Breaking Bad Season 5: Is Walter the new Gus?



Season 5 of Breaking Bad airs tonight. So far Breaking Bad has chronicled Walt’s downward spiral, from the moment he becomes a meth cook with motives that he can justify to himself as understandable and admirable, to the final show in season 4 in which Walt seems to have become the very person he once saw as a necessary evil. Gradually, over four seasons,Walt’s desperation and fear have been replaced with the same pride, cunning, and aggression that has elevated his boss Gus Fring to executive status in the drug trade.

Walt’s  choices have been insidiously reasonable. His progression toward badass status is oddly exciting. Breaking Bad may be about the drug industry, but it occurs to me that people “break bad” in other organizations and relationships as well. Walt’s journey is not that foreign.

When asked why people watch Breaking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan says “I think it’s wish fulfillment…the idea of being a guy who has played by the rules his whole life and, you know, colored within the lines and tried to be a good law-abiding citizen and, finally, given a certain set of circumstances he finds himself in, saying to hell with it and breaking bad. You know, in the old Southern sense of the expression, which means to raise hell.”

As the show progresses Walt’s “I do this for my family” routine starts to wear thin. It’s obvious Walt enjoys the challenge. He finds that he enjoys manipulating people and gaining the upper hand in negotiations. Having been fearful for so long Walt discovers that he likes being feared.

In his pride Walt thinks his cooking skills make him too valuable to kill. His cooking partner Jesse, his family, and his lawyer all become vulnerable as he oversteps his position with Gus Fring. Walt does not realize that Jesse’s loyalty is the only thing that’s been keeping him alive. Gus must assert his authority and demonstrate his power, even if it means killing his best cook. That is the price of staying on top.

In the last episodes of season 4 Walt’s family is threatened, his exit strategy is blown, and he feels cornered. Walt  turns the tables on Gus, but in doing so he resorts to the same tactics Gus employs. Walt’s actions stem from more than a desire to fix the problem. It’s become about control, vengeance and winning. Walt has  journeyed far from the character to whom we are introduced in the first episode of the series.

Will he continue on his current trajectory into the dark side?

Will something bring Walter full circle?

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