Does a Person "Break Bad"?

An intriguing idea, but how realistic?

Posted Aug 08, 2017

Millions of viewers have watched the series “Breaking Bad”.  The central character is Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  With a wife, a son who has cerebral palsy, and a child on the way, he is facing daunting expenses to afford the treatment that may save his life.  He turns down the offer of a wealthy couple who are willing to assist financially and elects to take another path to obtain the funds and to ensure that his family is well provided for should he not survive.

With Jesse Pinkman, a former student as his partner, Mr. White turns to the manufacturing and sale of crystal methamphetamine.  Pursuing the production of what becomes his trademark “blue meth,” Mr. White evolves into a very different sort of person from the honest man whom he is portrayed to be at the outset.   This formerly mild-mannered, hard-working, devoted family man immerses himself in the murky world of drug sellers and merciless drug lords.  In living a double life, he betrays family members (including his DEA agent brother-in-law) who care deeply about him and are mystified by his occasional disappearances and mysterious comings and goings. 

As he “cooks” and markets his product, Walter White lies, intimidates, and kills overturning the very principles and moral foundation on which he had lived his entire life.  While this is a highly entertaining and suspenseful saga, how realistic is it?  How true to life is it that when facing desperate circumstances, a man of integrity turns into a criminal?

Unquestionably, viewers of “Breaking Bad” are riveted to the screen.  The story of Walter White is highly suspenseful with the twists and turns leaving the viewer glued to his chair. 

 As the “Breaking Bad” story unfolds, the viewer is so drawn into the drama of it all, that he is unlikely to question the basic premise.  He simply accepts that Walter White, a so to speak “every man,” has been compelled by his situation to develop a radically different personality unrecognizable from the person that he had been for decades. 

People face all sorts of unexpected dire circumstances in their lives.  Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is life changing to be sure. But as a person copes with that condition, does his entire personality change drastically or does he react in keeping with the person that he has long been?