Comic-Con 2012: Breaking Bad Breaks Down Walter White

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From a fan perspective, Breaking Bad is a show that's so much fun to strip down and take apart. We examine every single scene, every single word uttered, every batshit move that Walter White concocts to weasel his way out of another jam. We're obsessed with the show, and rightfully so, because it's the type of series that's so open to discussion among its fans.

But we're not the only fans out there. The way the cast and creator talk about the show with the reporters is unlike anything I've ever experienced. The cast was broken up into groups, and when Aaron Paul, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Anna Gunn, J.R. Mitte, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, and creator Vince Gilligan sat down at our table, they proceeded to have an in-depth conversation about the show among themselves, all with incredibly astute observations and opposing views on the meaning of certain scenes and what's going on with Walter White. Especially what's going on with Walter White.

Obviously the trend since the pilot has been Walter transforming from mild-mannered chemistry teacher into, as Gilligan says, Scarface. Everyone in the cast is supremely fascinated with the character and could spend days just talking about what motivates him and his alter ego Heisenberg.

"What drives this character Walter White, when he could get out?" asked Odenkirk. "I think about the car, when he's supposed to return [Walter White Jr.'s] car. And he just goes fucking crazy, for no reason!" Odenkirk's tone then changes as if having an "Aha!" moment. "There is a reason. He's angry, right? He like got this rage inside of him. Like that whole story about how he was partners with that guy in that business [Ed. Note: Grey Matters], and that guy stole his girlfriend. And [Walter] was the genius behind the company, but he's made no money from it. And he doesn't want any fucking money from it. He's got this anger and resentment inside him."

Just then, Banks interjects. "And why, you may ask? Why does he have this anger and resentment?"

"Because he's a normal guy!" said Odenkirk.

"Because he's a normal guy!" Banks agreed excitedly. "He just happens to deal in crystal meth and kill people."

"He's just got a little bit more rage inside him than a regular person, enough to push him over the edge," Odenkirk said.

Gilligan took a different approach to explain Walter's behavior. "There's the old saying about Hollywood that I like to quote. Success in Hollywood doesn't turn you into a bad guy, it magnifies those flaws that are already in you, that you've had all along. One of the things I love about the show is that everyone has their own take on it. I don't think my take is any more invalid that anyone else. I'm not being disingenuous when I say that. I don't think my take on this is any more valid than anyone else's because I'm so close to it I can't see the forest for the trees sometimes. But in my opinion, Walt's always had those weaknesses, those foibles, and bad character traits within him, he was just too scared to let them out. I think the cancer diagnosis freed him, liberated him from a great deal of fear that he felt, which you would think is a good thing. To live a life, a life of fearful self-constraint seems like a terrible thing. And for the most part it probably is. But he's gotten a little too free these past two seasons, and the darker side that I think was probably always within him is just raring to get out."

Walt's often been described as a sociopath, but Gilligan doesn't think that's an accurate description. "A sociopath, as I understand it, is someone who doesn't have any care at all about the feelings of others. So I don't know if in that strict clinical sense that Walter White is a sociopath. I think he's capable of feeling guilt for the bad things he does. I think he felt bad about watching Jane die, for instance. I just think he gets further and further down a very dark path whereby feelings of guilt, feelings of morality, feelings of, 'Gee, I used to be a really good guy and strive very hard to do the right thing.' Those disappear into the distance, and the feelings of power overwhelms all and the feelings of guilt and morality succumb to that. So sociopath is maybe a strong word, but he's definitely a bad dude."

If anyone knows Walter White best, it has to be actor Bryan Cranston, who crawls into the skin of Walter several months out of the year. Like Gilligan, he sees this current Walter as a man filling out his own space. "I think he was without emotion before," Cranston explained. "When he was in depression, there was nothing there. He was putting one foot in front of the other. He had everything covered over, so his emotions were calloused because [he] wasn't using them. He loved and he knew responsibility, but he can't help but feel for what he missed, his opposrtunities. Depression is unfortunately a very common thing, so I think a lot of the audience will relate to that. Now, all of a sudden, he's going through it. He has a year to live. But he's living it. He's going through every emotion. He's using every intellectual particle that he has. His physical body is completely involved, emotions are going. He's feeling fear, and power, and greed, and avarice, and hubris. He's like a glutton now. [makes hilarious eating sounds.] He's eating it all, and he's expanding, so what you'll see is him expanding, the breadth of this enterprise."

Since Gilligan said no one's take on Walter is better than anyone else's, I'll put in a few cents. I don't think Walter is as "bad" as people say. Yet. He's certainly not a sociopath, but he's headed in that direction. Most of the things he's done have been out of necessity, to save his own life. When he poisoned Brock or killed Gus, it's to survive. Walter isn't going to put anyone ahead of himself and his family, but how wrong is that? Isn't that natural? If he has to send a kid to the hospital, so be it. Walter has found something he's really good at, and he's going to exploit after a 50 years of being told what to do. He doesn't do things violently because he enjoys being violent, he does those things as a last resort. Not because he doesn't want to, but because it's smarter not to. However, I expect him to tip over to the bad side over the next 16 episodes. Walter isn't a truly bad man yet, but he's getting there. Fast.

What's your take on Walter White? Do you think he's a sociopath? Do you think he's a survivor? Do you still root for him, and why or why not?



Notes

– What about Jesse? "In this season, Jesse is walking on eggshells," Paul says with a hint of fear. "All of our characters are a little worried about [Walter]. Where do loyalties stand?" He paused, then thought, and summed it up perfectly: "Shit is gonna get crazy."

– Mitte says that Walt Jr. has to find out about his father eventually, but isn't sure how his character will react. Walter is his dad, and Walter Jr. idolizes him. The White household will become a "house of wolves," he said.

– Norris believes Hank is the final foil for Walt, the ultimate test and the man that will be there in the end. "In terms of structurally, there was Tuco, there was Gus Fring, and at some point, we're going to deal with Hank and Walt in a confrontation. And I think that's the last part of the big structural part of the show."


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