10 Lessons from Breaking Bad

July 31, 2020

Breaking Bad is often regarded as one of the greatest shows to have graced television. It last aired nearly 7 years ago, soon going to be a thing of the past like a Nintendo DS. However, there are still quite a few lessons to be learned from the show, age-old wisdom if you will, that is very much relevant to today’s age. These lessons I have outlined in the piece are drawn from the actions of the evidently flawed characters portrayed in the show. I believe these characters were purposefully written to be flawed to send out the message that when you break bad, things go haywire.

1. WALTER WHITE - KNOWING WHEN TO QUIT

There was a getaway for Walter when Mike brought him an option to sell off all the methylamine in their possession. The payout was $5 million each for Walter, Mike, and Jesse. It was many folds greater than what Walter had set out for in the beginning. It could take care of his family’s needs, and beyond. This was it. But Walter lost sight of the end-goal. It became much greater than him simply trying to ensure that his family is well-taken care of in his absence. It became a way for him to pursue his unrealized dream of being appreciated for his talents. For being recognized for something he was really good at. Walter wanted to believe his actions were for the best interest of his family. That way he could justify his selfish motive and fuel his drive for greatness. And we all know how it ends for him. Sometimes it’s important to recognize when to call quits and simply go home with the winnings on the table.

2. JESSE PINKMAN - RECONCILING WITH YOUR PAST

After the demise of his girlfriend Jane, Jesse lost all sense of purpose. Nothing mattered to him anymore. He was sucked in a pitless void where days and nights melted into one. Rehab couldn’t come to his rescue either. Jesse abused his body to the brink of decimation. Sometimes, no matter how difficult and traumatizing the past is, the best way is to look forward and leave it all behind where it belongs. If Jesse had tied his self-worth into something else, a craft, or a cause, he could have fared well. Later in the show, we get a brief glimpse of Jesse imagining himself as a carpenter chipping away at his wooden box. That was probably his calling and something he aspired to become. But the past kept coming back to haunt him and he could never successfully move past it.

3. GUSTAVO FRING - POINT OF DIMINISHING RETURNS

Gustavo was a man of few words. He was diligent and had set his own principle of how he wanted to operate his drug empire. Although he rarely made mistakes, he didn’t understand a very important concept – point of diminishing returns. At one point in the show when Gale shows his disappointment at not being able to achieve near-perfect purity of crystal meth, Gus should have known better to say it’s good enough and call it day. That minor increase in purity level may have been a matter of great significance to scholars like Gale and Walter, but when it came down to business, it didn’t really matter. There wasn’t any competitor product with a purity level even near that ball-park figure that Gale could deliver himself. When Gus realized that Walter is troublesome, he should have just stuck with Gale. Over the years, he had almost perfected his operation and without Walter being a nuisance, Gus could have lived to see his reign prosper above and beyond.

4. GALE BOETTICHER - VALUING THYSELF

Gale was a true scientist in the show in the sense that he couldn’t care less about the business. Also like most scientists, he doubted his abilities immensely. Rather than being extremely proud of the kind of purity in crystal meths that he was able to achieve, his eyes were always fixated on the narrow window of improvement that was still possible. He was also not good at hiding his admiration for Walter. That way, he continually devalued himself in front of his employer, Gus. In normal circumstances, humility is a very important trait, especially as a scientist. However, in the kind of business he was in, everybody had to strive to make themselves valuable. Otherwise, they could be as easily gotten rid of. One less thing to worry about and business would go as usual. Gale’s diffidence to replace Walter in the labs made him dispensable in the operation. What we can learn from Gale is that if we have nothing to offer on the plate, we make ourselves irrelevant.

5. SKYLER WHITE - KEEPING PARANOIA AT BAY

King Joffrey did put up a good fight for the spot of the most hated character in the history of TV shows but Skyler takes the crown. Every scene involving Skyler was a stab to the eye for me. Every time Skyler was up with her pretense show, my stomach churned. I never knew I could hate somebody so much until I met Skyler. But I think Skyler is a pretty complex character, probably the most complex of them all. It’s sorta difficult to put her in a category. Can we really blame her for trying to be a little too safe? Yes! She was dubious of Walter’s abilities to keep her and the family safe. And that’s why she took the reins into her own hands. But the intensity of her paranoia affected everybody around her. It was the biggest thrill she had ever encountered in her life and she wanted to play an active role in that. It was this big adventure where to her she had an important role to play. She couldn’t just sit around and watch it all unfold as an audience. But letting emotions take precedence is a terrible idea. It is not a game of passion but wit.

6. HANK SCHRADER - KNOWING WHEN TO ZIP IT

Hank Schrader a.k.a. Mr. Tough Guy, who, if left on his own, will take down the entire drug cartel himself. He is the epitome of machismo. He believes you appear weak if you show emotions. He wasn’t entirely wrong either. After going through a series of traumatizing events, he was shell-shocked to the core. But he refuses to take a break which he believes is a sign of failure. He finds ways to put off his transfer to El Paso because deep down he’s terrified that he won’t get lucky this time around. When Hank was outnumbered and cornered by Jack and his crew, while Gomie was shot dead, his machismo got the better of him. He should have tried to understand the gravity of the situation, but he is too proud to sweet talk. Although it can be argued that he had always been morally righteous, what good does that do if one is dead? Knowing when to keep shut is something we can all learn from Hank. And talking about feelings relieves your shoulder from all the burden that you have been carrying around all along.

7. MARIE SCHRADER - PEOPLE LIVING IN GLASS HOUSES SHOULDN'T THROW STONES

Marie was a dishonest person who relished lying to people. Despite being a kleptomaniac herself, she was always quick on her feet to judge others. Marie should have just stayed in her lane. She put herself in a higher moral ground by overlooking her own misdeeds. She believed what she did wasn’t morally wrong but rather a little naughty. Marie never acknowledged the dark side of hers which ate her from inside. She was probably raised in a household where she was taught to be righteous always. This presumption can be supported by Skyler’s demonstration of similar traits. But the forbidden fruit is always irresistible. The rush Marie got from breaking the law, while her husband was a law enforcer, was her guilty pleasure. She picked on people at their lows when she would have minded her business and stayed on her lane. Carrying two personas weighed heavily on her and we see her breaking down during one of her counseling sessions.

8. TUCO SALAMANCA - TAMING RAGING HORMONES

One of the most unpredictable and short-lived characters in the show has been Tuco Salamanca. Reigning from the infamous Mexican Salamanca family, Tuco resorts to violence for his operations. When Walter came to him with a superior product, Tuco should have learned the new style of business and the need of the market. Instead, he let his hot-head personality get in the way and ruin it all. With Walter’s product and Tuco’s troops, they would have ruled Albuquerque for years. His unreasonable beating of his associate to death called his doom. From that point forward, it spiraled out of his control. You could, however, rationalize his rash decision. Tuco was raised to be very territorial. He wasn’t quick to adapt to changing environments. What we can all learn from Tuco is that anger clouds our judgment. Rage shouldn’t always be up for display but rather harnessed.

9. MIKE EHRMANTRAUT - ANCHOR DRAGS YOU DOWN

In a show full of repulsive characters, Stone-Cold’s doppelganger Mike seemed to be the only exception perhaps. His emotions were in check, he rarely showed his cards, and always walked the talk. He had been in business long enough to make every step of the process undetectable and untraceable. He formed his own group of trusted men who he vetted himself. It was good for business if no one ratted out on the other. But the problem arose when Mike, as a foreman, had to go out of his way to provide for each member of his troop and even their family. Mike as a single individual was swift, efficient, undetectable, and lethal. Mike with so many dependencies became a large blip on the radar, a drag. When a lot of people depend on you, it anchors you down. Too many dependencies require routine checks and too many factors outside your control.

10. SAUL GOODMAN - LEAVE WORK AT WORK

The funny, charismatic, eloquent scam artist of a lawyer has a solution to everything. He always seems to have a way out for his clients even if they are knee-deep in trouble. And he never says No to good business. Always driven by monetary incentives, Saul never shies away from getting involved in more trouble. Throughout the show, Saul has parted words of wisdom to anyone he crossed paths with. A word of wisdom for him would have been to leave work at work. When in trouble, better call Saul. But who does Saul call when he gets into trouble? For most parts, he played his cards right. However, he should have invested more in his personal security than relying on fat Huell. The story of Saul is a lesson for us to draw the line between our personal lives and work. He didn’t have a safe space. Anybody could barge into his office and thrash him. He should have also introduced multiple layers between him and his clients to make it reasonably difficult for anybody to reach him. Saul’s front desk receptionist had more resolve than him.

© Amitabha Dey. All rights reserved.