For several months I’ve been thinking about writing a PhD chapter on AMC’s Breaking Bad. The influential television series features Drug Enforcement Agency and Mexican drug cartel strategic subcultures centered on Albuqurque, New Mexico. One overlooked aspect is Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) past as a talented graduate research chemist in the now multi-billion dollar firm Gray Matter. One of White’s major character motivations is that he sold his founding stake to Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz for $5000. Its return in the penultimate episode ‘Granite State’ makes the subplot a powerful one for researchers who make decisions on research commercialisation and spinout ventures
I’m a late-comer to Vince Gilligan’s television series Breaking Bad. Most people are waiting for Season 5’s second half in August. I’m at the end of Season 1. Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) transformation from “Mr. Chips into Scarface” (Gilligan) might find its way into a PhD chapter.
A pivotal scene from Season 1 occurs during the finale of episode 6 ‘Crazy Handful of Nothin’‘. White has just shaved his hair due to chemotherapy. He confronts crystal methamphetamine dealer Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) who beat up White’s partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). White’s bargaining leverage is the fulminated mercury he has bought with him as a small incendiary explosive, and which the episode foreshadowed in a high school chemistry class. The scene is a great negotiation clip that illustrates the madman theory in grand strategy and nuclear deterrence.
More significantly, it is the moment that White takes Action, and first transforms from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher (and former graduate student researcher) into his alter ego, Heisenberg. It’s a moment of Metic intelligence (craft, cunning, skill, wisdom). I’m looking forward to how White evolves, and what the consequences of his decisions are, in the remainder of Breaking Bad.