Those who say nothing good has come from the War on Drugs have clearly not seen Breaking Bad. In case you do not own a television or have internet access, in which case someone has printed this article out for you, Breaking Bad is the tale of a milquetoast high school chemistry teacher who turns to cooking methamphetamine upon being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. I just happened to catch the pilot when it first aired, and I have been hooked ever since.
I was fascinated by the character of Walter White from the beginning. He is frustrated, not just with his cancer diagnosis but with his career and his ability to support his family. We learn early in the series that he has a history as a brilliant chemist and co-founded a now successful company with this college roommate but left the scene before he was able to cash in. After being presented with his terminal diagnosis and confronting the end of his life, the relative comfort of his mundane existence turns to the realization of his own untapped potential. In his angst, Walter White becomes an entrepreneur.
He hooks up with a drug-addicted slacker and former student of his, Jesse Pinkman, who just so happens to also be throwing away quite a bit of potential himself. The two develop a complicated, father-son (or at least uncle-nephew) relationship as they develop a drug empire based on super high quality meth. Based on the pilot, I thought the show was going to be primarily a comedy, but the dark consequences of a life of crime spoiled the fun early and often throughout the series. The remainder of the show has been a dramatic thriller, with Walt and Jesse facing down kingpin after kingpin while growing their business and keeping it a secret from Walt's wife and his DEA agent brother-in-law (did I forget to mention that?).
So Walter White becomes the bad guy, or at least that is the goal of the show's creators. I have a difficult time seeing him as pure evil like so many others do who have commented on the show. Of course he has committed crimes beyond retribution -- murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, grand larceny -- but, really, who started it? Imagine if methamphetamine was not a controlled substance. Walter would have developed his recipe, purchased his ingredients and started cooking. Maybe he would have taken out a small business loan. He would have documented and controlled his process and would have approached retailers with Heisenberg's brand, ultra-pure, blue methamphetamine. Perhaps he would have negotiated a price and exclusive distribution deal with Walgreens. I doubt at any point he would have had cause to murder any of the Walgreens executives, poison their children or dissolve any of their bodies in hydrofluoric acid. There would be no violence, no suspense and thus no television show.
But, as much as my heart wants to, I cannot let Walt off the hook. Murder, whether to protect Jesse, his family or his empire, is wrong. Still, at its core, the cause of the violence in the show is the War on Drugs. If Walt sold his drugs to Walmart and CVS instead of Tuco and Gus, he probably would have lived happily ever after, or at least until the cancer killed him. So remember: no war on drugs, no Breaking Bad and no destruction of the character Walter White.