In watching the first season of Breaking Bad two years ago, I sat transfixed by this small, strange, intoxicating universe of characters and experiences I knew nothing about. Even though they inhabited a vastly different world, their motivations to do some absolutely heinous things seemed all too familiar.
Breaking Bad follows Walter White, high-school chem teacher, cancer patient and part-time meth manufacturer. Walter begins his life as a drug dealer innocently enough, if such a thing could be said. Diagnosed with lung cancer and unable to pay for necessary treatments, he crosses paths with Jesse, a former student and current dealer. Jesse hisses into Walter’s ear, and Walter, a first-class chem teacher, realizes he can make the finest meth in the land. When he proves as much in season two, the money (and the trouble) starts to roll in.
During those seasons, I kept waiting for Walter’s lies to catch him like a trap he’d forgotten he’d set. Spoiler alert: It never happened. Like any good, tense drama, someone or something always rescues Walter from getting found out. You’d think it would happen sooner or later given his brother-in-law is a DEA agent, but the show makes this cat-and-mouse game work; in fact, that’s part of the show’s allure. Still, I wait and hope for Walter to be redeemed.
But as season three begins, the lies continue unabated. Spoiler alert number two, and a major one at that. If you want to watch the show from the beginning, don’t keep reading: At the end of season two, two commercial planes collide above Walter’s hometown. Through a brilliantly written series of events, Walter is responsible for this catastrophe. The air traffic controller responsible for the crash recently lost his daughter to a drug overdose. This daughter is Jesse’s girlfriend. Walter steps into their room as she gags on her own vomit. He quite purposefully allows her to die, then lies to Jesse about his (non)involvement. Her death is yet another out for him. Had she lived, Walter would have surely been found out.
Though this is a shocking plot point, it isn’t surprising. Given Walter’s history, and how ardently he’s had to fight to keep his tower of cards from falling, this is inevitable. What was not inevitable, and what he never could have seen coming, were the reverberations of that one act. This has been a minor theme of the entire series, but now, in the epic collision of two planes leaving scattered body parts across his own hometown, the motif is writ large, as if in skywriting: Walter, your sins hurt those around you.
So color me shocked (and yet not) when, at the halfway point of the first episode of season three, the high school that Walter teaches at holds an all-school grief counseling meeting to air their feelings about the tragedy that literally rained down upon them. After a few students share, and one questions God’s goodness (to which the principal replies, "Can we just keep it secular?"), Walter is prodded to say something. In front of hundreds of students suffering from a shared traumatic event, Walter rationalizes the plane crash. "Look on the bright side. Nobody on the ground was killed. Neither plane was full. What you’re left with, casualty-wise, is just the fiftieth worst air disaster. We will move on and get past this, because that is what people do." In reality, he’s not talking to the gym full of students at all; he’s talking to himself, attempting to assuage his own guilt.
This is what hiding sin makes people say. I know this because I’ve both seen and heard it from others as well as being its mouthpiece. Sin compares itself to worse things, or worse people. Sin builds upon itself because it has to, because great would be its fall if it fell. Sin speaks from a place of self-sustain instead of self-sacrifice. Sin focuses on what is out there and what is wrong with someone else instead of what is within and wrong with oneself. Even in the face of insurmountable evidence, sin will lie. Sin lies because it knows of no alternative. The minute sin tells the truth, it’s no longer sin. The minute the sin is pronounced by the one at fault, it evaporates.
However, ramifications remain. People perish. Relationships lie in ruin. Physical, mental and spiritual scarring occur. If the truth ever does come to light, if responsibility is taken, shouldered by the one to blame, it’s only the beginning of the journey and not its destination. I had hope that season three would be Walter’s new beginning. I’m pretty sure I’m wrong.
At the end of the premiere episode of season three, Jesse returns from rehab, clean. He and Walter discuss the cataclysmic events that have unfolded around them.
Walter, in response to being questioned about the crash, continues to find a scapegoat and says, "Really, I blame the government." Jesse, with a newfound moral center, relays what he’s been taught at rehab: "You either run from things, or face them, Mr. White. It’s all about accepting who you really are. I accept who I am." Walter asks, "And who are you?" Jesse replies, "I’m the bad guy."
In the next scene, Walter visits his major buyer, telling him he’s out of the game, deliberately stating, "I am not a criminal." The buyer offers him $3 million for three months of work. "You can’t change my mind." The scene ends without resolution, yet we know the answer since there’s an entire season left.
In a time before TV, a British newspaper once asked popular authors to answer the question, "What’s wrong with the world?" Prolific Christian author G.K. Chesterton replied with possibly the shortest letter of his life:
"Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton."
Blake Atwood is a one-time English major still trying to figure out the plotline of his life. He lives and drums and has his being in Texas.