Obligatory Breaking Bad Post: Jesse & Walt as Yin & Yang

After one of the greatest shows of all time ended last night, I’m compelled to add my own thoughts on the show that I’ve so come to love in the past four years (I was a little late to the party). Even though the ending was quite good, it wasn’t good enough to move Breaking Bad into the top spot of my Favourite Shows of All Time (that spot is still occupied by The Wire) but it’s still a very strong #2. Incredible cinematography, fantastic dialogue, gripping performances by all the actors, and characters that were easy to both love and despise at the same time… Yadda yadda yadda, great show and everyone and their mother has commented on it so far. Why not me as well?

The one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve watched the show (and subsequently re-watched it with a different and more critical eye) is the evolution of Jesse and Walt’s characters. It sounds simplistic and I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest it, but it seems like they’ve embodied the concept of Yin and Yang as the show has gone on.

Walt began the series as the Yang – the all-white part of the symbol with the touch of darkness in the centre. I can’t help but wonder if his name (Walter White) wasn’t intended to reference the symbol from the get-go, and throughout the first two seasons, we saw the darkness inside of Walter grow and consume him as time went by. Jesse, on the other hand, represented the Yin – almost completely dark with only a touch of light within him. As the show progressed, we found just how dark Jesse was: we learned that he almost blew all of Walt’s savings at a strip club before buying a heavily-discounted RV from Combo; we watched as he encouraged Walt to kill Tuco even before Tuco went off the deep end; Jesse dumping Badger in the desert after their fight over the mediocre meth they made together. It was hard to see any good within Jesse until he was kicked out of his house by his parents, and he hit rock bottom shortly thereafter.

It feels like the transition point – when Walt became more dark than light, and Jesse became more good than bad – was when Jane died in season two. Jesse had finally reached a point where he cared about someone other than himself, and Walt reached the opposite point, where he cared about nobody but himself. That trajectory continued further and further until there was almost nothing left in Walt that even resembled goodness, and he even gave up his own family to build the “empire” he felt he deserved. Jesse, apart from his eventual murder of Gale (which hurt him badly), saw his trajectory consistently move owards goodness, moving away from the darkness he had once embodied. Even those moments when he wanted to destroy Walt – when he threatened him at the end of Season Four when he believed he poisoned Brock, and when he doused Walt’s home with gasoline in Season Five – he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Jesse even aligned himself with the singular character who most represented justice (Hank) to bring Walt down, even though it didn’t work out the way he had hoped it would.

As the series finally ended, that last remaining bit of light within Walt was on full display, as he saved Jesse from Jack’s gang and helped him escape with his life. Jesse, on the other hand, will always have that little bit of darkness within him, and he tapped into it as he viscously strangled Todd to death – in much the same way that Walt killed Crazy-8 at the very start of the series. The transition was complete, and Walt fully Jesse have reversed their positions as Yin and Yang, respectfully.

Anyways, this isn’t meant to be especially profound or anything, just my own take on the show. I’m sure I’m missing a wide range of symbolism in regards to the true meaning of Yin & Yang, and I’m definitely not educated on the subject. I’m just sharing my own reading of the story and grafting the concept onto it, because I felt it helped me understand the series in a different and deeper way. Feel free to comment if you think I’m on to something, or if you think I’m completely off-base and have no idea what I’m talking about. 😉

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