The road to hell is paved with Crystal
Why Breaking Bad is a Libertarian Parable on unintended consequences
The following is rated Sulfur for spoilers.
After screaming in a fit of rage at the editor of this publication during the waning episodes of Breaking Bad (don’t worry he was yelling back), I thought it might be more productive to articulate my thoughts rather than foaming at the mouth. The point of contention was wether a murdering manipulative psychopath could still be considered the “Hero” of the show. For those who have watched the drama over the past five seasons we’ve seen the protagonist Walter White evolve from timid cancer stricken high school chemistry teacher to drug lord strongman. Along the way he’s killed the competition, deceived and manipulated his family; and perhaps his worst crime, poisoning an innocent child to further his ends (albeit it was below the lethal dosage).
Along side these heinous acts, Walter’s apprentice/ sidekick Jesse Pinkman has shared in the blame for most but not all these crimes, with the notable exception of poisoning the child. Because you see, Jesse’s got a soft spot for the children. Even though he’s a Meth dealer who’s pushed his dope on recovering addicts, every time he sees a child in distress he cries out “But what about the children!?!” in an old ladies voice. Nevermind you the pain and suffering of these kids is often the direct result of Jesse and Walt’s drug game, Jesse anoints himself the savior of the innocent and races to save them. Never once does he stop to consider the unintended consequences of his self appointed messiahship.
The Iconic instance of these consequences is Jesse’s attempt to discreetly assassinate two thugs using a kid a dealer. Never mind you the two thugs are employees of Jesse and Walt’s boss, Gustavo. What could possibly go wrong? Nor would killing the thugs mean an end to the gang life of the conscripted child. Walt, cold and calculating as he is, insists against the plot, arguing that such a plan could endanger themselves and potentially others. Ultimately, Jesse ignores this advice causing not only the child to be killed in retaliation, but causing a chain reaction of violence and unnecessary bloodshed that continues to this point in the drama.
Whether the writers had this it in mind or not, Jesse’s choice to intervene is eerily similar to the consequences of the drug war waged by Washington. The drug war may have been at one point been a sincere attempt to protect misguided or vulnerable youth from narcotics. Even today when questions of legalization are brought up the choir of old ladies shrieks “But what about the children!?!“ However, tens of thousands of drug violence related casualties and billions of dollars latter, the American government is still waging it’s war on drugs. Likewise Jesse Pinkman has continued to intervene on behalf of the children, causing yet more unnecessary bloodshed.
As for Walt and the other characters like Mike and Gustavo who’ve advocated on behalf restraint and knowing ones place (two things the federal government could learn), I would go so far as to call them heroic. Given their murderous and psychopathic behavior, they’ve done their best to keep the peace. In spite of Pinkman always rocking the boat, they’ve given him opportunity after opportunity to realize the world ain’t perfect. They’ve given him opportunity after opportunity leave the past in the past and live a respectable life. But Pinkman keeps rocking, and people keep dying. It’s time we stopped praising the Pinkmen of the world for their good intensions, because the road to hell is paved crystal.
Although we have a proud tradition here at the Review of humiliating people in highly personal terms, Jack Russo is one of my best friends at Binghamton, so I will refrain from doing this.
Jack’s framing of our dispute was more or less accurate, but it also contained an element of the Walt vs. Jesse question. I’ve been in the tank for Jesse at least ever since he punched Todd in the face after Todd shot an innocent boy and then said “shit happens.” Walt continued working with Todd, figuring the kid was already dead, but this was too much for Jesse to take.
So while Jesse may not anticipate unintended consequences as a result of his behavior, he at least accepts blame for them. Walt, however, is remorseless. Like the Federal Government or like Barack Obama, nothing is ever his fault. I watched Jane die? Not my fault, she was inconveniencing me. I had Gale killed? Not my fault, it was either me or him. My brother-in-law was shot nearly to death as a result of my actions? Not my fault, it was the drug cartel. Setting off a bomb at a nursing home? Not my fault, Gus had to die. Shot Mike for no reason? He was pissing me off by not giving me the list of names!
And so forth. Rather than Jesse Pinkman being a habitual boat rocker, he is a moral hero, one of the few characters in this series who takes responsibility for his own actions. While Walt can justify anything and everything since he’s doing it for his family, or so he tells himself, Jesse is more honest with himself. When the Alcoholics Anonymous-ish guy tells him to accept himself, Jesse calls out the bullshit. He had just shot Gale Boetticher (under orders from Walt). He had just killed an innocent person. You don’t just accept something like that.
If politicians actually emulated Jesse and took responsibility for their actions – if they admitted the millions of lives devastated by wrong headed policies like the War on Drugs, the millions of families broken down by the welfare state, the thousands of lives lost in unnecessary wars, the millions of people who don’t have jobs because of an absurd tax code and an even more absurd regulatory structure – if they admitted all these things, maybe we’d have a chance at real reform.
But politicians are just like Walter White. Nothing is Walt’s fault, since he was doing it for his family. Nothing is Obama’s fault, since he was doing it for America.