Development of Conflict

Conflict in Breaking Bad is dynamic.  Antagonists are continually changing and Walt is always making new enemies and facing different challenges.  In the beginning of the series, Walt is introduced as a mild character dealing with frustrating but benign boredom.  However, his diagnosis of cancer quickly changes the conflict facing Walt.  Boredom is overshadowed by his declining health and financial fears for his family.  Though Walt is contempt with the inevitability of his death, the thought of leaving his family without any financial support unsettles him.  After an initial exposure to the underworld of methamphetamine, Walt abandons his mild-mannered ways in an attempt to become a drug manufacturer.  In doing so, he directly address his two conflicts: boredom and family support.  Walt no longer faces mundane work and menial tasks as a drug manufacturer and he now makes more than enough money to support his family.  Yet these issues are replaced by much more severe conflicts.  Walt struggles boredom is replaced with violent criminals and DEA investigations, which are imminent and demanding conflicts for Walt.  Financial support is replaced with trust issues between Walt and his wife, Skyler.  The new, erratic schedule and actions of Walt cause his family to question his whereabouts and activities.  Walt also faces difficult moral decisions when dealing with captured rivals.  After a rival drug dealer is captured by Walt, he contemplates killing him to save his family, but faces difficulty is unable to do so.  Ultimately, Walt kills him out of self-defense when his captive uses physical force.

Though most conflict resolution arrives as a result of deliberate action, there is an important case of Walt’s inaction leading to cruelly pragmatic elimination of threats.  After being blackmailed by his partner Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, Walt must bring them hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.  However, Walt fears that Jesse and Jane heroine abuse will result in his hard-earned money being squandered.  Though once somewhat reliable, Jesse no longer helps Walt because his Jane dislikes him and wants Jesse to avoid contact with Walt.  When Walt makes surprise visit to make sure Jesse is doing alright, he finds both Jesse and Jane passed out from heroine use.  Jane beings to choke on her own vomit and though Walt could easily prevent her from suffocating, he does not, realizing that Jane’s death would be beneficial for his partnership with Jesse.  Though Walt’s choice to let Jane die remains a secret for many seasons, it remains as a subtle internal conflict for Walt, as he comes close to telling Jesse in order to free himself from the burden.

Once Walt immerses himself into crime, the original conflicts he faced are no longer problematic.  During the episode where Walt has been kidnapped, nearly all other problems in Walt’s life are forgotten.  Even viewers temporarily forget about Walt’s cancer and marital issues while hardened criminals force Walt to dig his own grave.  Breaking Bad succeeds in its constant change of conflict because of its ability to immerse viewers in the current situation and have them temporarily forget about past issues.  Walt’s conscious also becomes part of his conflict as the growing death toll and destruction for his actions catches up with him.  As Breaking Bad progresses, the conflict becomes even greater, leading to increasingly brutal and desperate acts by the protagonists and antagonists.

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