Walt’s Positively Wrong

Walt has been forced to consider issues of right and wrong from the beginning of the series, notably when confronted with the quandary of whether to kill Krazy-8 when his initial attempt at poisoning him goes awry. Trapped in a basement, chained to a pole, Krazy-8 is recovering from his injuries and seems likely to regain his health and live. Walt and Jesse flip coins to decide who will kill him, and Walt loses. Faced with the decision to take a life more directly, with his own hands, Walt is conflicted. He makes his now-famous list of reasons to either spare Krazy-8’s life or to kill him. Outweighing the moral prohibition on murder is Walt’s love for his family. Killing Krazy-8 is still murder, and not even justifiable homicide in the eyes of the law.

Walt is almost convinced by the moral or perhaps the legal arguments against murder, until the exigency of Krazy-8’s own murderousness forces Walt to take his life. Swayed by the utilitarian necessity of protecting himself and his family, Walt overcomes both morality and the law and arguably saves his and his family’s lives. The audience witnesses Walt’s first murder and perhaps sympathize, understanding that some higher duty may overcome the legal or moral prohibitions Walt has violated, agreeing that somehow the duty to protect one’s family, especially against a murderous criminal, may somehow mitigate against the moral or legal harm. Will Krazy-8 even be missed? Won’t there be good consequences if there is one less violent drug dealer on the streets?

There are good reasons, during the course of Breaking Bad, to question the positivistic outlook; a character who seems to have embraced it is Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer who helps Walt navigate several legal issues, but who also hooks him up with important figures in the dark underworld of the Albuquerque drug trade. DEA agents who defy or break the law, both for personal reasons (they like Cuban cigars) or in the furtherance of an investigation (as Gomez and Schrader seem routinely inclined to do) make the fact of lawyers working hand-in-hand with criminals less surprising. On this view, the law is a flexible barrier to achieving various goals, and both cops and lawyers, better than anyone, understand how it functions and how to work around it. In light of this, Walt’s cooking meth seems somehow more innocent, driven by the need to fund his cancer treatments and build a nest egg for a family living paycheck to paycheck. Is the net result to illuminate some higher form of “justice” outweighing the obvious rule-breaking? Does some good transcend that which is defined both by typical morality and the law, and has Walt effectively sought and achieved it, or is the show in its entirety an indictment of the very concept of justice?

 
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