Breaking Bad: Walt Character Analysis by a Mental Health Professional [Spoilers, Duh]

Sooo… I may be late to the Breaking Bad party, but I’m in love with the series and will talk about it with anyone who will listen. I have so many thoughts and so much to say about Walt in particular. I’m sure I’ll forget something. I’ll start with some more obvious points and then move toward the main point that I disliked about the show. So let’s begin with Walt’s character analysis.

1. Walt is a narcissist.

What’s really fun about this show is that Walt’s narcissism isn’t readily apparent in the beginning and you find what he is doing understandable… sort of … at first. At least I did. But that’s pretty short lived and the viewer gradually begins to realize that something much deeper and more sinister is behind what Walt is doing. What’s interesting is that him coughing and looking sick and pathetic was upsetting/endearing at first, but eventually his cough just made me angry. You no longer feel bad for Walt and understand when Skyler says she’s waiting for him to die. It gets to a point where he doesn’t care who he steps on. He thinks he is untouchable and that everyone else is so impossibly stupid. This ends up coming out in a variety of ways, one of the most notable ones that I can recall is when he’s on the phone with Skyler and says “I won.” He loves making as many people as possible fear him and believe him to be enigmatically powerful. The problem with this is that… as we come to know, Walt, “winning” any type of battle is never enough for him and that’s his downfall. The meth game is no longer about the money and it likely never was in the first place. It was about Walt feeling powerful for the first time in his life and exercising it over people, particularly Jesse at first as well as others along the way. Walt is such a classic narcissist because he has to hurt people to feel powerful, to feed his ego, and to build up the front of who he would like to be/how he wants to see himself. Deep down, all narcissists are insecure and hate themselves. Walt knows he isn’t powerful. Mike saw through Walt’s facade, called it like he saw it… and eventually died for it. And like stupid Walt does, he couldn’t even shut up long enough to let Mike die in peace. We see Walt time and time again manipulating to be in control of every situation. He does seem to have an uncanny chameleon-like ability to take on other people’s characteristics when it suits him and be convincing, but all of his acts ultimately end up falling short, which brings me to my next point.

2. Walt isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

Most narcissists aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are… I’m sure you’ve recognized this if you’ve met one. Undeniably, things work out for Walt (sort of) in the sense that he repeatedly seems to get himself out of impossible situations. And gets off on those victories. This was excruciating for me as the show went on and I grew to hate Walt more and more. His narcissism is truly his downfall because he couldn’t conceive of himself getting caught and didn’t think twice about having the Leaves of Grass copy that Gale dedicated to him IN HIS OWN HOUSE. Not a very smart move. Another really dumb move was just trying to go right up to Gus’s house… thinking he wouldn’t be under surveillance. Duh. One amazing moment that exposes Walt’s lying is when Walt Jr. finally calls him out… even if it’s for the wrong thing, he still at least knows that his father is a liar. We see this with the whole “gas” scenario where Walt says he gas got all over him in an accident and Walt Jr. implores him to tell the truth. Goofy and gullible, Walt Jr. finally starts to see some cracks in the perfect picture of his dad and eventually screams at Walt to leave him alone over the phone when Walt offers him money. When Walt Jr. finally thinks something bad about you, you know you’re a bad liar.

3. Walt is full of rage.

What exactly is Walt so angry about? True, it’s beyond rage-inducing to see your ex-best friends making money off of your ideas… but then why subject yourself to that torment by going to parties at their mansion? In many ways, Walt creates his own misery and takes people down for it. He marries Skyler… who… (at least to me) is so painfully annoying it creates rage within me as well. lol. But Walt is likely full of rage at least partly because he chose a life for himself that he didn’t want and then acted out in the most drastic ways he could. As a mental health professional, something came to mind for me that reminded me of Walt. I once listened to a guest speaker in a master’s level class who did horrendous things… and his therapist said to him: “You must be full of rage. You can’t go against your own values unless you’re full of rage.” I believe this to be true, but I guess you could also argue that Walt might not have many values … other than himself. That might also be accurate.

4. Walt is a sociopath… maybe worse.

We see Walt continuously act cruelly toward Jesse while also at some other more vulnerable moments, call him a son/act tenderly toward him. Total emotional manipulation, characteristic of narcissists, mind you. They can act really sweet, charismatic, sympathetic… especially when they are faced with the prospect of not getting what they want and losing control. Walt seems to enjoy seeing the reactions he can get out of people. Not only does Walt give up Jesse’s position to the skin head thugs, knowing they will most likely torture and kill Jesse, Walt also emotionally destroys Jesse before he’s taken away by telling him he let Jane die. Throughout the series Walt belittles Jesse to keep control, but eventually Jesse wises up… especially when Jesse calls him out and says something to the effect of, “can’t you just ask me for a favor” instead of trying to manipulate Jesse to make it seem like Walt’s way is a good idea. The cruelty of Walt is far-reaching.

5. Walt doesn’t care about anyone… not even himself

Walt had one fit about Skyler cheating, but it really was laughable how much he didn’t seem phased. He had no qualms about poisoning a child for his own gains, to get Jesse back on his side. Though Walt has “saved” Jesse many times, it really all comes down to keeping Jesse under his thumb so he can become ever more powerful. He told himself he was in the meth business… and then “empire business” for his family, but finally dropped that cover up story at the very end in front of Skyler. He admits at last that he did it for himself. And you can’t really feel sorry for him, because he chose a life that he didn’t want. He chose it. He could have chose something else where might have had his ego stroked and felt powerful, but he chose to settle and be a chemistry teacher instead of really using his talents. He holds his family hostage as long as he can, though Skyler lets him in a way too, and she is complicit in trying to keep up Walt’s image to Walter Jr. I guess you could argue that Walt cared enough about Jesse to save him at the end, but then again, he’s part of the reason Jesse was in that situation in the first place. Definitely too little too late.

Another part to this is that Walt doesn’t care about himself. He struggled so much with the decision about whether or not to help himself by getting treatment when he got the cancer diagnosis. As the series progresses he acts more and more reckless and even talks about how there was a “perfect” time where he should have died. It is also sort of poetic in a macabre way that he likely died due to attempting to save Jesse one last time. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten hit if he hadn’t dove onto him. So, in a way, he was finally taking himself out in a very loud way with that massive “shoot-out” he set up at the end. He planned to die and thought he was going to die a lot of times throughout the series.

6. Walt’s expertise is chemistry, not telekinesis.

Now we get to my one major bone to pick with the series. Walt is an expert in chemistry. He can’t presumably make objects move with just the power of his mind, right? And while he may have some knowledge of physics, I found the train scene where Walt, Todd, and Jesse steal methylamine way too far-fetched. Why? A. Trains take a long time to stop. B. even if you get it stopped, how can you time everything correctly to where you KNOW that the car you need will be on that bridge? C. Even if you coordinated with the damn conductor it would be hard to keep the car in range of the pipes they hooked up. I guess you could argue that this just fits the narrative of how Walt narrowly escapes lots of “getting caught” scenarios, but this was just a bit too much for me.

7. Walt is a very good representation of people’s shadow side gone awry.

What I mean by this is that everyone has a “dark” side or “shadow side,” meaning more base thoughts, desires etc. This is especially true if you subscribe to Jungian notions of psychology. It’s similar to the “id.” Problems arise when you deny this part of yourself. If you try to stuff it away, it pops up  in other ways, sometimes seemingly uncontrollably. We see this with Walt. We see the rage bubbling within him pretty quickly when Hank emasculates him over and over again. We see Walt going from having a soft appearance, wearing soft khaki-like colors to his characteristic badass black hat. Pretty early on we see him giving in to some of his impulses, like assaulting a young guy for making fun of Walt Jr. in a clothing store. We all might think about doing things like this, but Walt begins to act on it. This is likely because Walt has given himself no outlet for these types of thoughts and impulses and has stifled himself for so long that this shadow side takes over. Thus, he acts out in even bigger ways. Could it have been avoided? Maybe. Maybe if Walt chose an exciting career (like Hanks! lol Ride along?) where he could feel powerful, useful, get his adrenaline pumping, etc. However, like we’ve explored above, there may be some fundamental part of Walt that was prone to self-destruct and cruelty from the beginning. The nature versus nurture debate is beyond the scope here, and I’m not sure we know enough about Walt’s upbringing to go there anyway.

In closing, to Walt’s credit, he certainly served as a wrecking ball for pretty much everyone he came into contact with. It was a pleasure, riveting, and sometimes painful watching the destruction that he created with nearly everything and everyone he touched.

One thought on “Breaking Bad: Walt Character Analysis by a Mental Health Professional [Spoilers, Duh]

  1. interesting analysis ^ ____ ^

    i’m not really sure how it fits in when analyzing the character, but i’m surprised you didn’t mention how often the comedic elements of his physical nature come up in the show. maybe it fits into the narcissism section. early on, we see he who will become the great heisenberg in his underwear, dropping a barrel of methylamine down the stairs, and cleaning a pizza off of a roof. later on when he has nearly fully transformed into heisenberg, we still see him in his underwear, slipping on broken glass, and waving to an elderly woman during an assassination attempt.

    it’s interesting how much effort went into showing the audience these comedic moments. what would it be like to see the devil trip? or would the devil never trip?

    Liked by 1 person

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