Drug deals and philosophy typically have nothing to do with each other, but Vince Gilligan and Fredrich Nietzsche have proven otherwise. In 1883, Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It was here that Nietzsche became known for saying ‘Gott ist tot,’ or ‘God is Dead’. This was Nietzsche’s idea that post Enlightenment people had lost their sense of morality, which at the time was religion or God driven. On January 20th, 2008, Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad was releasedi. Suddenly meth, murder, and money had a lot more to do with 19th century German philosophy.
Walter White, the main character of Breaking Bad, displays Nietzche’s idea that ‘God is Dead’ through his moral nose-dive.
Waking up one day and deciding to throw your moral compass out the window is drastic, yet that’s exactly what White did. When presented with terminal cancer White knew he needed to make sure his family was taken care of after his death. Being that Walt was a high school chemistry teacher, his options were limited.
This is when the viewer first begins to see White’s fall from moral high-ground begin. White goes on a drug bust with his DEA brother-in-law and happens to see one of his past students fleeing from a drug bust. Considering White’s brother-in-law works for the DEA the most reasonable decision would be to tell his brother that he saw his student run off. Walt instead decides to hunt down his student, Jesse Pinkman, and learn how to sell methamphetamine.
Walt’s complete disregard for morality strongly ties to Nietzsche’s philosophy, considering anyone that follows a religion based system of morality would never make the decision which Walt did.
Teaming up with a past student to sell meth is only the beginning of Walt’s diety defying acts though. Walt and Pinkman go on to make a business together, and they become very close. Considering they’re partners in a business as serious as drug dealing, one would assume that they’d look out for each other. Walt, disregarding all morality obviously feels otherwise though. Season Two Episode Four ‘Down’ is a definite low point for Jesse. After his parents kick him out he’s left with no other options than to go to Walt for help. It is here that Walt completely disregards him though. While Walt has his wife and two children to worry about, he has the resources and income to support Jesse momentarily. Helping Jesse isn’t immediately useful to Walt though, and considering he’s lost all morality, there’s no reason why Walt would want to help him. Walt wants nothing to do with Jesse from that point until the end of the episode. That’s of course when Walt decides to cook again. Walt’s disregard for those closest to him highly emphasizes on the idea that Walt is adhering to Nichzsche’s idea that ‘God is Dead’. It’s here that Walt’s behavior also highlights another idea of Nietzsche’s.
‘?bermensch’ or ‘Superman’, is the type of person which Nietzsche argued would defeat the impending nihilism of a ‘Godless’ world. He argued that evolution was never assumed to be finished, and that’s exactly the case for Walter White. White is the definition of a loser turned ?bermensch. What defines an ?bermensch though, and how could someone as terrible as Walt become Superman? In defining an ?bermensch, Nietzsche gathered characteristics of all his favorite leaders such as Napoleon, Julias Caesar, Voltaire, and most importantly Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He felt that these men carried characteristics which made them psychologically superior to all other men. Nietzsche wasn’t concerned about smarts, rather their level of independence, vitality, creation of values, and acceptance of fate. While it may seem Walt owes his success to his smarts, Nietzsche would argue it’s his ?bermensch qualities instead.
Walt’s usage of independence to his advantage practically defines Nietzche’s theory. From the very beginning, Walt ensures that his relationship with Jesse is never based upon dependence. Considering they’re partners it’d be completely normal that Walt needs Jesse, but that’s never the case. Walt goes out of his way to patronize Jesse and ensure he feels inferior. In Season two episode nine ‘Four Days Out’, Walt is confined to the cooking trailer with Jesse after the battery dies. The two think they’ve found a solution using the generator until it sets on fire. This is when Jesse decides to pour all of the drinking water they brought onto the generator to extinguish the flames. Walt almost instantaneously runs out of the trailer with a fire extinguisher, and Jesse realizes he’s made a pretty stupid mistake. Being that Walt and Jesse are partners and they need to remain calm, Walt should’ve simply explained to Jesse his mistake. Instead, when Jesse apologizes for ‘thinking on his feet’, Walt condescendingly replies, ‘You and thinking, that’s the problem,” (23:35). Walt never misses an opportunity to put Jesse down, whereas Jesse never reciprocates. This continues to benefit Walt as Jesse practically becomes Walt’s servant. Nietszche would argue that this is highly indicative of an ?bermensch considering the mass benefit which Walt receives when acting independently makes him appear psychologically superior.