The success and acclaim of AMC’s Breaking Bad has been shouted from every rooftop by this stage. While the shows over exposure and hype becoming too much for some, its quality and consistently excellent writing, acting and production values are hard to argue against. One of the most acclaimed aspects of the series is the character development, an often pointed to example of the show’s quality of writing. Almost every character has some form of development throughout the series, the majority of which result in the character being either borderline evil or casually maniacal, with arguably the only innocent characters left by the end of it all being Walter Jr and the new-born baby Holly.
The often cited and primarily focused example of development in the show is that of the main character; Walter White and his transformation into Heisenberg. Beginning as a mild-mannered and quite frankly boring high-school chemistry teacher, to king of the drug empire and one of the most dangerous men in New Mexico. Walter begins cooking crystal meth with his former student Jesse Pinkman to pay for his cancer treatment and have enough money to support his family after his death. The slow yet noticeable build kept the show engaging throughout its 5 season run. Key moments sprinkled throughout each season act as focal points for this transformation. It’s not a day and night switch, it’s a slow build with no going back that keeps the viewer glued to show from the opening shot of episode one. These are the most notable moments that lead a simple family man to the top of the crystal meth drug trade.
Early in the first season, Walt and Jesse have been discovered by two local drug dealers who don’t want new competition on their turf. Walt plants a booby trap in their RV that’s seemingly killed both men. However, on the way home one of the men, “Krazy Eight,” wakes up though in bad shape. Walt and Jesse knock him out and with no other options available, imprison him in the basement by tying a bike lock around his neck to a support beam.
For a few episodes, Walt and Jesse are debating what to do, knowing that inevitably they need to kill him. Walt tries to act compassionate to Krazy Eight by feeding him, talking with him and trying to see good in him so he can, hopefully, let him go without the worry of ever hearing from him or his associates again. Krazy Eight eventually catches on to this and starts playing along, trying to seem helpless and relate to Walt about their problems of why they joined the drug business. Although, we are given the impression that these stories are made up for him to relate further with Walt.
When Walt brings him some food he accidentally drops the plate, shattering it. After another chat, Walt now thinks he can let him go, but upon discarding the plate shards he notices one of the shards missing, with the only person who could’ve taken it being Krazy Eight. Walt then returns to the basement to presumably let Krazy Eight free but instead, Walt grabs the bike lock to choke him out. With Krazy Eight wildly and desperately flailing the plate shard at Walt’s leg, before ultimately fading into death.
This is the first life Walt has taken. Yes, there was Krazy Eight’s partner, but that was a trap he set, he didn’t see it, he didn’t develop a sense of trust with him over the course of a few days only to be betrayed, and he certainly didn’t have to strangle him with a bike lock in a basement. This is a much more up close and personal death that would, and clearly does, take a significantly deeper impact on Walt’s humanity. Walt feels disgusted and appalled with himself for this, but knows that there was no other way and if he keeps up with this line of business, it’s something he’ll have to do again.
The first true Heisenberg moment of the show is with Walter and Jesse’s distributor Tuco in his office, when Walt goes to talk to him after assaulting Jesse. It’s also during this conversation that Walter introduces the Heisenberg persona by name. Walt arrives with a bag of what appears to be his ‘product’ and demands $50,000 dollars for the stolen meth and Jesse’s pain and suffering. Tuco laughs and replies by saying he’s beaten up Jesse and stolen “the dope” and Walt walks in with even more meth for him. Walt corrects him with “This is not meth” and slams a single piece to the floor, creating an explosion large enough to blow up the office, then threatening to drop the entire bag.
Tuco: “Are you nuts?”
Walt: “You wanna find out?”
After Tuco hands over the money in fear, Walt changes their business arrangement to his liking and leaves in his car with a huge adrenaline rush.
This is a big moment for Walt’s character as he has managed to be intimidating, let alone to an unstable and murderous psychopath, and proves himself as a dominating presence that shouldn’t be crossed. His intimidation is also brought back soon when he notices a two-bit drug dealer in a parking lot. Walt simply walks up to him and says, “Stay out of my territory” and then they leave.
The Bitch in Apartment 325
In season two, a love interest for Jesse is introduced named Jane. Jane is a heroin addict and is causing Jesse to be late for ‘cooking sessions’ with Walter and is even convincing him to take a larger cut of the money so they can run away together. Late one night Walter breaks into Jesse’s home to steal back the money and some meth Jesse stole. Noticing that Jesse is passed out after taking heroin Walt tries to wake him up, knocking Jane onto her back as she begins chocking on her own vomit.
This is one of the show’s most defining and memorable scenes as Walt just stands there, gazing upon a nuisance to his work and with minimal personal restraint, allows her to die. This is the moment where Walt puts work before people and lets someone fall for his own benefits, of course with Jesse being none-the-wiser that Walt was ever even there. This is when Heisenberg takes full force in Walt’s life. Walter White died with Jane leaving only Heisenberg. From this point on, the Walter we’ve come to know from the first season is essentially gone for good.
Buenos Dias Los Pollos Hermanos
In season three, we are introduced to Gustavo Fring. Walt and Jesse’s new distributor who owns and operates through a fast food restaurant named ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’. Gus becomes the most intimidating figure in the series, never breaking away from his cold demeanour. Eventually, Walt believes that he will be replaced by Gale, his new appointed partner after Gus replaces Jesse. From this point until the finale of season four, Walt is playing a game of survival with Gus, in an unspoken game of kill or be killed. In the finale, after many failed attempts Walt lives and Gus dies with the help of former villain and Gus’s long-time enemy, Hector Salamanca. One of the failed attempts involved poisoning the child of Jesse’s girlfriend with ricin and blaming Gus, to exact Jesse’s revenge. A further point towards Walt being lost to Heisenberg.
Strapping a bomb to his wheelchair, Walter and Hector conspire to have Gus lower his guard while taunting Hector at the retirement home as he usually does. Hector detonates the bomb, killing himself, Gus and Gus’s bodyguard. This puts Walter at the top, he is now the ultimate force in the drug industry or “The empire business” as he calls it. Preferring to be the dominate figure over the money and drug production, a clear sign that Heisenberg is front and centre in Walt’s mind. Walt has now taken down every threat to him and he has a sheer feeling of invincibility and believes he is unstoppable.
A Dangerous Man Knocks
For some time, Walter’s wife Skyler has been in on his secret and has been terrified for the family’s safety. In one of the most famous scenes of the show, Skyler discovers that Walt is in danger of being murdered by Gustavo Fring, she pleads with Walt to stop going into work and to admit that he is in danger. Walt replies with a full speech of how important he is to the drug industry and how he has no fear.
“You clearly don’t know who you’re taking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler, I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.”
This is the scene where Skyler realises that her husband is gone and she is now married to the monster that is Heisenberg. From this point forward she is terrified of Walt to the point of being petrified when they’re in the same bed. At one point attempting to drown herself in their pool. The uneasiness Skyler feels towards Walt from this point on in the series is always felt. The tension she feels is brilliantly done.
A short scene now, but an important one none-the-less. Walter, Jesse and new third partner Mike, travel to the desert to exchange with a buyer. While the buyer tries to intimidate Walt, he fails miserably only serving to make Walt impatient. After the exchange, the following dialogue is shared;
Walt: “Now, say my name”
Walt: “You’re Goddamn right”
This brief scene’s purpose is merely to showcase Walt relishing in his power, toying with those he now considers beneath him. Walt is fully aware of his power and reputation for intimidation and he is living for it.
A Torn Family
For the entirety of the final season, Heisenberg is in full throttle. Talking down to Jesse, even hiring an assassin for him, kidnapping his own daughter, trying to enter the witness protection program and stealing his required materials and ingredients from a train in his most elaborate scheme of the series. The highlight of Heisenberg in this season outside the finale is when he confronts Skyler in their home before she attacks him with a knife, leaving Walt Jr to break up the fight, protect his mother and call the police. Walt stands up and looks down at them screaming “What’s the matter with you? We’re a family”, before seeing that everything he’s fought for, everything he’s tried to protect and held near and dear to him are frightened by him, intimidated, trembling at the sight of him.
This is when Walt himself realises that he is permanently Heisenberg, that the Walt he knew won’t come back and he can’t keep Heisenberg out of his home anymore. Up until now, he’s considered his home and work life separate despite Skylar’s knowledge but this is the key moment where he discovers and accepts the truth. Walt now knows what he’s become and that retreating to his season one incarnation is off the table. It’s a genuine moment as the pain and devastation is perfectly clear in his eyes and voice. He then softly repeats “We’re a family” before running out the door.
When it All Comes to an End
The finale is filled with great Heisenberg moments. From blackmailing and threatening his former business partners into giving money to his family, to poisoning his shipping employee Lydia with ricin, to building a contraption for a machine gun that would waste an entire room of thugs about to kill him and Jesse.
Before going to save Jesse from the assassins he stops by Skyler’s new home to clear his chest. He tells Skyler “You need to understand that…” before being cut off by Skyler saying, “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family”, Walt then intervenes with “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was really good at it.” Showing that Heisenberg, at some point, truly did fully shine through and turned mild mannered, boring ol’ chemistry teacher Mr White into the king and made him break bad. It became more than the dire cause of action for a terminally ill family man and became a dying man living a large and thrilling life for once, before sinking too deep to resurface.
The series then concludes with Walt and Heisenberg dying via a bullet in the side for Jesse, exhaustion, having nothing left to live for after finishing his business and just being ready to finally let go of life. But where else than the place he’s most comfortable? A meth lab, in one of the finest death scenes ever filmed. Thus, forever ending the reign of Heisenberg. While the original character gleamed through at times, he was long since dead by this point. This was the termination of the beast he’d become.