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Walter White is a greedy old a**hole

Anyone with a coherent sense of morality should despise Walter White. But I suppose it is too late to harp on this subject, seeing that the series ended weeks ago, and that I have only watched about two seasons besides. I dispute the assertion that Walter White is morally ambiguous, that he operates in a ‘grey area’. From the episodes I have watched, every time White’s morality is tested, he invariably chooses the path that will satiate his greed and soothe his ego. To prove my point, let us take a man with a functioning set of moral antennae. Let us give him lung cancer, precarious financial circumstances and an unrewarding job. Let us say that one of his life’s missions is to provide for his family – and so on, etc. Now, after learning he has lung cancer, this man has a decision to make: either he could swallow his ego and accept the aid of his enviably successful colleague, or he could take a risk and manufacture drugs and expose his family to the dangers of the underworld and moreoever harm, possibly kill other people in the process. No moral man would take the latter decision. Walter White was evil from the very start. In fact a very mild description of him would be ‘enormous idiot’. But I maintain that he is evil and immoral because it would take persistence and the consistent application of intelligence to cook meth, peddle the stuff and elude the authorities.

The innate evil which Walter White harbours surpasses that of average. Because of his abnormal greed he treats Jesse Pinkman badly (again putting it mildly). Let us take a look at their relationship. Walt is a much older man, dying of lung cancer. But he has no qualms about sending a younger man – someone who would not yet fully qualify for an adult – to situations where he would sink ever deeper in blood. Walt pushes Jesse to intimidate and murder and to break more laws than Jesse would ever dream of doing. And when Jesse returns from his morally reprehensible and/or perilous excursions – typically undertaken with great reluctance – Walt never gives Jesse due credit and fails to see (wilfully ignores?) the terrible experiences Pinkman goes through on his account. In fact, White only keeps pushing Jesse to do even more reprehensible things. At the same time, Walt is always reluctant to give Jesse Jesse’s share of the loot. When it comes to murder, Jesse is certain it should not be done, while Walt is more inclined to the lawless practice and would have murdered even more people had not Jesse been so adamantly opposed to it. Just look at Walts reaction to Saul’s suggestion that the easiest way to handle the Badger situation is to have Badger bumped off: Walt was willing to do it. And when Walt murdered Jane and Jesse returned from rehab convinced he, Jesse Pinkman, was the bad guy, Walt did nothing to ‘save the boy’s soul’ – a shorthand way for saying that ‘Walt should have admitted to the murder to prevent Jesse from being so consumed with guilt that he gives up all attempts for reform and all hope of being good’. Walt chose not to admit to the murder because (a) doing so would have resulted in Jesse’s quitting from the partnership and (b) it is convenient for Walt to have Jesse in this hopeless state since Jesse would be less reluctant to do Walt’s bidding because, hey, he Jesse Pinkman already is the ‘bad guy’ so all sorts of criminality would be just in his line. Jesse may have started out as a pathetic hoodlum, and Walt a respectable teacher and family man, but it is clear which of the two is morally bankrupt. No amount of footage of Walt smiling over his baby would ever change my opinion of him – that he is the lowest form of scum. His intelligent evil guarantees him a place in Dante’s eighth circle of hell. And unlike other exemplars of intelligent evil, like Joseph Conrad’s ‘plain Mr Jones’ and the even more familiar Frank Underwood, Walt does not even have the decency to admit the truth about himself. There is nothing left for him but contempt.


2 responses to “Walter White is a greedy old a**hole

  1. ausomeawestin January 21, 2014 at 2:12 am

    Hmm you know, part of me agrees with you that Walt is the epitome of evil, but I think early on Walt does walk the grey area of an amoralist, someone who recognizes the command of moral principles but is unmoved by some of them — those that don’t help him in reaching his goal of providing financial security to his family (I wrote an entry advancing this theory at one point). But you are certainly correct that his personality is warped by repetitive moral transgressions until he becomes the despicable character acting only in egomania. Perhaps the series speaks to how a virtuous man can be brought to his nadir by his own hubris. Enjoyed your writing.

    • Ovideer January 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

      My interpretation of the series is that WW was already an egomaniac well before the onset of his cancer, but through timidity he managed to conceal his raging egomania. If providing for his family were all he really wanted, he would have accepted that offer from the guy from Grey Matter. He chose instead to cook meth (totally insane!) so he can prop up this image of himself as ‘provider’. Recall that scene when the White family were gathered in the living room, passing a pillow around, trying to decide whether WW should get treatment for cancer. WW said he does not want treatment because it will leave him in a sustained condition of weakness, and that’s not the image he wants his family to remember him by. I can understand if he refuses treatment out of financial considerations, but image? Another similar scene happened during a later season, after WW was beaten up for some reason [I’m not a vigilant or enthusiastic viewer of BB; I am not comfortable finding amusement in the metamorphosis of a psychopath] and told his son that WW does not want the boy to remember WW as WW remembers his father, in a nursing home somewhere unable to clean himself or whatever. The most I could say about WW is that he is aware of the existence of moral laws, but he does not take them into consideration when his ego is at stake. My definition for treading the moral grey area is to actually think about the moral consequences of the actions you plan to take. And hence, according to my world system, WW is not a morally ambiguous character. He is clever, but he only uses his cleverness to execute the decisions he made by his gut.

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