There is a reason why Breaking Bad won an Emmy this week
. In fact, there are endless reasons, but one of them has to do with insanely genius character development. Fans of Breaking Bad
are introduced to a run-of-the-mill married couple in New Mexico who turn to selling meth when health problems arise. A chemistry teacher who ends up as an internationally-known drug lord? A stay-at-home mom who succumbs to her once placid husband and instructs him to kill a man? The scenario is believable because of how gradual and distinctive these two characters develop over five seasons.
As the show comes to its bitter and destructive end, it's incredible when we look back and examine just how much Walter and Skyler changed and what led to their ultimate demise.
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Skyler is initially depicted as a stay-at-home mom whose hobbies include cooking, writing short stories, and selling unnecessary household items on Ebay. Skyler is loving, supportive, smart, and strong-willed. She understood the binary between "good" and "bad" and this is exemplified when she calls Marie out on her shoplifting habit. Skyler can be seen as Walter's Super-ego; she is the drive that desperately seeks normalcy and goodness, the reasoning behind dropping the drug act and living a clean, moral lifestyle.
However, by season 4, Skyler loses control of Walt and her life, completely. Although she tries to rebel against Walt's plans and new occupation, she ultimately succumbs to her drug-lord husband and her moral compass dissolves. A scene that encapsulates how much Skyler has figuratively drowned is when she eerily floats to the very bottom of her pool in front of the family; this desperate cry for help as well as excuse to relocate her children is also symbolic of her breakdown.
Although her morals are shattered, Skyler still remains faithful to her family and is determined to keep them safe; however, she finds herself crossing new lines in this last season. Like a pathetic gambler, she realizes she has lost everything: the only way to regain anything is to keep betting, keep spending, keep pushing limits. Once Skyler chooses her husband's side over Hank's, she knows that there is no exit. She has damned herself to an eternity of wrong-doing, and when she says, "What's one more?" in reference to Jesse's life, it truly shows how much her character has changed and been beaten down.
High-school chemistry teacher, car-wash employee, husband, and father, Mr. White is introduced as weak, sick and emasculated. Staring at an award that reads "contributor to The Nobel Peace Prize," viewers come to find out that Walt's glory was stolen from him years ago by a science partner and friend, who is now wealthy and thriving off the work both he and Walt did. Stripped of power, money, and respect, the anti-hero of Breaking Bad is likeable but ultimately, deplorable.
Essentially gaining back his manhood by cooking meth, Walt becomes power-hungry, as all under-appreciated men are apt to do in television history. Although Walt is initially opposed to violence, he gradually comes to view it as a necessary tool. Walt's descent into evil territory is a slow process, but is visually clear when he his alter-ego, Heisenberg, has more and more air time. Towards the end of season 5, we see Walt become a hardened criminal who has manipulated countless lives; although he physically never kills anyone (except for Mike), he plays puppet master and tricks or pays others into doing the dirty work for him.
At this point of the show, it's extremely difficult to root for Walter White, although we want to so desperately. Episode 15 of this season, "Granite State,"
shows a thinning, cancerous, and utterly isolated Walt who pathetically pays his "agent" $10,000 to spend another hour with him in his icy cabin. Viewers are almost left with this mournful image until Walt happens to see an interview with Elliot Schwartz and his wife on television. We can feel Walt's wrath boiling inside of him as they deny all association with him and say, "I can't speak of this Heisenberg. Whatever he became, the sweet, kind, brilliant man we know long ago...he's gone."
Walter is not truly gone. He is not the man he once was, but he is not fully Heisenberg. Walt cannot ultimately be categorized as either "bad" or "good". He is vengeful, greedy, sad, and conflicted. He is complicated and self-destructive. He is facing the consequences we were all afraid might come. He is also dying of cancer, and dying rapidly. Whether he became an international drug lord or stayed teaching chemistry, it would all come to the same conclusion. Walter will die.
However, Walt did get caught up in something much larger than himself, and we must realize death, dying, or even imprisonment is not his true punishment. It's the destruction of his family. Along with the destruction of Heisenberg, comes the destruction of the White family. The destruction of Walt began as soon as he realized, outside of the fire station, what he has truly done.
Breaking Bad will be missed for its psychological plot twists and complex character arcs. However, If there is a Point A, there is always a Point B. All good things come to an end, and whether it's bad or not, we will find out this coming Sunday for the series finale.
(Image courtesy of AMC)