popular culture

Exit Walt, Enter Heisenberg

I am going to hereby assume everyone is familiar with the TV show Breaking Bad, which is arguably one of the best shows ever to grace our television screens. I could go on for days about the show’s cleverness, perfect pace, and masterful storytelling….but instead I’d like to shed light on one of the minor characters on the show; Walter White, Jr (RJ Mitte). Walter Jr has cerebral palsy and uses crutches, just like me. This scene, from the show’s pilot, shows Walter Jr struggling to try on new pants in a clothing store. In the background, all the characters, Walter Jr’s mom included, can hear other kids taunting and being cruel to Walter Jr all because he needed help putting on the pants. I used to get teased and mocked in a similar way because my walking “looked strange.” This type of thing happened to me often. I remembered feeling powerless at first, because unlike Walter Jr., I didn’t have anyone to swoop in and “save the day” like his father did in this clip. I simply ignored the bullies, but I remember feeling like ignoring them wasn’t enough.

Yet there’s a reason why I picked this scene to go along with the post, and there’s a reason why I didn’t forget it: while I would never condone reacting with physical violence, there is something deeply satisfying about watching Walt (played by the incredible Bryan Cranston) defend his son by kicking one of the bullies in the leg and threatening to further beat him up. To me, it was a win for Walt and those like me who are mocked all the time; a demonstration of physical strength that we might lack because of our disabilities; or simply the familiar, yet largely celebrated, stance of standing up for what’s right.

Walter Jr is well aware of the kids making fun of him, and he chooses not to react, though the audience can easily see he is hurt by it, as any of us probably would be. I know I was. Yet, was this scene a demonstration of defending the marginalized? Or was it simply to show the departure of Walt and the arrival of Heisenberg? I’m inclined to say the latter, only because the show itself was much more about an ordinary man’s transformation to king of a drug empire than it was about a teenage boy living with a disability. Still though, I thought Walter Jr deserved to take center stage more often, just to see how the show treated and explored what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy. Those of us who live with CP deserve more representation, because, well *newsflash* representation matters.

Walter Jr handled the situation just like I would have done. Even though it’s gratifying to see those punks get beat up and lose, Walter Jr’s strength in taking the high road and ignoring them returns his power, and is thus the greatest victory of all.