who has accompanied his DEA brother-in-law, Hank, busting a meth lab, recognizes his former student escape through an upper story window. He later confronts Jesse and suggests they begin cooking methamphetamine together (or he will turn him in).

Other characters include Walter’s wife, Skyler, his 16-year-old son, Walter Jr., who has multiple sclerosis, and his brother-in-law, Hank, who is a DEA agent. The following dialogue takes place between Walter and Hank after Walt has begun cooking meth and Hank has no clue that his brother-in-law is the now infamous “Heisenberg”. They are having a drink after dinner, smoking illegal Cuban cigars that Hank has procured. When Walt points out to Hank that the cigars are illegal, Hank responds:

Hank:  “Sometimes forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest.”

Walt:  “It’s funny – how we draw that line…..”

Hank : “What line is that?”

Walt:  “Well, what’s illegal, what’s illegal – Cuban cigars, alcohol. In 1930 we’d be breaking the 

           law. Who knows what’ll be legal next year.”

Hank:  “You mean, like pot?”

Walt:  “Yeah, like pot.”

Hank : “Cocaine? Heroin?”

Walt:  “I’m just saying – it’s arbitrary…”

Hank:  “Well you oughta visit lock up – you would hear a lot of guys talking like that. It don’t only go one way either. Some stuff that’s legal shouldn’t be. Frigging meth used to be legal. They used to sell it over every counter at every pharmacy across America. Thank God we came to our senses on that one, huh?”

To me, this illustrates an ongoing theme. Which side of the law you’re on may influence your values and morals. As does the opportunities or lack of opportunities that society offers based on social hierarchy.  For instance, Jesse tries very hard to get a job. But he lacks the proper credentials. Stereotyped as a dropout junkie, society almost forces Jesse into the criminal world, including his own parents! Another character, Gale, holds a master’s degree in chemistry. He becomes Walt’s assistant at a state-of-the-art meth laboratory. He is a total nerd.

Walt: “ I can’t imagine we strike each other as criminals.”

Gale:  “Well, there’s crime and then there’s CRIME, I suppose. I’m definitely a libertarian. Consenting adults want what they want and if I’m not supplying it they will get it somewhere else. At least with me they’re getting exactly what they pay for – no added toxins or adulterants. I WAS doing it the way you’re SUPPOSED to – jumping through hoops, kissing the proper behinds. It lost the magic. THAT is NOT what I signed on for.”

All of  Breaking Bad  is about the consequences of one’s actions; I think also of self-image and self-acceptance. Jesse, who feels deep remorse for the things he’s done, accepts himself as a “bad guy.” He feels he deserves the consequences of his actions. When Walt’s wife, Skyler, first finds out about her husband’s illicit activities, she removes herself and the children from his presence. She no longer feels safe. In the meantime, her moral behavior starts to slip. She enables tax evasion for a former friend and then becomes his lover. After her metamorphosis, she chooses to support Walt and assists him with money laundering and later won’t give him in. 

Walt knows the end is near (he’s staged it). He is honest with Skyler for the first time since he broke bad. He confides to her that it’s the first time he has felt really alive. He does not regret his choices. Perhaps all of our morals, ethics and laws are arbitrary?


The Therapists

Within the entire five seasons of  Breaking Bad  there are only two brief scenes with therapists. Walt stages a fabricated story to explain why he’s been missing for several days. He tells his family and the doctors that he can’t remember anything for the past three days previous to being discovered naked in a convenience store. This plan backfires on him because they won’t release him from the hospital until he is deemed psychologically sound. In the conversation with the psychologist, Walter confirms the psychiatrist’s moral obligation to confidentiality before confiding to him that he remembers everything that transpired in the last three days. Walt constructs a lie on top of a lie, the result of which, the psychiatrist releases him with a diagnosis of some temporary affliction. (Walt was actually kidnapped by a cartel drug dealer). I think the psychiatrist acted ethically. He did not breach confidentiality and from his point of view, Walt was not causing harm to himself or others. 

The second scene with a therapist occurs when Hank’s wife, Marie, is talking to her therapist. At this point, Hank and Marie know that Walt is Heisenberg but have no evidence. Walt has also made a video (more lies) which he gives to Hank basically blackmailing him. During Marie’s session with her therapist, she is fantasizing about all the different ways to poison someone. Without revealing names or circumstances she goes into morbid details. The therapist is concerned and tries to get her to reveal the facts around her predicament. I think the therapist has established rapport with Marie well enough to know she’s not serious about actually poisoning somebody. If Marie would have revealed that her relative is a major criminal, I am pretty sure the therapist would’ve been obligated to let the proper authorities know. 


The Lawyer

When Jesse‘s friend, Badger, who has been selling methamphetamines for them gets busted, Walt realizes he needs to hire a lawyer. At first, he doesn’t want to hire the shady lawyer that Jesse recommended.

Jesse:  “If you need a criminal lawyer, you need a CRIMINAL lawyer.”  

Once “Better Call Saul” officially becomes Jesse and Walt’s’ lawyer (he has each of them stuff a dollar into his pocket while handcuffed at gunpoint), Saul not only keeps all their secrets but assists them to become high-end criminals. (Takes one to help one). Saul is an individual with a very low moral compass, yet he honors the lawyer/client code of ethics. He practices fidelity, autonomy, veracity and justice with his clients.  Whether he practices beneficence or nonmaleficence is another matter. The only time he’s concerned about harm being done to another is when he feels his own life is threatened. 

For me doing this assignment was a bit cathartic. Pursuing my degree towards becoming an addictions counselor has introduced me to one “ethical” side of the compass. On the other side, I was a participant in the methamphetamine world for a while and have my own breaking bad stories. (Someday I’ll write my screenplay). Laws are arbitrary. They change with each “civilization.” Ethical behavior is not arbitrary. Higher evolved Beings strive toward benevolence and nonmaleficence. They understand that actions and thoughts do have consequences, for the better, or for the worse. The choice is ours to make….


Make a Conscious Change

When one is open and ready, a hypnosis session can provide comfort, direction, clarity, healing, and support for moving forward in alignment with one’s life purpose and plan. It is a way to re-program your mind to focus on thoughts that are supportive of your goals, rather than self-sabotaging thoughts.

As a hypnotherapist specializing in Quantum Healing Hypnosis,  I help people to know themselves and become co-creators of their own life. Schedule your consultation by calling me at 206.854.8343 or booking online HERE.


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