There’s an equal and opposite reaction. So science tells us. And science is at the heart of the pop cultural phenomenon that is Breaking Bad. On the surface, it’s a show about a middle-aged high school chemistry teacher who does just that–he “breaks bad,” i. e., turns away from a life of honest, if not entirely fruitful, work to embrace a life of crime.
But because this man, this Walter White, doesn’t exist in a vacuum, his choices have consequences, his actions have repercussions. Just as equal and opposing reactions are at the heart of science, so too are they at the moral core of what is arguably one of the best acted dramas on television.
A man can’t make meth, or keep secrets, and not have it impact his family, those closest to him. There are always unintended consequences. The fact is, we–like this Mr. White–are finite creatures, limited in perspective, unable to consider every possible permutation of our own actions. The more we try to control the world, and the people around us, the more it slips through our fingers.
Oh, we may get away with it for a time, but the truth has a way of coming out. If there’s a lesson at the heart of Breaking Bad, its this: dog will have his day, but that long-earned reckoning is coming. Biblically speaking, we’re told that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” that “pride comes before a fall,” and that “the wages of sin is death.”
It is the love of money, fear for his family’s future, and pride that lead Walter White to a life of crime. And is greed that, every time life gives him an opportunity to get out, keeps him coming back. Who among hasn’t faced that temptation? We who are charged with providing for our families, when w survey our bills, look ahead to the future, and wonder what what we’ll have to show for it in the end?
Who hasn’t been there?
That is the genius of a show like Breaking Bad. Besides being, as the British say, “a corking good yarn,” it’s unflinching in its portrayal of a life lived on a man’s terms. How a life lived solely for the self will unravel the lives of those around us. Sin births all kinds of deaths: the death of relationships, loss of work, respect, and actual death itself…
Listen, there’s a lesson here about what a man allows to touch his family. In Walt’s case in particular, as he goes, so does his wife, Skyler. His sin begets hers. Sin begets sin, and eventually brings forth death. It’s axiomatic…
For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
And yet into this equation comes grace. Science doesn’t know what to do with it, can’t understand it. Because grace doesn’t obey the laws we understand; in fact, it often very much violates our sense of justice. Grace says that a man like Walter White is never beyond forgiveness, never beyond redemption. Grace says the Son of Sam can be saved, that Jeffrey Dahmer can find Christ…
So we keep watching to see if Walter White either receives his long-overdue comeuppance (will justice finally be served?), or will he find redemption? Will he find grace?
Because the truth is: Walter White is us. Oh, our sin may have nothing at all to do with the drug trade, but may in fact have everything to do with secrets, lies, greed, ambition, sacrificing relationships, etc. to get what we want. Point is: we are all sinners in need of grace.
What do you think?