One of the things that makes Breaking Bad such an amazing show is its ability to make its audience sympathize with the bad guy. All of our favorite characters are criminals, and the main reason we love them so much is because we’ve seen both sides to each of them. We’ve watched Walter transform from mild-mannered high school physics teacher to drug kingpin. We’ve seen Jesse’s desire to do the right thing, despite his numerous flaws. We know Mike had worked on both sides of the law, striving to be the most professional man he could be no matter who he worked for. We also know that Gus was a shrewd businessman who suffered a humbling loss before rising to the top.
There are people who believe some criminals are born bad seeds while others are the products of their environments. Assuming none of the Breaking Bad cast were born bad, one must ask: what made them criminals?
Walter’s progression is the easiest to map out, his desperation to provide for his family driving him to commit acts he likely never would have had he not believed his days were numbered. As I pointed out in last week’s article, his felonious acts began as those of self-preservation and for the preservation of his family’s well being, with a quick snowball effect driving him to darker and more calculated deeds. Still, a part of us wants to root for him, to see him succeed in his endeavors, because not only do we feel for the man he once was, but we also admire the strength and resolve he’s developed in who he’s become.
Jesse’s character is slightly more difficult to analyze, as he is introduced to us as a drug addict and small-time dealer. Strangely, he seems to progress in the opposite direction as Walter, becoming more reluctant to continue on his destructive path as the seasons progress. He is flawed but selfless. He has weaknesses Walter will never understand, and yet in many ways his strength blows Walter’s out of the water. He is a murderer, an addict (even if in recovery—see my November 12 article on whether or not that will last) and every bit as cunning as Gus, made evident by his magnet idea in Episode 501 and his train heist idea in Episode 505. He has a criminal mind, and yet he strives against it.
We know little about what turned both Gus and Mike to lives of crime, but what we do know about them made both equally endearing. They were both good at what they do, both were exceptionally professional, and both saw the dirtier aspects of their work as simple business. While it was easy to see Gus as cold-hearted and nearly mechanical (who didn’t cheer on Walt’s well-planned murder of the man?) Mike was much more complicated. He was a respectable man, even though he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when the need arose.
These, of course, are merely my own speculations, so I must ask: what do you think makes a criminal? What do you think was the turning point for each of our favorite characters? Do you respect them for what they have done, or do you cheer them on with guarded respect?
Leigh M. Lane is a speculative fiction author whose works span from sci-fi to horror. Her most recent full-length works are The Hidden Valley Horror, Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods. For more about her work, go to her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.