As the epic, award-winning, frightening, thrilling, television game-changing Breaking Bad prepares to end for good, I can't help but look at antihero Walter White through the eyes of a parent. A parent who (like many of us do at times) feels desperate, like a failure and trapped. In fact, if you stop for a moment you'll see that Breaking Bad presents us all with a classic parenting dilemma: What are you willing to risk for your family’s survival?
From episode one when a mild-mannered high school science teacher learns he will die soon (no money for treatment, pre-Obamacare), his wife is pregnant, and he already has a son with special needs and bills that will be the ruin of his family after he's gone, we can all relate. Sure, we might not have gone the path of ruthless drug kingpin, but hey, it worked for Walt. For awhile.
White was nothing if not a hunched, hacking shell of man filled with primal resolve; risking it all to secure the longevity of his brood. And who didn’t ask herself, “Would my husband do that for us? For me? Does he care that much?Does he love me that much?” I’ll confess to having milked those messy feelings for a whole bunch of episodes. Yup, I was infatuated with his familial passion, devotion and dedication, even if his methods were on the, er, chutzpah-heavy side.
Does our humanity end when our kids’ lives are on the line?
So what does this mom do when White morphs from law-breaker to life-taker, no longer looking out to feed his family but rather the insatiable pangs of his personal demons as they rally for exorcism, claim victory over his former self and rise like a phoenix in the unstoppable killing machine, Heisenberg? Where do I put all the Walter White as super dad/husband love?
What a seductive shadow dance he performs, that Walt. In one moment he was a flickering flame of Darwinian agenda that has us parents wondering, how far is too far when it comes to your kids? Then we took it all back as he shape-shifted into the alter ego of Heisenberg. His ego and world imploding, erupting and undulating like hot lava. And guess who is left the hot mess here? Us. Moms cleaning up the mess and trying to sort out all of these conflicting feelings. All the parts of ourselves that are in White, whether we like it or not, simply because we are parents.
Breaking Bad is nothing if it’s not messing with our parental boundaries. It’s a creepy voice in our ear: Would you kill for your kid? Does our humanity end when our kids’ lives are on the line? Is it kosher to devolve from higher consciousness into a sweaty swarm of cells hell bent on the survival of our offspring? The answer, of course, is no. Because once we shut off what makes us human; the reason, the choice-making, the morality, the compass—even if it’s for the best of our children—we’re no longer alive. We’re the walking dead. Which is what Walt turns out to be, after all.