“When did wrong become a problem for you?”
That’s Skyler talking to Ted in this week’s episode, “Crawl Space,” asking him why he won’t accept Walt’s “illicit gambling winnings” to pay back the IRS. But maybe she should be asking a different question: When did wrong stop being a problem for her and Walt?
Lately, they’ve gotten such a phenomenal thrill out of swindling car wash owners, blowing up cars, and cooking up poison for Gus, that it’s easy to wonder, What’s the point of being good? But, once upon a time, Walt had an actual answer to that now-rhetorical question: One should do what’s right for the sake of one’s family. Remember when, way back in the first season, Walt was faced with his first major moral quandary, deciding whether or not to take a man’s life? He was down in Jesse’s basement, staring down a chained-up meth distributor, and he made a list of reasons to kill the guy versus reasons to save him. On the “let him live” side: “It’s the moral thing to do.” “Won’t be able to live with yourself.” “Murder is wrong!” “Judeo-Christian principles.” On the “reasons to kill him” side, there’s only one thing listed: “He’ll kill your entire family if you let him go.”
But three seasons and at least three acid-dissolved corpses later, Walt’s forgotten all about that list. Over time, he’s started to focus less on protecting his family and more on reclaiming control of his own life. As a result, he’s endangering everyone close to him. (A prime example is that awesome car crash scene, which lands Hank in a neck brace big enough to keep a Great Dane from… well, you know.) And Walt’s crime family has also become an every-man-for-himself endeavor, with Gus leaving Mike, his most loyal man, behind in Mexico, possibly to die there, and Walt telling Jesse, “This whole thing, all of this, it’s all about me.” So much for those Judeo-Christian principles.
Amazingly, even when Walt gets dragged out into the desert with an execution-style hood over his head—perhaps the biggest warning he’s ever gotten that Baby Holly might grow up without a father—he’s still mostly worried about his pride. He mocks Gus: “You can’t kill me, because Jesse wouldn’t cook for you if you did.” But everything changes when Gus threatens Hank’s life. “If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter,” he tells Walt. “I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.”
Maybe wrong only becomes a problem when it threatens to kill the person you love most, and that person isn’t just yourself.
Does a man need a family to motivate him to behave in a moral way? Is bonding with others the only thing that prevents one from acting purely out of self-interest? That’s what this episode seems to suggest. Ever since Jesse started acting like a father figure to Andrea’s son Brock, he’s showing more heart in his decisions. As for Walt, it’s only his love for his brother-in-law that finally makes him do the right thing: getting Saul to call the DEA. Even Gus knows that, without any family left to continue the Salamanca name, Hector doesn’t have many virtues left to fight for anymore. (We loved that Don Eladio’s necklace, which Gus used to taunt Hector, was a giant eyeball, a fitting symbol for a surveillance-loving kingpin who’s always watching his underlings, and always demanding that Hector look him in the eye.)
NEXT: Are we crazy, or does Gus have a thing for Jesse?