This article contains spoilers for all of Breaking Bad.His undeniable cleverness and MacGyver-esque brilliance aside, TV’s Walter White is one of the most reprehensible characters to ever grace the small screen. As played by the mercurial Bryan Cranston, the Breaking Bad protagonist (and soon-to-be Better Call Saul cameo) has a very high opinion of himself, as do many of his fans, but his most petty, dastardly acts reveal that he is little more than a small man with an inflated ego.
Has any antihero protagonist veered so much into being a downright villain as Walter White? On the precipice of his long-awaited Better Call Saul appearance (along with sidekick and sympathetic punching bag Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul), it is worth recounting Mr. White’s cruelest, most terrible deeds. And it is also worth reminding viewers that despite Better Call Saul’s ethical ambiguities and violent moral downfalls, no single character on Better Call Saul has come close to approximating the monstrosity that is Walter Hartwell White. (Okay, well maybe Chuck McGill has a shot, but nobody besides that.)
5 The Hank Confession Tape
As early as season two, Walter had more than proven that his cruelty was not reserved for strangers; in fact, he made no qualms about torturing his brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank Schrader to service his own aims. (Take, for instance, his engineering of a lie to Hank that Marie was in the hospital, in order to draw Hank away from discovering him inside the mobile meth lab.) But nothing quite epitomizes this unkindness more than when Walter creates a fake confession tape that pins the whole meth-and-caboodle on Hank and uses it as leverage to threaten him.
Admittedly, Hank was far from perfect – in fact, he was a racist and abusive cop. But compared to Walter White, Hank was a gosh-darned saint. The fake confession tape was less a slap in the face and more a punch in the gut – a vindictive scapegoating of a man who did not deserve it, and a shortcut toward saving his own skin. (It only gets worse for Hank from there.)
4 The Murder of Jane
For many Breaking Bad viewers, Jane’s death is a formative moment – one where we realize, arguably for the first time, that perhaps Walter White is not a good guy at all. Still, many fans will bullishly insist that our antihero had no choice in this situation. Whichever way you turn, the cruelty of this incident is undeniable.
The calculated malice of the whole thing is made crystal-clear by the fact that, as Jane begins to choke on her vomit due to an overdose, Walter’s instinct is to turn her on her side to save her, but then he stops himself because the idea of her living means more trouble for him. She is one of many innocent characters who has to die in order for Walt to achieve his midlife crisis dream.
3 The Poisoning of Brock
While it occurs mostly offscreen and so does not pack the punch of some of the series’ more intense scenes, Walt’s poisoning of Andrea’s child Brock is absolute ghastliness. It is a twist that, when reflecting on it further, we remember again that Walter might care about his own family, but will “do what needs to be done” when it comes to others’ families and will go so far as to harm innocent children. Just straight-up vileness.
2 The Abuse of Skyler
While it’s difficult to single out an individual moment that stands out amidst the torrent of vitriol and vindictiveness, Walt’s abuse toward his wife (and sometime business partner) Skyler is a thread of particular nastiness which runs for almost the entirety of Breaking Bad’s five seasons – including but not limited to gaslighting, assault, harassment, and emotional blackmail. What else can be said? Surely, relationships are complicated, and Walt might be right to resent his wife to some degree; but this does less than nothing to justify any of the innumerable terrible things he does to her.
For the more level-headed, feminist viewer, Skyler’s efforts to stand up for herself in the face of this abuse constitute some of the most cathartic, powerful moments in the whole series, and are woefully under-appreciated. Fans who have not revisited the show since it first aired would be well-advised to check it out again and keep an eye out for these scenes, which have slipped under the radar despite Anna Gunn’s absolutely barn-burning performance. Nonetheless, there is a haunted brokenness to Skyler at the end of the series, even if she’s one of the few to make it out alive (though early versions of season five scripts killed her off by suicide).
1 Becoming A Nazi
A wise person once said, ‘If you don’t hate Nazis, then you probably are one.’ Sure, Walter is never formally inducted into the National Socialist party. But by involving himself with the quietly demonic Todd Alquist (a disturbing but incredible Jesse Plemons performance) and his white supremacist Uncle Jack, he cements a partnership with, and reliance on, the single entity that most closely aligns with evil. This idea of Walt being “one of the Nazis” is heavily seeded and foreshadowed by his early appropriation of the pseudonym Heisenberg, a real-life historical figure who was not just a revolutionary physicist influential to Walt’s ethos, but also someone who worked very closely with the Nazis during World War II.
By the end of the series, in hindsight, the whole Nazi thing seems to track with our protagonist’s personality: his insecure masculinity, unchecked ambition, murderous rage, and devaluation of human life. Who can easily forget the powerful close-up of Walt’s hand shaking the Swastika-tattooed hand of Uncle Jack after the murder of Hank? The symbology is almost heavy-handed (the pun being intentional), but also effective. The interesting wrinkle is that Walt might recognize a little of the monster within himself and even come to reflect on it to a certain degree. Nonetheless, in light of all his actions, which do speak louder than words, Walter White has become indistinguishable from Evil Incarnate, and this is a legacy he will never be able to live down despite his best efforts.