Breaking Bad: Defining the Bad Guy

walter white

Walter White

by Leigh M. Lane


In a recent article, I constructed a brief character analysis of Walter White, examining his transformation from mild-mannered teacher to full-blown criminal.  I thought it might be interesting to take that idea a step further by taking a closer look at what really lies behind Walter’s criminal mind.

In the early seasons of Breaking Bad, one might have argued that Walter acted solely with good intentions.  The desperate fear of leaving a growing family with nothing is a noble motivation, even if his character did make some terrible decisions as a result.  However, the later seasons prove that the seeds of evil had merely lain dormant within him, just waiting for the right excuse to germinate.

The rest of the cast  serves to create a vivid comparison and contrast for Walt’s character: Marie’s kleptomania creates a backdrop of a good person acting in bad ways out of neurotic compulsion; Skyler’s book cooking exemplifies the unwitting lawbreaker only seeking to sweep wrongdoing under the rug; Jessie’s character works as the stereotypical punk who falls into the criminal world out of ignorance and laziness; and Mike represents the thug who does what he does because he is jaded and weary of the law-abiding world.  Walt could have turned out like any of those characters, and each mirrors him in their own way; however, his actions have told us that, put simply, he is good at being bad—and he likes who he has become.

The relationship between Walt and Skyler creates a setting against which the effects of his destructive actions might show exactly how remorseless his character is.  While Walt sees people as a means to an end, even viewing his family as there for his own needs, unable to appreciate the effects his actions have on those around him, Skyler becomes increasingly riddled with guilt over her part in his illegal behavior.  Moreover, she has grown to fear him.  His loyalties have proven to span only as far as others’ usefulness to him; beyond their monetary or physical value, everyone is disposable.  He’s not beyond murdering or double-crossing anyone who does not carry said value.

The contrast between Walt and Jessie offers the most profound analysis, creating a juxtaposition of greed versus sacrifice, the manipulator versus the manipulated, and the willfully evil versus the evil by proxy.  While Walt is willing to pull his entire family into the criminal world, for example, Jessie is willing to cut the ties between him and those he loves for their own good.  Walt is willing to put children in harm’s way, and even seriously poisons a young child solely for the purposes of manipulating those around him like hapless pawns.

It will be interesting to see where the talent behind Breaking Bad takes Walt’s character as this final, two-part season progresses.  It is likely that no one will be safe from his potential wrath, no one protected from his sociopathic wake.  While viewers might speculate his next moves, only one thing is certain: the culmination of his deceptive, manipulative, narcissistic path can only lead to horrific and profound destruction for everyone involved.

leigh lane

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Leigh M. Lane lives in the beautiful mountains of Montana, where she writes speculative fiction that spans from sci-fi to horror. All of her writing contains a gritty realism that hallmarks her unique voice, which also often has social or political undertones. Her recent full-length releases are Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods.  Leigh’s influences include H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King.  For more about Leigh M. Lane and her works, visit her website at


  1. Phil Simon says:

    Interesting post but I’m not completely with you. You write:

    Mike represents the thug who does what he does because he is jaded and weary of the law-abiding world.

    Is he? Or is he just a businessman? We don’t really know why he’s doing what he’s doing. Perhaps his granddaughter has something to do his career path. We might find out in later episodes.

    As for Walt not appreciating his actions, I’d respectfully disagree. He knows but just doesn’t care. He says as much in Season 4 to Hank (“I’m done explaining myself”) and to Walt Jr. (“Choices I stand behind).

    But that’s the beauty of the show. There are so many interpretations. I can’t definitely say that you’re wrong any more I can say that any one character is inherently good or bad.

  2. Rosa Cruz says:

    I think that the artical by Ms Leigh was very precise and I believe that she hit the nail on the head. Walts inner Bad has come out with a vengence and it will be very interesting to see the end result, which in my opinion is going to be a sad one for all involved. Thank you Ms. Leigh for your insight into the life of Walt & Jesse…

  3. SiameseDharma says:

    One incident on last night’s episode showed subtly how evil Walt has become. After chatting Jesse up about his girlfriend, evincing interest and concern, he manipulated Jesse into breaking up with her. When Jesse told Walt they broke up, Walt barely listened because he had moved on to some other concern.

  4. Kate E. says:

    I think you are an idiot…but then I do not have high opinions of Montanans, as it were. Ever read (stupid question) A Simple Plan…it too describes a person’s spiral into evil…but that is just it…Walt is an ordinary man who found himself in extreme extraordinary actions…who is to say any of us would be any different under similar circumstances…THAT is the true genius of this show.

  5. Kevin W. Young says:

    Hopefully I did not miss where you touched on this point, but looking back to the first season, Walt was more than just a good guy, he was a victim.
    Apparently a brilliant chemist, he was cut out of a profitable situation by his ex who now makes tons of money on what was apparently Walt’s intellectual property. Walt ends up working two jobs, and is unappreciated as a teacher and taken advantage of as a car wash employee. His wife treated him like a door mat, serving him her idea of what he should eat and controlling his behavior to fit what was acceptable to her. His son struggled in life with a handicap that Walt was powerless to prevent or cure. He waited his turn in line while people cut ahead of him in life, he drove a sensible car because to do otherwise would mean leaving the box that others had defined as normal for him. Hank treated him like the little book worm that the jocks picked on in High School and Walt’s place was to take the abuse without complaint. Finally, Walt’s own body joins the fray, by trying its best to kill him, taking away the last of his dignity and hope.
    Over the seasons, Walt has time and again played the game of those around him in the first season who put him in his place. Walt began to decide what his place was. Being Heisenberg gave him permission to treat others the way he was treated, and to behave the same as they would. Having the will to poison the little boy was horrible, but he did so to defeat Gus who had ordered the death of the boys older relative.
    There is a reason ruthless looks worse worn by Walt than by Gus. We expect Walt to remove the cloak of darkness he now wears with pride. My sense is that Heisenberg would rather die than go back to being Walt.

    • shulgidude says:

      I have to agree with kevin. I believe that any person that has been beaten down in every aspect of life can and sometimes will break through those barriers and become soemthing that people will call “evil” because the people calling him evil are the ones that made him that way. Any victim of society will eventually, if they really are backed into a corner, come out striking harder than anyone imagined they could. Just remember that people fear what they do not understand and what people fear they try to destroy. I see walt as a symbol of all the people that were shoved under the rug so to speak so that the truly evil people, those who just walked on the ones who really did the work, could get where they wanted. Although they never put a gun to someones head and pulled the trigger, sometimes treating people liek they are nothing is worse than death. The next time any one out there steals an idea from a truly gifted person that never got the credit, just remember that we all have the power to become a heisenberg, the surroundings and actions of people dictate the outcome. Thats where the term let sleeping giants lay came into theory and practice.

  6. Penny says:

    Don’t know who made you the authority, but I must disagree. You failed to point out Gus’ history, far more tragic than Walt’s. Your sense of morality appears to stem from immaturity/inexperience. When you’ve lived awhile and endured hardships, you tend to realize that a lot of your reality is based in bull. When it finally hits the fan, there’s nothing dormant that awakens. You just work with what you have and you make the most of it based on your experience and within the confines of the law.
    It’s fiction and it’s satisfying for those of us who have experienced desperation and felt helpless. Eventually, you pick yourself up, (as in the Nat King Cole song) but given the opportunity to take a stab back for being positioned for helplessness in the first place, when you are totally innocent for your nature/nurture or whatever— looks good. We can’t do it, but we like to see it. Walt will go down as did Gus, he too had worked very, very hard to establish himself as a pillar of the community. But alas, therein lies the rub with your opinion, in your world, the Guses don’t count. Yet it was he who posed the greatest threat, revealed the ineptitude of law enforcement, you forgot about ol’ Hank too. Seems you just wanted to say something and you made it fit our characters. Be gone, with your bias and let us enjoy our show. There is plenty of tripe out there for you to dissect, leave us to our guilty pleasures. Maybe go live a little and come back in 10 years and see where your self-righteousness is then. Read Karin Slaughter’s Unremarkable Heart and perhaps it will open your eyes to real life just the way it is.

  7. Shawn says:

    I think he has welcomed his transition because he is very embittered. This bitterness stems partly from his brush with cancer and the fact it can come back at anytime. Even stronger than cancer is his bitterness from what could have been. He feels robbed of his destiny to become a great Entrepreneur by utilizing his genius in chemistry. He made the decision to leave his fledgling venture, but like many embittered people, finds a way to blame it on fate. This is his reconciliation and he’s not ashamed of all the collateral damage it has caused. His blind bitterness has created a selfish and arrogant monster that will eventually self destruct. Don’t get me wrong, I was all for WW in the first few seasons. The writer created a situation that would almost leave no other answer for an everyday Joe like himself to provide for such a vulnerable family left behind. But, he has been presented with a choice to leave, (actually more than once, and sometimes with riches) and has chosen to remain a “bad guy.”

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