How Should We Feel About Walter White?

Warning-spoilers ahead. But really, at this point, if you don’t know, you probably don’t care.

I came late to the Breaking Bad party. Really late. I started watching the show after AMC began running ads that the last episodes would begin airing. I thought, “At last I won’t have to wait long to see what happens.”

Now that the show has come to a close, I’ve read and heard several discussions about the ending and Walter himself. It seems most people wanted an awful end for Walter, some gruesome, drawn-out death. I didn’t want that at all.

I liked Walter, especially at the end. His final days were spent covering the bases he intended to cover in season 1: namely, taking care of his family. He eliminated the lingering treats to his family, while leaving the money he wanted to leave all along. He even had compassion on Jesse, whom (I believe) he intended to kill when arriving at Jack’s compound.

The strongest indicator that Walter had somehow made his way back from the depths to which he’d descended was that he gave up cooking meth. His admission to Skyler that he cooked for his own pleasure was a moment of raw honesty. Reading between the lines, he loved Skyler more because he gave up cooking for her. He loved Flynn enough to keep his distance after Flynn made it clear he wished his father was dead. Chris Hardwick loved to comment on Talking Bad how little Walt cared for his family, but it’s evident that, misguided as Walt was, he really did love them. He was a changed man.

All of this brings up an important faith question: what does a redeemed person look like? Once someone puts their faith in Jesus, how do we know they’ve changed?

The church I work in is full of messy people. To be sure, all churches are, but Crossroads is a church that attracts many people who don’t come from a faith background, so they don’t even know how to pretend to be “good Christians”. Lingering addictions and relational issues persist. It’s tempting to write others (and myself) off as a lost cause.

It’s easy to assume that a redeemed person is instantly healed and whole in obvious ways (after all, we are “new creations”). If only it were that simple! The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit works from the inside out. Real change often takes a lot longer than we’d hope to produce outward results. Like turning on the shower, you know the water will be cold at first, but the water will warm, given enough time. The results of the water heater’s action will be evident in time.

I believe a redeemed person is one who is changing. They’re in process. As Tim Keller said in The Reason for God, we can’t measure a person against other people. We have to measure them against who they were (my paraphrase). Maybe Walter White wasn’t a “good” guy in the end, but at least he was better than where he’d been. I don’t always feel like the “good” guy (gal?) and I’m sure I don’t appear that way to others. But I can be reassured that God is doing the work in my life that only he can do. Given enough time, it will become increasingly obvious that indeed I am a new creation.

3 Comments on “How Should We Feel About Walter White?

  1. You are more generous to Walter than I am. I appreciate the changes he did go through in the last episode but he was not at all redeemed. He started with the lie that the best thing he could give his family was money and to that end he “succeeded.” But the question of whether or not his family was better off is pretty clearly no, to say nothing of the many many lives he destroyed.

    The real redemption in the story is Jesse. He started selfish and foolish destroying his life and others lives. Through a lot of suffering and facing his own complicity, and “not being okay with it,” Then in the end caring not about money or even his own life but maybe living to make something beautiful. He the only one in the story who ended up better off and paid a high high price for it.

    • Jesse did have a significant change through the course of the show, but it was more apparent at the end because he started changing earlier (after killing Gale). I think Walt might have continued to change, had he not died.

      The problem from the beginning was that Walt thought all he had to give his family was money. Because of that error, they all paid a high price. In the end, Walt gave more than money to his family. In fact, they didn’t even know he left 9 million dollars for them. The things he did give were significant. He gave closure by giving the location of Hank’s body. He also gave Skyler a way to deal with the prosecutor, possibly saving her from jail time. He also told her the truth for the first time in a long time, which was clearly a huge relief to her. And he gave freedom to Jesse..

  2. I’m a shameless admirer of many things that Walter did over the course of his story, but I can’t give him credit for redemption. He did resolve the mess he made to the best of his ability, but even his cleanup efforts left a wake of suffering behind him. I see it as an example of the best that can be done through human effort, the way that seems right to a man, and ended, naturally, in his own destruction.

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