Making Amends

Walt, who has been characterized as “a hapless passive-aggressive chemistry teacher” who mutates into “a hapless passive-aggressive meth cook,”37 has also been characterized as a chemistry teacher who has not just broken bad, but “broken eviF’—just as evil, indeed, as Gus Fring—and as someone who has “taken his wife down this path too, corrupting her, involving her in a conspiracy, and endangering his family and friends,”38 not to mention converting his partner Jesse into a murderer. Walt has a lot of moral ground to recover. The question is whether and how much of this moral ground can be recovered by making amends for past wrongdoing, in Camus’ sense.

It is conceded here that Walt does make some amends for his past misdeeds. The good things that he does in his final days, as depicted in the series’ final episode, “Felina,” add to the universal sum of good things achieved by all human agents. Walt himself believed he could make amends by way of direct compensation. He rescues Jesse from his imprisonment at the hands of Jack Welker and his gang, ending their crystal meth production, and in so doing removes the remaining threat to his family. He even hands Jesse a gun to give him the opportunity to kill him for all that he had put him through. He devises an elaborate benefaction scheme to finance Walt, Jr.’s college education with $9.72 million that he gives to Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, so that they can set up an irrevocable trust fund for Walt Jr. on his eighteenth birthday. He also supplies Skyler with the GPS coordinates of the place where Hank and his partner Steve Gomez are buried, and tells her “Now you trade that for a deal with the Prosecutor. You’ll get yourself out of this, Skyler.”

It is true that, in order to do all of this, he has to shoot almost the entire gang—leaving Jesse to strangle his captor and tormentor, Todd—as well as poison Lydia, the mastermind behind the global distribution network for the blue crystal meth. He does not turn them into the authorities. He does not afford any of these murderers the opportunity for moral redemption. Nevertheless, even if these killings cannot be morally justified, the motivation behind wiping out a white supremacist gang, and shutting down global distribution network for the blue crystal meth, as well as that behind saving Jesse and protecting his family is more admirable than simply eliminating the competition. His killings could even be said to add to the sum of good in the world, even if his actions cannot be morally justified.

It has been said that “More importantly, there is no redemption for Walt in ‘Felina.’ None of what he does in that final episode excuses what he did in the 61 prior. None of it made him a hero in the end. He does not make up for his lies and crimes. He does not wash away poisoning children and destroying families and being a vile manipulator of people he claimed to care about.”39 While it is true that Walt’s final actions do not excuse his previous moral wrongdoing, and do not elide his previous sins, and while it is true that these final actions do not “make up” for all his crimes and mistreatment of people, nevertheless, it is possible to believe that Walt does make some amends in his final days, and that in general he is right to think that it is possible for moral wrongdoers to recover lost moral ground. To some extent, Walt does recover lost moral ground toward the end of Breaking Bad. How much moral ground he has recovered is a probably a moot point. Suffice it to say that in the concluding scenes Walt appears a sad, depleted, ashen, forlorn, tragic figure, but he is no “monster.” Some moral reputation has been restored.

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