Dr. David Koepsell, a professor at the University of Delft and author of Breaking Bad and Philosophy, sat down with the Harvard Political Review to discuss the themes of the show.
Walter’s fedora-sporting meth lord alter-ego is Heisenberg, a tribute to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who discovered the uncertainty principle. It’s interesting that Heisenberg’s principle definitely proved that there are limits to what we can know, while Walter navigates a world in which there is a similar metaphysical uncertainty.
Yet Koepsell found that Walter’s odd street name “offers us a clue about how his character is going to evolve” from his original ethical perspective that is “more or les utilitarian” to “total ethical egotism.” Walter goes from writing a pros and cons list on whether or not to kill Crazy Eight to poisoning an eight-year old child to win back the allegiance of his young partner, Jesse Pinkman.
But despite Walter’s nihilistic worldview, where ethical codes are merely conventional, the show remains moralistic. “Vince Gilligan is a moralist,” Koepsell said, “and this is a modern morality play.” In the manner of Everyman or other medieval morality plays, allegories where the protagonist sees the error in an ungodly existence, Walter White will be called to account for his sins, although not through a Christian God, or any deity at all.
Breaking Bad has never given any indication of Walter’s religion, nor is as codified religion necessary to establish that he is a self-styled modern Meursault, the existentialist antihero of Camus’ The Stranger, struggling to navigate the nihilistic realities of the world. Unlike Everyman or Faust, where the title character sells his soul to the devil and experiences divine intervention, the reckoning comes not from God, Nor will Walter’s reckoning come from the DEA, but from the relentless brutality of the world.
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