Walter White, a Macbeth for our time

I’m on the point of cancelling a week at a cottage. So far my satellite company has not posted Sunday’s schedule and I can’t set my TIVO/PVR to record Breaking Bad. I am supposed to leave tomorrow morning, but how can I go away and leave Jesse at the mercy of an ever-worsening Walt?

I know. I’m deranged. That’s what comes of watching Season 4 in its entirety and the first  4 episodes of Season 5 in 4 days.

I’m catching up. I saw only an episode here and there in the first 3 seasons, but when Season 5, episode 1 proved incomprehensible -what happened to Ted and why is it Skylar’s fault? how did Walt blow up the meth lab? what happened to the little kid?- I decided to back track to season 4. By a miracle, I actually found Big Daddy Video up on Dundas St., next door to a shuttered Blockbuster. (I haven’t made the jump to an Apple box and Netflix obviously.) There was a flaw in my plan, of course, because there were things I didn’t get about the beginning of Season 4 because I hadn’t seen Season 3. Never mind.

What I want to say is that Walt is a latter day Macbeth, a good, highly competent person who makes a choice to go over to the dark side.

Macbeth is the charismatic leader of King Duncan’s army and has just successfully defeated a rebellion against the old king. The throne of Scotland is not strictly hereditary, Duncan’s son is young and inexperienced and if Macbeth had not been so impatient, he might well have become king without resorting to violence. In addition, he has the three wryd sisters plotting to make him the devil’s agent and his social-climbing wife calling him a coward if he does not take the knife to Duncan, his cousin and a guest in his castle.

Walt has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, has lost his job as a high school chemistry teacher and, therefore, has no medical insurance. He has a teenaged son with physical disabilities and, at this point, a new-born daughter. Knowing he is going to die sooner rather than later, he wants to provide for them and what better way than to become the cook of the purest methamphetamine possible.

Walt’s wife Skylar is not instrumental in pushing Walt into a life of crime. Initially, he keeps it a secret from her. But by Season 4, she is in on the act and is laundering the money, always cash of course that he is making. And she is making decisions that are equally questionable.

Macbeth has a good friend in Banquo, who is almost his equal in Duncan’s army, just as Walt has his former student, Jesse, almost his equal as a chemical genius. Banquo and Jesse enable an exploration of the theme of loyalty, although Banquo doesn’t survive until Act 5 as Jesses has.

Duncan, the good, mild old king has a polar opposite in Gus, the cold, meticulous target of Walt’s homicidal urge.

At first after the initial murder, Macbeth’s true nature asserts itself and he is appalled by what he has done. Lady Macbeth imagines that she is not so lily-livered and goes back to the murder scene to plant the knives on the drunken guards. After that, Macbeth grows in evil, committing or commissioning murder after murder, reaching his lowest point when he has children slaughtered.

Surely, you say, Walt would not stoop to that. Watch Season 4 very carefully. And what about all those meth heads that hung out at Jesse’s?

Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank, the DEA agent takes the role of nemesis, the agent of justice, and has only narrowly failed to catch the cook of pure meth, nicknamed Heisenberg. Macbeth’s nemesis is Macduff, he who lost “all his little ones”.

The trouble for viewers is that they actually want the hero (protagonist is just such a long word) to succeed. At least at first. And what does that say about us?

True most people have gone off  Macbeth by the time Banquo’s ghost crashes the banquet, although we may falter momentarily when Lady Mac, who was not so tough after all, kills herself. “My way of life is fallen into the sere and yellow leaf….” By the end, Macbeth is dead as he should be, a truly tragic figure for he could have been so much more.

Walt is getting nastier and nastier and more remote from human relationships. Even Skylar is afraid of him. Without a doubt, the second half of Season 5 when it arrives next year, will bring us Walt’s demise as well. Will we still be cheering for him?

Hey, I just remembered. The cottage gets the same satellite service as this place does. I’ll just have to arm wrestle the remote away from the other 10 people staying there.




1 thought on “Walter White, a Macbeth for our time

  1. ił na ramienia Mamiąca usługi dźwigowe.
    niebogi. Odsunęła się. – Jestem maszyną – najlepszy sprzęt ( szepnęła, spoglądając naa Wagnera,-
    Nie mam wstydu.
    – Jesteś. – rzekł można Frodo, zważając jej prosto w oczy.
    – Jesteś…
    Weselił na kolana.
    – Kim ty, dziwka, jesteś? – spytał jak mucha w smole,
    – Zjawa? Z jakiej przyczyny.
    – W jakim celu żyję? – Poderwała się.
    – Dosłyszałeś, jestem maszyną… Wydawało mu
    się, że w jej sądzie.

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