At first, in the beginning of the first part of the fifth season, I understood how people still felt empathy and rooted for drug lord Walter White, or Heisenberg, in “Breaking Bad,” even after everything he had done. He still had that banter-filled, weird father-son relationship with his sidekick Jesse—that warmed your heart in a disturbing way. He was still whipping out some incredibly terrifying one-liners but was also impossible to fear in those tighty-whities. (Warning: spoilers ahead) And perhaps most importantly—warning, spoilers ahead—his murder of Gustavo Fring at the end of the fourth season could be argued to be an act of self-defense (if you temporarily forget about the whole child-poisoning thing). The death of adorable Gale, too—if you really wanted to still love Walter—could be seen as a desperate act of survival. But now, as the fifth and final season approaches its end, I deeply hate Walter White, and it constantly shocks me how many people still defend and love him. His badness used to be fun. Now it just makes me sick.
For me, the turning point was when Walt shot Mike Ehrmantraut, former hitman in Gustavo’s meth operation. By that point, I was already disgusted by Walt’s reaction to the shooting of a child—that understandably rocked Jesse’s world— but when Walt kills Mike near the end of the first half of the season, we see no excuse for his actions. This was a crime of pride, a crime of utter cowardly shamefulness because Walt just could not accept that Mike never respected him or saw him as the boss. There was not even a sliver of a reason of self-defense that Walt could rely on this time, unlike in his past business-survival murders. This murder sent the cold blood that already lay latent in Walt’s body to go coursing violently through him, turning thought into evil actions, like when he orders the brutal executions of nine witnesses who could flip against him.
Now, in the second half of the fifth season, Walt has turned the focus of his evil manipulations and expert maneuvering not on drug dealers and cartel killers (for whom it is easy to feel less sympathy)—but on his own family. He blackmails Hank and Marie, who have always been kind and good to him. He lies like a slimy weasel to his own son, poor Walt Jr. who never suspects that his father tells him that his cancer is back not to warn him, but to guilt him into spending more time at home. Before Jesse learns the truth and turns to the DEA, Walt tries to kill Jesse with kindness, showing him some fatherly love to prevent any unwelcome hostility that he knows Jesse needs in order to stop [him from acting in a hostile way towards him. When Walt was fooling members of the meth world, I went along with him. Now that he’s devouring the innocent, it’s harder.
But people say, “He’s the hero of the show! You have to root for him!” This used to be true. But now, thanks to creator Vince Gilligan’s expert crafting, there are many new heroes to root for who are worth our time. I find myself saying, “Come on, Hank!” out loud when I watch “Breaking Bad” (usually alone in my room at night, with white knuckles and nail biting). Hank is a hero who has always proved himself to be steadfast and true. Although he can sometimes be a bit careless and has a hot temper, his true motives are noble and his heart is good. How can Walt still be the object of our hopes when Hank is right there, ready to put an end to his evil ways and bring an epic showdown? Jesse too, who is very difficult not to love, is a great character to cheer on. Yes, he’s made some terrible mistakes. He’s murdered and cooked meth too. But Jesse’s heart has always been weak rather than cold. Until now, he has not had the chance to stand up and fight for what he believes is right.
As Jesse tells Hank and Gomez, Walt is the devil. Let’s stop rooting for the devil and turn to the good side. Team Hank, Team Marie, and Team Jesse for the win.
—Staff writer Isabel H. Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.