Although Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008-2013) is one of the most critically acclaimed TV Series of the last decade, it has been the subject of little academic research. This paper aims to figure out the motivations fueling Walter White’s behavior, one of the most compelling characters in contemporary popular culture.
The discovery of Walter White’s cancer serves as a catalyst (a particularly appropriate chemical term) for him to unveil his true ‘inner self’. The serious nature of his disease, the associated medical costs, and his feeling of failure as both a father/husband and in the professional sphere, are established as the driving force behind his infamous behavior from the very start of the series. However, beyond the strategies that underlie the initial sympathy that every viewer feels for this ‘ordinary American guy’, Breaking Bad divulges other keys that allow us to understand the transformation from ‘Mr Chips into Scarface’, following the premise described by Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan.
As we will explore, the progressive moral and criminal decline of Walter White is spurred on by the contradictory tension between two radical emotions that become ‘rationalized’ in order to justify his actions, which become increasingly less defensible: an increasing pride, and the guilt that fades as the narrative unfolds. In summary, we will analyze the moral and narrative mechanisms that hasten Walter White’s self-destruction once he became aware that he was facing the end of his own life.