“I Will Put You Under the Jail”: The Tragedy of Breaking Bad

The Crumbling Patriarchy and Triumphant Feminist Ethic of Care in Breaking Bad

Leigh Kolb

When Jake and Amy were presented with Heinz’s dilemma in Lawrence Kohlberg’s research on morality,1 the children’s differing answers helped illustrate a dichotomy between justice and care presented in Carol Gilligan’s groundbreaking text In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Gilligan challenges the notion that Jake’s black and white, justice-based answer was more “developed” (according to Kohlberg’s scale) than Amy’s much less certain answer, which acknowledged a moral gray area and focused on the possible effects on the relationships involved.2 Heinz’s dilemma involves the question of whether a man should steal expensive prescription drugs to save his wife, and the Walter White dilemma in Breaking Bad starts with a question of whether a man should make illegal meth for profit to pay for his own cancer drugs and to ostensibly provide for his family.

Had Jake and Amy been faced with the central conflicts presented throughout Breaking Bad—methamphetamine production and distribution, murder, familial deception, and disloyalty—their reasoning and logic would likely mirror Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s, respectively. Throughout the series, Walt, the flailing patriarch, is contrasted with Jesse, the sensitive young man who is largely unconcerned with the trappings of traditional masculinity that Walt attempts to embody. Walt’s patriarchal rise and fall represents a crumbling of empire (both his meth empire and the more expansive societal empire of patriarchal control and violence). Yet, Jesse consistently lives within a feminist ethic of care, and while he suffers greatly, he is ultimately triumphant. Through the decisions of Walt, Jesse, and various ancillary characters,

L. Kolb (H)

East Central College, Union, MO, USA © The Author(s) 2017

K.S. Decker et al. (eds.), Philosophy and Breaking Bad, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40343-4_8

Breaking Bad promotes a feminist ethic of care over the violent, patriarchal empire-building of the past.

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