Breaking Bad: The 12 Step Programme
Chris Bryant | On 11, Aug 2013
As the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad Season Five arrive on Netflix UK – just 24 hours after their US broadcast – we chart Walter White’s journey from chemistry teacher to drug kingpin Heisenberg in 12 simple steps. (Warning: Contains major spoilers.)
Step 1 – Big Boy Pants (Season 1, Episode 1)
We admit we are powerless over our addiction and that our
lives have become unmanageable.
In the opening episode, Walt’s son (the show’s major breakfast enthusiast) is being mocked by some local morons for having cerebral palsy while trying on some new jeans. They point, they laugh, they do crude impressions. Him mum, Skyler, worriedly tells an embarrassed Walter Jr. that they’ll buy the jeans and leave. Walt quietly exits the shop via a side exit, looking sheepish. And so, through the shop’s main entrance, for the first time appears Heisenberg. Kicking out the legs of the largest tormentor (his son and wife still looking on), he stomps on his ankle and asks if he’s having difficulty walking. Within half an hour of the show beginning, we see what Walt and his ruthless alter-ego are capable of – arguably earlier considering the pants-wearing-gun-aiming fiasco. Could anyone have predicted what followed?
Step 2 – Crazy 8 (Season 1, Episode 3)
Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
A drug deal goes bad and Walt is taken hostage by a crazed distributor, Crazy 8, and his cousin, Emilio (who incorrectly fingers Walt as a DEA agent). While demonstrating his recipe to them, Walt slyly creates phosphine gas, killing Emilio instantly. Crazy 8 is merely injured so, naturally, Walt and Jesse imprison him in Jesse’s basement with a bike lock. After a coin toss also goes tails up, Walt is left to do the deed. He reasons with Crazy 8 and learns about his life, gives him a beer and goes to set him free. Upon realising that Crazy 8 is in possession of a shard of broken plate, Walt immediately drags the bike lock back, throttling his distributor. The murder is brutal, quick and certain. Walt cleans the basement, disposing of the body with hydrofluoric acid and a polyethylene tub. He silently leaves the bike lock on the side.
Step 3 – Mercury Fulminate (Season 1, Episode 6)
Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Him.
After Crazy 8 is disposed of, Walt and Jesse require a new distributor. Crazy 8’s place is taken by Tuco Salamanca, a cartel-connected, grill-wearing lunatic. Tuco snorts some of the product (off a knife, no less) and refuses to pay. When probed by Jesse, he packs $35,000 in a bag and beats Jesse half to death with it. Walt finds out and visits Jesse’s comatose body in hospital, where Skinny Pete explains what happened, but not before checking Walt is “the guy”. Walt pauses and replies: “I am the guy.” Then, he proves it. He goes to Tuco’s headquarters and hands over a bag of clear crystals. Tuco taunts him for bringing him more meth – but Walt has not brought more meth. Walt throws a crystal to the ground, causing an explosion that shatters windows and knocks everyone to the floor. He has faced down a murderous drug cartel using science – and this isn’t even the scariest moment. Walt, for the first time, introduces himself under the moniker of a Nazi atomic physicist: Heisenberg.
Step 4 – Gus (Season 2, Episode 11)
Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
After a Season of uncertain steps towards a new distributor – the owner of Los Pollos Hermanos, a chain of fast food chicken restaurants – Walt finally manages to get an offer he can’t refuse. Gustavo Fring, respectable businessman and DEA fundraiser, wants to work with Walt – but not with Jesse. At this point, Jesse is addicted to his own product and taking serious steps towards a full-blown heroin addiction. He’s still beginning every sentence with “Yo” and ending it with “Bitch” and doesn’t understand the art of Georgia O’Keeffe. Walt convinces Gus that Jesse can be trusted and that, without him, Walt is not interested. In the hope of solving the Jesse problem in the future, Gus decides to test him. Walt receives a text message that reads “POLLOS” and is told to bring his 38 pounds of meth to a drop point, or lose out on the deal forever. While making preparations, he gets another text that reads “BABY COMING!!!” Walt continues packing up the bag of meth and drives to the drop off point. At this moment, we realise that Walt has started putting his business first. Heisenberg already has his baby, and all of New Mexico knows its name: the blue stuff.
Step 5 – Jane (Season 2, Episode 12)
Admit to Him, to another and to ourselves the exact nature of our wrongs.
Concluding Season Two, Walt and Jesse have started making serious money with Gustavo Fring. Jesse has also picked up a new girlfriend, Jane, and a heroin addiction. For these reasons, Walt decides to hold Jesse’s money for him – without telling him. After several arguments, the tough and sharp Jane threatens Walt and demands the money. Walt defiantly delivers it, while Jane and Jesse profess that they will get clean and live good lives… after one last needle.
Later that night, Walt inadvertently meets Jane’s father in a bar. Aware of her addiction, he says that you should never give up on family. This prompts Walt to return to Jesse’s to make amends and help him out of his addiction. Walt tries to rouse him and Jane falls onto her back and vomits. She chokes. She chokes. She chokes. Walt does nothing. Then leaves.
The moral conundrum of the show so far (and possibly all five seasons), the acts leading up to Jane’s death may always hold more questions than answers. The events following are no different: following her death, Jane’s father becomes increasingly depressed and ignores his work. He has a job as an air traffic controller – and, just as the titles for episodes 1, 4, 10 and 13 (if you put them together) predict: “737 Down Over ABQ”. Two planes crash into each other, the 167 people aboard both planes are killed, and the eyeball of a bright pink teddy begins watching Walt.
Step 6 – Half Measure (Season 3, Episode 12)
Be ready to have Him remove all defects of character.
Jesse attempts to sell meth at his NA meetings with help from the sterling acting talents of Badger and Skinny Pete. In order to prove how easy it is to sell, he starts talking to Andrea. He eventually discovers that it was her brother, Tomas, who was ordered to kill Combo by a couple of rival dealers. Jesse plots to kill them but discovers they work for Gus. In return for ‘keeping the peace’, Gus orders them to stop using Tomas as a mule. So they do. They kill him. In a plot of vengeance, Jesse gets high and pulls a gun on the dealers. Walt, elsewhere, has seen the boy’s death on the news and realises what he will do.
The dealers pull their guns on Jesse, who continues to approach them, armed and outnumbered. From nowhere, Walt’s family vehicle smashes into the two dealers, dragging one across the pavement and killing him. Walt exits the car, coolly shoots the injured dealer in the head, point blank. He looks up and Jesse. “Run.”
This is Walt’s first full blown disobedience of Gus. He has previously discussed with Jesse the pointlessness of attacking their own dealers and that revenge solves nothing. It’s important that Walt only arrives to protect Jesse. He does not care for the lives of the two dealers and has no feelings about the dead boy, despite professing otherwise. It’s possible Walt only turned up to defy Gus. Whatever the reasoning, Walt and Jesse’s working relationship with Gus changes forever.
Step 7 – Full Measure (Season 3, Episode 13)
Humbly ask Him to remove all our shortcomings.
Jesse goes on the run and, in the lab, is replaced by his predecessor, the gentle and accommodating Gale. Gus visits Gale’s apartment and asks him, due to Walt’s health concerns (and the fact that Gus will kill him at the first chance), if he could cook Walt’s recipe. Ever respectable, Gale requests a few more days. Gus gives him one.
Walt meets Jesse (at Saul’s favourite answer-to-all-problems, Laser Tag) and they decide that Gus is hoping to give the lab to Gale. Jesse pauses and asks what they should do. Walt looks at him. “You know what we do.”
Walt takes the responsibility of pulling the trigger, but is intercepted by Victor and Mike, who take him to the lab to kill him. Walt begs. He argues. He offers them Jesse. Mike seizes the opportunity and Walt calls Jesse to lure him to the lab. But he doesn’t. He blurts out that they’ve got him and that Jesse will have to do it.
Walt looks at a confused Mike and calmly recites Gale’s address. Jesse knocks. Gale opens the door and sees a skinny meth addict with a pistol pointed at him. “I have money. Please. You don’t need to do this.” Sadly, he does. Jesse pulls the trigger and ends the third season. It’s here that we realise that Walt sees people as Gus does: pawns. And he plays chess well. But we also realise he sees Jesse as a pawn too; he knew Jesse would pull the trigger for him and, without regard for the effects and no moral shortcomings, tells him to do it. Gus is angrier than ever – it could be that Jesse hasn’t saved Walt’s life but merely prolonged their deaths.
Step 8 – I Am The Danger (Season 4, Episode 6)
Be willing to make amends to all persons we had harmed.
After hearing from Hank of Gale’s murder, Skyler worries. A chemist was brutally shot at his front door. Is Walt next? No. He isn’t. She raises her fears with him and his reassurances become pride. He tells Skyler in a few short sentences (that dropped jaws and went viral within seconds) that he is not in danger: he IS the danger. A knock at the door and someone gets shot? HE IS THE ONE WHO KNOCKS. Walt lets his inner Heisenberg out in front of his family. What began as an alter-ego to protect himself from fear is now taking over. Skyler takes note – and begins to fear the criminal inside her home far more than any he may work for.
Step 9 – Face Off (Season 4, Episode 13)
Make amends to those people, except when it would harm them further.
After killing Gale, Jesse needs to be brought back on side so Mike arranges for him to feel more like part of the business. This makes Walt feel as if Jesse is slipping away – and without Jesse, Walt is dead. Walt needs a way to make Jesse hate Gus. He finds it by spinning a gun on a garden table. Brock is taken to hospital with what seems to be ricin poisoning and Jesse immediately storms to Walt’s and points a piece between his eyes. Walt is confused. He would never poison a child, what would he have to gain? But Gus? He knows Gus uses children. We know Gus is calculating and cold. And Walt is in hiding with his .38 Special because Gus is trying to kill him. By poisoning Brock, Gus has put Jesse in front of Walt, furious, with a gun.
So Jesse lures Gus out of hiding and tells Walt about Casa Tranquila. When it’s over, they discover that Brock was never poisoned by ricin. It looks like he ate some berries from a harmless-looking plant called Lily of the Valley. An unfortunate season of events, the episode ends with a zooming shot of Walt’s garden, specifically of a plant in his garden that has red berries growing on it.
Walt, we are reminded, has no qualms, no limits and, when at his weakest, is completely in control. He is the danger.
Step 10 – Ring (Season 4, Episode 13)
Take personal inventory and admit to Him when we are wrong.
Walt uses Jesse as a distraction and attempts to bomb Gus’ car. Gus senses something is off and leaves. When Jesse is arrested for suggesting Brock’s poisoning could be ricin, Saul visits him and smuggles out a message: Casa Tranquila, the name of the home where Hector Salamanca now resides. Realising Hector wants Gus dead as much and he does, Walt pays him a visit. Hector visits the DEA and, in the comic highlight of the Season, spells out various insults to Hank using his bell. This causes Gus to visit Hector, a trip set to a beautiful tune that could well be titled ‘Epic Mexican Standoff’. Walt rigs Hector’s bell to his homemade bomb and lets Hector do his work.
After months of not looking at Gus out of disrespect, Hector looks at him. In the greatest facial expression ever broadcast, actor Mark Margolis summons pure vicious wrath… and dings.
Step 11 – Magnets (Season 5, Episode 1)
Pray and meditate to improve our contact with Him, asking for knowledge and power.
Naturally, the death of Gus Fring leads to complications. In this case, the laptop on which security footage was kept. Not risking its survival, Walt and Jesse recruit an incredibly angry Mike, who is tasked to clean up the mess Walt created.
Paying off his guys in prison and appearing to be a retired grandfather, Walt decides to break into the police’s evidence locker. Mike say it’s impossible. Jesse says magnets. A magnet powerful enough to penetrate the wall could wipe the laptop’s hard drive. So they acquire a huge magnet and a van and get to work. The plot may be light-hearted and enjoyable, but it represents Walt going to war with the police department: Walt’s avoided the DEA and a few times treated his local police as fools but here he uses his knowledge (or, more accurately, Jesse’s knowledge) of science to directly attack them, to protect himself and avoid all risk. The concept coins one of Jesse’s best lines and is a calming, fun but fair return after all that nasty business of triple murder and poisoning children. But do not mistake this for comedy: with knowledge and power, Walt fears no-one.
Step 12 – Say My Name (Season 5, Episode 7)
Having had our moral awakening, we must practice His principles in all our affairs and carry His message to others.
Despite Jesse’s magnets plan, Hank is getting closer and closer to proving Mike’s involvement in the business. Mike needs to pay to keep his guys in prison quiet, which Walt is not happy about. Walt is becoming more and more ruthless, first letting new partner Todd shoot a child who saw them robbing a train and then facing down a prospective distributor with a show of enormous ego by forcing them to say his name.
When the money is seized by the DEA, Mike knows his guys will talk if it saves them time behind bars. He decides to flee but will not give Walt their names. In a fit of rage, no thought and no plan, Walt shoots Mike with his own gun. He follows him to a scenic river and watches the water, letting Mike die next to him – but not before remembering that he could’ve gotten their names elsewhere.
Almost as an afterthought, he retrieves them and organises a highly precise, multi-prison mass murder from his armchair.
Unafraid to carry his message to others, Walt’s journey is complete. “You’re Heisenberg,” says the distributor. Walt replies: “You’re goddamn right.”
“Remember my name” says the poster for Breaking Bad Season Five Part Two. But which name does it mean?