“I’m not in the meth business. I’m in the empire business.” Those are the words of a former high school chemistry teacher pushed towards the brink of insanity by his reckless, competitive nature. Walter White, star of AMC’s “Breaking Bad”, transformed from a mild-mannered family man to a ruthless killer in front of the nation’s eyes from 2008-2013. I was late in adopting the Breaking Bad craze that affected so many, but realized my error after watching just one episode and promptly binge-watched the rest.
While a meth cook and incredibly powerful CEO may not appear to have much in common, I could not help but compare Walt to former Lehman Brothers CEO, Dick Fuld. In 2006, Fuld was named America’s top chief executive officer of the private sector. Just three years later CNBC named him the worst American CEO of all time. Curiously enough, that is very similar to the amount of time it took Walt to become public enemy number one. On the surface, both men justified their work by saying they were acting in the best interest of someone else- Walt for his family, Fuld for his shareholders. But in retrospect, it is easy to see that was not the case. Instead, they were motivated by greed and power. A mere business was not enough; they needed an empire.
As I began drawing connections between two men, I noticed the situations shared more than just their protagonists-turned-antagonists in common. In addition to the family/shareholder justification, almost all the major characters come into play. Hank and the entire DEA mirror the persistent yet ineffective legal system that failed to prevent crime. Walter Jr. represents younger generations that blindly trusted the people in power that eventually hurt them. Gus Fring symbolizes a heartless corporation looking to maximize returns while disregarding morality. While I have no reason to believe creator Vince Gilligan was trying to comment on the financial collapse with his hit television show, the similarities are undeniable. Here are a few clips from YouTube that help illustrate my point and showcase two men, Walter White and Dick Fuld, and their corruption by money and power: