There’s no secret that breaking bad is a phenomenal show. It’s filled with suspense, intrigue, danger, a little comedy, and enough drama to put most soap operas to shame. One of the most compelling reasons for the show’s success is Bryan Cranston’s amazing performance as Walter White. His slow transformation from bumbling school teacher to criminal mastermind is unnerving, but what solidified Breaking Bad’s status for me as superior storytelling was a single line of dialogue uttered by its anti-hero in its final season. That line was:
“I did it for me.”
Fair warning: I’m going into spoiler territory here. So if you’re interested in this blog and haven’t seen the show then go binge watch the entire thing and come back.
A recurring theme throughout Breaking Bad is the motivation behind Walt’s actions. He is constantly justifying his criminal and, often times, immoral behavior by stating it’s for his family. It’s a perfectly rational motivation for anyone, but especially for someone in Walt’s situation. He’s dying, and as a very smart scientist who missed out on a huge payday, it’s understandable why Walt would be so desperate to leave his family with a large financial cushion when he’s gone.
But there’s another reason why Walt “broke bad.” It goes deeper and darker into his character than even he realizes at first. It’s the side of him that screams out every time an obnoxious student mocks him or when his boss at the car wash rides his ass. He rebels against the mold society has fitted for him because it feels good to give the finger to those that wronged you. Acquiring stacks and stacks of money fills Walt with a sense of success that eluded him his whole life.
And that is why, after everything he’s built falls apart, the “I did it for me” confession he gives his wife is so powerful to his character. That single line tears down the entire façade of rationalization he’s built up for himself over the course of five seasons. It goes back to the very first episode of the series when Walt sees an opportunity to put his undervalued skills to use. He did it because he liked it, and that acknowledgement can allow one to re-watch the series with an entirely new perspective on his character.