As the footnote which concluded the last article hinted, we are going to have to spend a little time looking at Walter’s first two murders. The only way we can maintain a tiny patch of decency for Walter to stand on is if we can say… he stumbled into becoming a murderer. If the first two were an accident, Walter is [if not vindicated then at least] not eternally damned.
Setting the Stage:
In the pilot episode, Emilio and Krazy 8 threaten to kill Walter because they believe he is an informant for the DEA [Emilio saw Walter with Hank on the ride-a-long.]. Walter believes they will kill him, so he agrees to show them his process for cooking meth (1) to buy himself more time before they off him. Instead of showing them the process, he poisons them with phosphine gas. Emilio is immediately killed, but Krazy 8 survives.
Murder One: Emilio
Does Walter have a choice? Is this really a kill or be killed situation? I ask this because I assume that any ethics [not bound by an absolute commitment to pacifism] will grant that it is ethically permissible to act in order to prevent your own death. If we believe Walter is right [that no matter what he does, there is no possibility of his leaving the RV alive] then we can construct an arc for Walter. He will have been a decent man overwhelmed by the uncompromising logic of a single poor choice.
I don’t believe Walter is right. In fact, I don’t even believe Walter believes he is right.
Rather than tricking Emilio and Krazy 8 with the phosphine gas, Walter could… tell the truth. He has cancer. He will die, soon. He is poor and can’t afford treatment. He is a singularly great chemist who also happens to have a DEA agent for a brother-in-law. At some point this version of things begins to look more believable than the idea Walter is actually an Informant. It will take a while, but you have to believe [since they didn’t just kill him the moment they saw him] Emilio and Krazy 8 are capable of being reasoned with. It might take some serious talking, but, eventually, people usually end up accepting the truth.
In line with presuming Walter’s Ultimate Innocence, let us continue to suppose that Walter confesses and, somehow, it does no good. He would have to resort to the phosphine gas then, right?
Again, I will disagree. After telling the truth, Walter’s next best option is to show the bad guys EXACTLY how to cook the meth. Walter has something that, in his StoryWorld is of absolute importance. It trumps all other things that might be brought to bear against it. Walter is capable of making the perfect batch of meth. You should be inclined to think of his knowledge as identical with The Alchemist’s Dream. Walter White is the metaphorical inheritor of all those centuries spent trying to turn lead into gold. His knowledge isn’t ordinary. His is a knowledge that grants him protection from all the dangerous elements that would otherwise kill him. You don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg, and you don’t kill the only chemist in the entire world capable of making a literally pure product worth billions.
At first glance, Option Two is the path Walter appears to choose. It looks as though he is going to show the bad guys his process as a tool to save his life. It is interesting [and damning] that Walter does not complete the modus ponens he has presented to the low level gangsters.
If I show you my process then you let me live.
Instead, he IMMEDIATELY tricks them with the phosphine gas. This is not the action of someone with a normally functioning amygdala. Ninety-eight percent of the population, when confronted with an intermediate threat to life, would pursue all other options fully before resorting to the “kill” in the kill or be killed premise. Walter does not. Walter immediately resorts to poisonous gas as The Only Resolution.
This is Step One in the Walter is a Psychopath Argument. We will examine Step Two in the next installment– the murder of Krazy 8.
1 This half of this sentence will recur endlessly in this show. It will eventually do the work that gets us to our Artist tie in.