For Good Reasons
There is a third way of understanding what Walt is saying to Walt, Jr. when he says, “I never intended...” He might be restating his previous claim that “I did wrong... I made some terrible mistakes. but the reasons were always.” If this last sentence is finished with “good,” then Walt would be admitting that he acted in morally wrong ways, but for good reasons—he had good intentions. Here it is important to note that the word “intention” is ambiguous. It can mean both why Walt does what he does—the end or goal for which he acts—as well as what Walt does. The first meaning of intention (as in claiming that someone acted with good intentions) is equivalent to the reason or motive for doing something; the second meaning (as in claiming that it was someone’s intention to do this rather than that) is equivalent to the (intentional) action itself.19 It is the first meaning that is relevant here.20 Understood in this way, Walt is attempting to reduce or eliminate his blameworthiness for what he has done by saying that his reasons or motives for acting were always good. As he says in Season Three’s “I.F.T.”: “I’ve done a terrible thing, but I’ve done it for a good reason. I did it for us.”
This is by far the weakest way for Walt to attempt to escape moral blame. To begin with, it would not absolve him from any blame in the eyes of the law. Granted that a person knows what he is doing (that is, has the requisite mens rea), and granted that he or she is not mentally ill or under duress, the reason or motive behind someone’s criminal behavior is completely irrelevant: “Hardly any part of penal law is more definitely settled than that motive is irrelevant.”21 If a person intentionally kills another who is not a current threat to him—that is, if he commits murder—then it is irrelevant, as far as the law is concerned, if he murdered the person for revenge, for money, as a dare, to impress a girlfriend, for fun, to save himself, or to save other people.22 For Walt to argue that, although he intentionally did things that were wrong, he did them for good reasons, is simply for him to argue that he is not a bad person despite the bad things that he has done.
Right up until the day he dies, Walt repeatedly tells his wife Skyler that the reason for all his actions—the reason why he manufactured crystal meth, protected and sold his product, and ultimately killed and harmed various people who got in the way—was to make enough money to take care of his family since he was going to die from cancer. This is what Walt means when he says to Walt, Jr., “but the reasons were always [good].” Indeed, when Walt begins to have scruples about his breaking bad and its fallout, he is talked back into staying the course by Gus, on this very basis, in Season Three’s “Mas”:
Gus: Why did you make these decisions?
Walt: For the good of my family.
Gus: Then they weren’t bad decisions.
Gus: What does a man do, Walter? A man provides for his family.
Walt: This costs me my family.
Gus: When you have children, you always have family. They will always be your priority, your responsibility. And a man... a man provides. And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it, because he’s a man.
The problem with this attempt to avoid blame, however, is that on the day that he dies, Walt finally admits that taking care of his family was not his reason. As he says in his final exchange with Skyler, he did it for himself:
Walt: You have to understand.
Skyler: If I have to hear, one more time, that you did this for the family-.
Walt: I did it for me.
Skyler: [Looking surprised].
Walt: I liked it. I was good at it. And. I was. really. I was alive.
Although it may be possible to reduce or eliminate Walt’s moral blameworthiness for what he did by establishing that he did it all selflessly, in order to take care of his family, it is hardly possible to reduce or eliminate his moral blameworthiness by claiming that he did it all because it made him feel alive.
Given that none of the three possible revisionist avenues for Walt will work, he cannot exonerate himself by availing of this approach to moral wrongdoing. Walt’s repeated attempts to rewrite (and stage-manage the rewriting) the script of what has happened cuts no ice. There is lost moral ground to recover, a great deal of it. It follows that Walt has no option, in seeking redemption, other than attempting to make amends for his wrongful behavior.
Before considering this final option, however, it is worthwhile to address the question raised by Walt’s final admission that his motivation was self-interest. Was he lying to Skyler, and Walt Jr., and Jesse, all along? Or was he deceiving himself?23