Actions have consequences.
That’s something everyone learns sooner or later. Whether it’s the repercussions of angry words or the discovery of the laws of physics, sooner or later that lesson sinks in. When you mouth off to your teacher, you suffer a punishment. When you touch a hot stove, you get burned.
So what’s the consequence for manufacturing drugs and destroying multiple lives?
In a television landscape that’s practically littered with morally grey antiheroes, Breaking Bad’s Walter White stands out. Not because of his dodgy morals, nor because of his journey from mild-mannered nobody to depraved drug kingpin, nor yet because of the outstanding acting that has netted Bryan Cranston three consecutive Emmys.
Walter White is remarkable because he’s become evil. And Breaking Bad is remarkable because it is not afraid to show that its lead has become truly despicable. This show has never shied away from showing that actions have consequences.
From the earliest episodes, the story has made it exceedingly clear that none of the characters can escape the repercussions of their choices. Walter White took his first step toward the descent when he began to cook meth with Jesse Pinkman. When he tries to assert himself after his success, he creates the splinters that fracture his marriage, and eventually his family. When he allowed a girl to die of a drug overdose, her grieving father caused a plane crash that killed hundreds. When Skyler White cheated on Walt in a desperate attempt to get her family away from his increasingly toxic presence, she entangled her family even deeper in the mess Walt was making. When Hank Schrader brutally beat Jesse after a prank phone call, he brought himself a suspension that would leave him defenseless when two cartel members came seeking revenge for the death of a family member. When Jesse tried to sell to a pretty young woman in his rehab group, it would eventually land her son in the hospital and ultimately lead to her own death.
But until “Ozymandias,” none of Walter White’s action had truly touched him. This is not to say that his actions were without repercussions. The steady decay of his character is the direct result of his own choices and what Vince Gilligan has called Walt’s ‘true superpower,’ his ability to lie to himself. It’s because of that mendacity that Walt has not yet truly experienced the consequences for his actions. He has always placed the blame on others, shifted the cause to outside sources. Even when his actions irrevocably tore apart his family, he has refused to acknowledge that he has violated almost every moral code. And make no mistake, there is a moral code in this universe, even if the characters are every shade of moral greyness.
Up till now, the characters in this show have dwelt in a world that is very aware of morality, even if they themselves are not. Every time there is a violation of a code of ethics, there is a clear repercussion, a falling out, a twisting of the order of things. None of which necessarily mean that the evildoer is punished. But it does mean that there is a moral order, and that there are penalties for violating it. Making the choice to watch someone die leads to hundreds of deaths. Abusing authority leads to life-threatening wounds, paralysis, and infirmity. In the Breaking Bad, there is an order to the world that the protagonist has been flaunting from the moment he stepped inside an RV to cook crystal.
If the Breaking Bad finale can show him- and us- his evil and its consequences, then the order to that world will be restored. If he realizes the true depths of his moral violations, then Walter White will face the true consequences of his actions.
On Sunday, we’ll find out just what it takes to get him there.