The Tragedy Thus Far
Last season, after Walt blew Gus halfway to hell with a well-plotted grandpa bomb and poisoned a kid to keep Jesse on his side, the stakes reached an all-time, face-melting high. The show that keeps on giving us panic attacks has already tackled massive airplane crashes, drug ODs, and yes, even cold-blooded murder of several participants in the grand scheme -- Combo, Gale, and many others. But last night's murder brought an innocent kid into the fold, and unlike the drug-wielding street thugs, master chemists, and hired thugs, this kid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time in a profoundly tragic way. Thus Walt's "nothing stops this train" mantra will come face-to-face with Jesse's insistence that the crew maintain some integrity, a view that Mike is begrudgingly beholden to, ever since he let Lydia live, after her "don't let me disappear" speech.
This show is about Walter's descent into badness. At times, it seems juxtaposed with several others, though, and that's where the interesting comparisons begin.
Walter's descent into evil is sharply contrasted by the main characters around him, all of whom are rapidly changing as a direct result of his actions.
Because of Walt's actions: He went from the goofy junkie, high-school dropout loser known as "Captain Cook" to a valuable Meth chemist and criminal mastermind with an impressive resume of schemes.
Jesse would never have become the man he is today without Walt -- he's his surrogate father figure, but also a manipulative partner and treacherous snake in his grass. Walter is moving from thinking man to criminal, and Jesse is moving from criminal to thinking man. Jesse has plotted the two biggest moves of the season so far, the magnet scheme, and the train heist. And Jesse has become the moral center of their operation, while Walt uses the despair of his helpless wife and the rest of his family's ignorance of his activities for personal gain.
Jesse's moral compass has been betrayed by Walter's scheming twice: the poisoning of Brock, and Walter's allowance of his girlfriend Jane to overdose right under his nose. And those decisions have affected many lives, including everyone on the plane that crashed, and those present in the nursing home when the Salamanca bomb blew.
Because of Walt's actions: He went from white-knuckled wuss to field hero, leader, and the only man with the wit and the drive to catch Heisenberg.
James Poniewozik put it best: Breaking Bad is "an operatic version of moral decisions that people make in little ways every day." Hank makes the opposite decisions of Walt, embracing his lot in life whereas Walt opts to throw it all away after his Chemo treatment. In a pivotal moment in Walt's life, during the show's pilot, when the cops are approaching the meth-fume soaked RV, Walter turns the gun on himself and pulls the trigger. This is the moment that the old Walter White died, replaced with the greedy, unforgiving Heisenberg. Hank has been shot at many times, but has recovered from his mental and physical injuries to maintain a status of authority and power like never before. He's obsessed with catching Heisenberg, although he doesn't understand why yet. Heisenberg's rise to power mimics his own, and the two have an intertwined destiny.
Because of Walt's actions: He went from millionaire Grandpa to small-time operational babysitter with debts to pay.
Mike has emerged as the criminal antithesis of Walt. Where Walt is new to game of being a drug kingpin, Mike has experience and finesse. But his long and storied career has made him soft, as evidenced by his extreme caution. As Walt becomes more daring and more dangerous, Mike continues to lack the extra 10% of ballsy-ness to get the bad job truly done. I'm betting he'll see the error of his "no witnesses" policy by next week, and based on the previews, that will finally push him out of the game for good. Walter won't allow it, and the cycle of cause and effect will continue.
Everyone who watched the show last night saw Landry Clarke put a bullet in that little kid's head. The brutal, and unnecessary death of a child is the result of many of the decisions made by the new Heisenberg regime, and arguably, of the butterfly effect of Walt's breaking bad.