"L. of G. at last complete—after 33 y'rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old" - Walt Whitman
To be clear, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is the villain of Breaking Bad. If you consider that a spoiler, then you have watched too much television. In the real world, a meth dealing chemistry teacher cannot be a hero. You may root for him occasionally, but undoubtedly, the universe that Vince Gilligan has created would be significantly improved if Mr. White's lung cancer had taken him long ago.
It's so simple and obvious, but therein lies the brilliance of Breaking Bad. While Gilligan clearly respects the character, he has no love for the one going by the pseudonym of Heisenberg. Unlike other attempts at showcasing villainy, namely Showtime's Dexter, how far the character is willing to go is not determined by network renewals that simply stretch an untenable story or affection for the sociopath that you have created.
All too often, we are presented with an image of a villain, despicable and fully-formed: one that we can jeer at and declare far enough removed from our own lives that he is unrecognizable. His status as "bad guy" is not questioned. Walter White came to us a frustrated family man, a role that he still believes he is in. He has shown a willingness to kill innocents and children when it suits him. He has destroyed the life of his usual accomplice, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), especially when poor Jesse has shown any sort of affection. His general goal is to provide for a drug-addicted populace. But, at least in his own mind, he has always provided for his family.
As we await the August return of the family man who has taken a detour through the empire business, it is worth remembering that while every villain is a hero in his own mind, Breaking Bad succeeds by keeping Walter White from being a hero to the viewer.
You got a problem with my life choices? How about I just shoot you in the head.
Breaking Bad returns for its last season (technically the second half of season 5) on Sunday, August 11 at 9:00 EST on AMC.