“24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
I remember seeing the cover art for this series’ first few seasons in magazines and on DVD covers in stores for years before finally deciding to watch it. I thought, just by the still shots with the appealing title art next to them, that the show looked interesting. I had no idea what it was about, other than it looked like it could have been about science (due specifically to the second season cover with the two main characters in what looked like hazmat suits.). After finding out that the story revolved around a high school chemistry teacher with cancer who turns to cooking meth to pay for the cancer treatments and that it was a highly acclaimed show, I finally sat down to watch it and was hooked from the first episode. A few weeks ago the series ended and I thought that it deserved an article, not only for its tremendous storytelling and acting, but because of its boldness in showing its audience the nature of sin and its effects on our lives.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is introduced as a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher with a loving family and a wish that he had done more with his life than being just a teacher. We learn that earlier in his life, after his college days, he is pushed out of a company start-up–which he made possible–by his greedy college “friends”. We soon learn that Walter may not be as mild mannered as we first thought. His biggest obstacle in life is his pride, he knows he can do better but had given up when life beat him down. When he is diagnosed with cancer and then knowing that his family will not be able to financially support his treatments, we see those same college friends show up to offer help and it is here that we start to see Walters pride become more of an issue. It turns to a burning anger towards those who wronged him and the hand life dealt him. Reluctantly, he turns to a life of cooking meth with a former student and making a product so high in quality that it had never been seen before and most likely would never be seen again. His moral quandaries of leading such a life is made simpler by his ability to justify it all as helping his family with financial security during his treatment and after his death. This all changes after he murders his first man.
Watching Walter White’s conversion from loving father and law-abiding citizen to downright evil man is incredibly done as well as incredibly scary. A man who seems to have morals begins to disintegrate through each proceeding episode and it starts with his first murder. He starts out not wanting to kill a man that may want to kill him and instead hoping to change the potential killers mind. All that falls by the wayside the moment he realizes that he cannot change this man’s mind, thus the ensuing murder. From this point Walt begins to dive deeper and deeper into his own sin and makes excuses for it like protecting and helping his family to helping his former student and partner Jesse (Aaron Paul). But when we find out what we all as viewers should have seen from the beginning, Walt does everything for himself. Walt has been given over to his sin because of jealousy, anger, bitterness and most of all pride and in the end he is fine with that.
As Walt succumbs to his wounds in the closing minutes of the series he is seen smiling among what will be his legacy. The legacy of a man who was a huge success in creating the purest meth ever and using it to destroy lives. He smiles as he knows he will have gotten away with it and has gotten revenge on any and all people that wronged him. His last moments are not tears of regret or a want of repentance but a picture of a man who gladly dies in his sins because that is what he naturally wants. He does not need a loving and forgiving God nor does he want one, he is the epitome of original sin brought before the viewer in an unflinching and real way. There is no story of redemption because this man does not want any, he is content with what he has done and that was a bold way to end a show.
Walt is eager in his blindness to worship the idol he has created, himself. What is shown of sin in such a magnified way is telling when we know that this can easily be us and is in fact all of us. How blind are we ourselves to the sin in which we do without a second thought? How easy is it to find porn, to lie to a friend, to steal what isn’t ours–no matter how small, to bring down another person with mere words, to hate an idea, person or thing with great passion? All of it easy to justify, yet all of it is bad. While not the creator’s intent, this series showed how easily it is to go from contained corruption to full blown corruption. Walt always had this sin within him, it was just contained, but when it was able to seep through each new crack it bled into every facet of his life. In the end he reaped what he had sown and did it all with a smile on his face.
There is one last point I’d like to make for this part of my Breaking Bad review. It is that of the genius in the story of Walter White in that it shows us the inherent nature in man to give himself fully over to his own sin, but it also shows the viewer that we are no different. Case-in-point, the viewer is made to root for Walt’s getting away with it. How often did we (and I am including myself) hope that he would survive his latest ordeal and come out at the end on top? We see our own culpability to the allure of sin which is in our very character. We found ourselves, at times, rooting for an evil man or marveling in his intricate plans to have the upper hand on someone else. The viewer is made to connect with Walt and then root for him, which is not only powerful storytelling, but brings a mirror up to our own souls. Without the notion of common grace, the doctrine that teaches that God restrains sin and gives undeserved grace to the saved and unsaved alike, we would not understand the idea of restrained sin. We could be much worse than we are and yet the world is restrained from the gracious hand of God, even though we may not think it. Think of the worst human event you can think of and then multiply it indefinitely if God would not restrain the utter despair and evil of men’s hearts. Given the intimate detail with which we see Walt fall we ask ourselves, would we be any different.
Without Christ there is no hope and with the redemptionless story of Walt we see that. This series is one that Christians can connect to, not only to see the depravities we are called out of but to see the depravity that we are called to witness to. Sin grips us and doesn’t want to let go and at times we don’t want it to, we want to constantly break bad.