The Nice Guy’s Rage or Why Selfishness Is Important, Part I

[Note: This article is based on seeing the first six episodes of the series and a brief glance at Wikipedia, so my analysis may be slightly inaccurate. The point, which will be made in the next post, still stands. – AIWAC]

Meet Walter White. He is a husband and father of two – a handicapped son and a future daughter. A dedicated high school teacher of chemistry and a savant who once helped contribute to Nobel-Prize winning research. He is the ultimate everyman, the ‘nice guy’ you might meet at a PTA meeting or at a Daf Yomi shiur. Walter is so incredibly shy and unmanly, he can barely handle a gun and he is polite and submissive to everyone.

Except underneath that façade of shyness and genuine morality and conscience is a dark side, an underbelly of rage and resentment that is just waiting to bubble forth. For Walter, who has ‘played by the rules’ all his life, has been used and abused by everyone around him. No-one respects him: his wife bosses him around, his son laughs at him, his ‘friend’ cheated him out of a patent and his high school students couldn’t care less about what he teaches. Indeed, his teaching job pays so poorly, he needs to work at a car wash where the manager often uses him to do degrading work. Never protesting, never complaining, Walter did his duty with a smile and a nod.

Until the day he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Something broke, or came together for Walter White that day – an epiphany, if you will. A last barrier on the road to hell, or perhaps the permission slip he always needed. In an attempt to ensure the financial security of his family after his death (as well as pay for cancer treatment), Walter makes use of his knowledge of chemistry to become one of the most gifted cooks of methamphetamine, an illegal and very dangerous addictive drug. Slowly, Walter becomes absorbed in the drug world, committing additional illegal acts from money laundering to murder. Ostensibly, it is the classic tale of a good man destroyed by his need to do bad things to protect the ones he loves.

Except that isn’t the whole story. In fact, Walter had many people he knew who could have helped him financially – his friend (granted, he cheated him, but his life is on the line), his family – before opting for making drugs. Watching the hidden disdain Walter has for being dependent on others, one gets the impression that there is more to Walter’s transformation into a drug dealer than just helping his family.

Put bluntly, Walter, on some level, greatly enjoys what he does as the high-level meth creator known as “Heisenberg”. It is easy to understand why – people in that world respect him and lavish his extremely pure product with praise and copious amounts of money. Walter gets cheated and used in the legal, normal world and all he does is grin and bear it. Heisenberg puts up with no such crap. Heisenberg is the man Walter could never be.

This doesn’t mean that Walter/Heisenberg is a pure Jekyll/Hyde character, good man by day and violent sociopath by night. As Heisenberg, he struggles to hold on to his conscience and prevent its slow erosion, establishing artificial moral boundaries and “rules” he is doomed to cross anyway. He genuinely cares deeply about his family and his less-than-fully-competent partner, Jesse. But that turn towards the abyss is nevertheless almost inevitable, possibly from the moment Walter was diagnosed, if not before.

So what is the point of this story? More on that in the next post.


Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at:
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1 Response to The Nice Guy’s Rage or Why Selfishness Is Important, Part I

  1. Pingback: The Nice Guy’s Rage or Why Selfishness Is Important, Part II | QED

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