Breaking Bad: What drives Walter White?

Walter White’s ego is as much the central focus of Breaking Bad as Walt himself is. He is a product of an archaic, in a sense, way of thinking. One that advocates individualism and self-help, whilst rejecting the mere thought of any outside support. Walt is the antithesis of the current crop of people willing to live purely on government aid, with little to no intention of living beyond this.

The American dream may also inspire his motivations, to a degree; he wants to equal or succeed the success that Elliot has experienced since Walt sold his share in the now billion (with a ‘b’) dollar company for a pittance. It destroys him that he did not believe in himself enough to carry on at Gray Matter. In a sense he is trying to trying to “construct a life that made sense from things he has found in gift shops”, as the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote. The money is not Walt’s intention from his meth cooking; rather he wants a memento to display his achievements.  He has already created a notorious legacy through the very public persona of Heisenberg. Even the choice of pseudonym is intrinsically linked to Walt through his love of science. This suggests that Walt needs his ego stroked. He needs to feel superior because in so many aspects of life he is inferior. It’s possible this could explain why he became a teacher (teachers are naturally a student’s superior, as the pupil heavily relies on the teacher to gain anything), and why he has a tender spot for Jesse, who acts as a sort of protégé, and demonstrates that even though Jesse failed under his teachings in school, Walt is talented enough to turn someone with little knowledge of chemistry into one of the most talented “cooks” around.

In order to get a simple ego boost, Walt has shown himself to be inventive, dangerous, duplicitous, genius, and deadly. He is willing to endanger a child, and even killed a partner other a perceived slight. The murder of Mike in particular highlighted the extents to which Walt would go to protect his ego from those who would dare to tarnish it. It also was one of the few examples of Walt acting rashly, but ultimately it is unlikely to damage him in anyway, other than his own knowledge that he messed up. Yet, it is still a crack in his façade, and, strangely, serves to create a sense that Walt is still human, he still makes errors. Up until then Walt, as Heisenberg, has been utterly infallible.

Episode 8 of season 5, ends with Hank opening a book of poetry by Walt Whitman that links Walt White to Gale, and so to the meth industry of Gus Fring.   It immediately appears that Walter’s hubris, as with many criminals, got the better of him. The previously mentioned, unnecessary murder of Mike has given us the impression that Walt can make big mistakes, even still. However, there is something odd about the book being hidden so poorly in plain sight. His vanity may explain why he kept the book, as he would never throw something away that lavishes praise upon him. Nevertheless, Walt knows that Hank found Walt Whitman poetry when Gale was murdered so why would he keep it where Hank was likely to find it? And if it was there all along, why wouldn’t have Hank already found it? It’s possible then that Walt left it there to be found. He may actually be “out” as he said to Skyler, but that doesn’t mean the power game is over. Walt needs Hank to know that he outfoxed him. He needs everyone to know.

We know that Walt won’t be caught, or at least not imprisoned, because we’ve seen bearded, full-head-of-hair Walt on his 52nd birthday, alone in some diner. He gets away. And he gets away in a good condition, financially, if the $100 tip is anything to go by. I can’t even begin to predict what that M60 is meant for. If this half season is anything to go by it will be brutal and devastating in equal measure.

I’m somewhat relieved that the next half of this season isn’t airing until next year as it staves off the inevitable end of Breaking Bad. That’s something I don’t want to think about.