Every once in a while, I re-watch Breaking Bad. I’ve seen the whole series in its entirety multiple times (as well as all episodes of Better Call Saul and the film sequel, El Camino). In my opinion, Vince Gilligan is one of the best television writers who ever lived, on the level with my other favorite TV writer, Aaron Sorkin.
I suppose I relate to Breaking Bad because it’s a show about a high school teacher who reluctantly becomes a supervillain. Sounds like a summary of my memoirs.
It’s such a quotable show; I love quotes. It’s written in such a way that, in the most intense moments of the show’s drama, Vince Gilligan writes some unbelievably poignant quotes into the dialogue. And, as I watch, so many of those quotes grip me.
Two quotes from the show are the most gripping to me.
In the final season, Walter White says something to Jesse Pinkman — something which I’ve tried to live by for the past decade (but struggle, all-the-same).
I have tried repeatedly to implement this mindset. I’ve tried support groups, counseling, prayer — you name it, I’ve tried it. But, as John F. Kennedy was prone to say, “in the final analysis,” the past is the past, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.
At the end of Walter White’s life, his regret is wholly centered on how his actions hurt the ones he loved. He did not regret his wrongdoing in-and-of-itself (whereas, I do), but, more than anything, he regretted the pain he caused his family (whereas, I do too). Coming to terms with my past — even a decade later — still hasn’t happened. Forgiving myself for what I’ve done — even a decade later — still hasn’t happened.
It probably never will.
This leads to the other Breaking Bad quote, which, to me, has grown even more pertinent:
Jesse Pinkman came to this conclusion earlier in the series. I think, for his character, this was the most insightful moment of the entire series. Although he tried repeatedly to shed this, I think he knew, deep down, that this was true — and this was even more true for Walter White.
There was a point in the series when Walter White not only believed himself to be a supervillain, but he essentially embraced it:
I have never embraced villainy. I never will. But as I grow older, I’ve begun to realize that some people will never accept the fact that I hate myself for what I’ve done. Some people will never accept the fact that I want — more than anything — to do the right thing now. Some people will never accept the fact that I’ve dedicated my life now to preventing others from doing what I’ve done.
But the fact remains, I’m the bad guy.
I don’t want to be, I don’t try to be, but I am.
I’m the bad guy.
But no matter how many people post hateful things about me on the internet, I will never stop trying to do the right thing; I will never stop trying to make things right. I can’t change the past, but nor can I accept it. And I know I’ll never cross that line again, so the most I can do is to keep others from crossing that line too.
Can the bad guy still do the right thing?