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Money Equals Life: Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad

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Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, Gilligan showcases Walter’s eventual downfall after his cancer diagnosis, and highlights the value our society puts on money and self-preservation in doing so. Throughout the show multiple characters react to money but more importantly in the episode “Seven Thirty-Seven”.

In the popular Television show Breaking Bad, Walter White, a scientist who now teaches high school chemistry, has just been told he has cancer. With a baby on the way and a son with cerebral palsy Walter first tries to fully support his family before he dies, eventually turning to selling meth for a large profit. While the Whites struggle with money Walter’s wife Skyler helps her sister Marie deal with her Kleptomania.

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In the episode “Seven Thirty-Seven” the first scene is used to identify this theme of greed. The episode opens with Walter and his partner Jesse in the middle of making a drug deal to sell their meth to a distributor named Tuco. Earlier in the show, Walter and Jesse have become more and more fearful of Tuco due to his psychotic personality and violent tendencies. When making the deal one of Tuco’s bodyguards talks out of turn and is brutally beaten to death by his employer Tuco. 

After watching a murder with fear for their lives Walter and Jesse complete the deal. Walter will even face death to make money and is willing to work with a dangerous person like Tuco to get it especially if there are no other ways to distribute his meth. This is to make sure his family is supported, his medical bills are paid, and he can put his kids through college. By supporting his family Walter is preserving himself through them. If he doesn’t make this deal with Tuco than his regular job won’t be enough and he won’t be able to provide for his family, especially in the time before he dies. For Jesse making this deal is his way of getting by because he does not see any ability to get a creative job within himself. In Jesse’s eyes, he is stuck selling and cooking meth to make a living.

On the flip side, Tuco is a crazy psychotic drug dealer doing this to make as much money as he possibly can in a lifetime. Buying Walters meth cheap and selling it for profit just as a businessman in today’s society would controlling the concept of supply and demand. Due to the purity of Walter’s meth, Tuco has a high demand to sell and finds extreme value in Walter’s ability to cook and keep his business booming. If Tuco has Walt, his business does significantly better with no real added effort. This drive to make money is what leads him to kidnap Walter and Jesse in fear of losing an empire. While taking Walter makes Jesse stay quiet about seeing Tuco murder someone it also secures his meth business.

In the other plotline of “Seven Thirty-Seven,” we have Walter’s in-laws. Walter’s brother-in-law is an accomplished DEA agent named Hank and his wife Marie a kleptomaniac. In the episode, Skyler finds out about Marie’s kleptomania which stems from her husband’s salary not being sufficient to supply her expensive lifestyle. Earlier in the first season, Skyler was trying to return her sister’s gift, a diamond tiara, and is accused of stealing and shoplifting. This creates a large rift in there relationship when Skyler realizes that her sister is a thief and when Marie gets mad that Skyler tried to return it. If not for the White’s money troubles Marie’s problems may have never come to light. Due to Skyler’s need for money the family begins to break down.

Walter’s in-laws struggle with there own versions of the value of money and self-preservation. Marie’s husband, Hank as a DEA agent makes money by busting big drug dealers and finding distributors. Though it seems Hank loves his job he hates putting his life at risk but only does it too proved for Marie. Though Hank believes he’s the best husband he can be his job is not enough to satisfy Marie’s extravagant lifestyle. Hank’s dilemma presides over his loyalty to his wife or the law: does he bust his wife and send her to jail or not.

Overall in the television series each character makes choices in life with money in mind not just Walter. With Walter selling meth, Skyler returning the diamond gift and the in-laws of the two struggling to make a comfortable income, people’s true reaction to money comes out. Before Skyler returns the shoplifted tiara to get more money for her family, she thought about how it is wrong to return a gift, but ultimately is okay with it to get extra money. Similar to how Marie suffers from kleptomania because of her lack of money to afford the things she wants. Gilligan planned to show that each character either does not have enough money and is trying to get more however possible to them or is financially set such as Gretchen and Elliot. On the other hand, Walter’s reason for trying to get money is self-preservation, not only for his family but for him as well. Walter is able to get satisfaction from cooking because it is chemistry and he is great at it. This great need for him to support himself and his family is why he needs more money.

In an article How Money Buys Happiness: Genetic and Environmental Processes Linking Finances and Life Satisfaction by Wendy Johnson and Robert F. Krueger, they studied the effect money has on a person’s life satisfaction. They make the argument that one should “ expect perceived financial situation and perceived control each to be moderately correlated with life satisfaction.” in connection to Breaking Bad, it shows how the importance of money affects how each person handles life. That may be saving money to support your family when you die or it may be stealing to make up for your family’s low income. Either way this drive for better control of one’s finances or perceived control of them is what drives characters and Americans alike to act in whichever way they can in pursuit of money. Sometimes, it seems like money can buy happiness.

The drama filled show highlights the true value behind money and self-preservation putting the characters through the tougher parts of their life due to their money troubles and forcing Walter himself to struggle with the inevitability of death. This only added to his drive to keep his family safe and supported as the “man of the house” should. 

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