AMC’s Breaking Bad‘s finale last night vindicated team Walt. While Walt died, the show’s premise was always that Walt’s days were few. The question was what Walt might accomplish with his remaining life. Certainly not how he anticipated, but Walt did indeed leave money for his family, bring closure to Hank’s murder, settle scores with his enemies, and die largely on his own terms. Compared to the moral morass where Hank lived, Walt’s dive into crime looks admirable.
No doubt Walt’s product is highly dangerous and prone to abuse; meth addicts are among the sorriest stories. However, Hank brewed alcohol, another substance that is addictive and ruins many lives. Gutter drunks are equally wretched as toothless meth fiends. The main difference was that Walt was very good at cooking meth, while Hank’s brewing was a failure. Most people rightly believe meth to be prima facie evil, but setting aside legalities, Walt was more honest than Hank.
Hank began the series as a jocular drug warrior. He laughed at the arrests and deaths of his prey, and engaged in some aggressively racist attacks as well. Of course Hank’s prey chose their paths, but the suffering and death of a black market never gave Hank pause. Breaking Bad asked the very valid question as to whether the drug war is worth its costs, but that never penetrated Hank’s façade of bravado. On the other hand, Walt agonized over every innocent death – especially early on. Walt clearly regretted the violence and ruined lives of his industry – even to the point of unnecessarily risking his own freedom and money to save others.
Walt’s code of ethics, such as they are in the drug trade, was absolute. Apart from stealing certain raw materials which he would have preferred to purchase, Walt attempted to run a business where people only acted upon their free will (i.e. an honest business). To be sure Walt did some horrible things as the show moved along, but in each case he was dragged into his actions by the nature of his industry. Unlike most every other character, Walt was not the protagonist of the show’s horrors.
Hank, however, was amoral. He arrested and sometimes allowed for the murder of his prey without ever considering his morality. Hank’s wife Marie was a profligate shop-lifter, but he never arrested her. Indeed, Hank allowed Marie to give stolen jewelry to Walt’s wife – a felony conspiracy. Hank was an entity of force, coercion, and deception; he did not need to trade on reputation.
Do business with those who have an incentive to be honest – people like Walt. People who must deliver on their obligations to survive are businessmen, and if Walt’s business had been legal he would have been a man to trust. Doing business with people isolated from responsibility like Hank is risky. People like Hank who derive their power from government force can change the rules to suit themselves, and generally operate without consequences. Every time a Hillary Clinton cannot recall for whom she worked or how she made a killing in cattle futures, an honest person asks how he could ever get away with such shenanigans. Every time a Lois Lerner takes the fifth, yet remains on the payroll to retire with full benefits, and honest person knows he would be fired and lose everything under similar circumstances.
Even though Walt was a criminal and murderer, he lived in the world most people know – one with consequences. Hank had the veneer of authority, but it meant little. Do business with Walts, not Hanks.