Sociopaths are born, not made.
At least that’s the theory of most psychologists. And rightly so, it would seem; even a cursory investigation of sociopathic behavior suggests that there is something heritable at the root, something in there very deep that is only awakened or nurtured by various life experiences and choices. My conversation partner, Zac, rightly observed last week that these final episodes seem to be hastening toward an inevitable end: the demise of Walter White. But the question remains, Is Walter’s wildly destructive path that of a sociopath?
Without trying to peer too deeply into the dark recesses of series creator Vince Gilligan’s mind, I am at least beginning to think that the title of the show is intentionally ironic. While on the surface it appears that the Walter White character is a down-on-his-luck high school chemistry teacher who, when subjected to the pressure of terminal illness, makes a desperate choice to sell meth in order to leave a suitable inheritance for his family, the reality is something different. Namely, Walter has a preexisting condition – a condition that simply manifests and increases in power with each desperate decision. While Jesse mockingly questioned whether his old teacher was “just gonna break bad” in the pilot, the truth is, he was bad long before setting foot in that RV.
Because I’m no psychologist, I often filter what I’m seeing here through a theological lens. It would seem that Christian theology is trying to convince the world that there is something bad about all of us, and that something might be there from birth. It is a moral kind of defect, and it is mysteriously heritable. But while some perspectives on “original sin” overstate this condition (sometimes calling it “total depravity”), Walter provides an illustration that is closer to real life. There is a Lie deep within him, probably thin and small in its inception, and it’s been there for a long time. And, a traumatic experience – not, by the way, his cancer – simply triggered that Lie. Unchecked and unrestrained, it has now resulted in the Heisenberg manifestation and the ferocious spiral we are witnessing week after week.
Episode 10 is another revolution in the spiral. And while it builds primarily on the epic confrontation between Walt and Hank in Hank’s garage, it introduces a curious relational twist, in two parts. Part one: When Saul hints that maybe Walt should kill Hank (you know, send him to “Belize”), Walt growls, “Hank is family! What is wrong with you.” Part two: After Walt collapses on the bathroom floor back home (you know, because his body is filled with chemo and he just dug a gigantic hole in the desert to conceal ten huge barrels of money), Skyler consoles, “You can’t give yourself up without giving up the money. So maybe our best move here is to stay quiet.”
Is this the same Skyler who, in episode 4 of this season, so desperately wanted to escape Walter that she finally threatened, “All I can do is wait. That’s it, that’s the only good option. Hold on. Bide my time. And wait… For the cancer to come back.”
Right there in the bathroom Walt tells her that the cancer is, in fact, back, and she takes his side? Well, it probably doesn’t hurt that Hank essentially tried to entrap her in a diner after the garage confrontation, even going so far as to put a recorder on the table and discourage her from getting a lawyer. And, it also doesn’t hurt that Marie slapped her in the face and tried to steal the baby. You know, as family does.
With months of successful car wash business under her belt and the money hidden away (now, buried away) and Walter “out” of the meth game, perhaps Skyler has begun to see things from his perspective.
Perhaps she’s even begun to respect him and his plan to prosper the family.
That’s at least how it seems when Walter, on the bathroom floor, waking up from his collapse and looking half-dead, says, “I’ll give myself up if you promise me one thing. You keep the money. Don’t ever speak of it. Never give it up. And pass it on to our children. Give them everything. Will you do that? Please? Please don’t let me have done all this for nothing.”
Nah, let’s just lay low for a while.
This is a new Skyler White.
And this curious twist is one in which family – Walt’s odd deference toward Hank, and Skyler’s seeming loyalty to Walt – seems to be the active ingredient. We are left to wait and wonder, of course, whether the tie that binds will hold. And, more importantly, whether this is all just another manifestation of the Lie.
In a recent podcast, Gilligan admitted that he no longer feels any sympathy for Walt, the borderline sociopath who just so happened to publicly break bad.
I wonder – will we leave this show feeling any sympathy for Skyler?
What about you? What did you think of Sunday’s episode?