There are two interesting articles in Salon about the show, the first by David Sirota suggests that Walter is everyman; he mirrors both the stress the middle class feels, but also the unrestrained greed of its masters of the universe on Wall Street:
Ultimately, all of these themes converge to raise the most harrowing questions of all — the taboo questions about whether we should really cherish the desperation, the greed and the every-man-for-himself ideologies that drive Walter White and that make American the industrialized world’s exception. It is the kind of question “Wall Street” asked back in 1987 when a badly broken Bud Fox dared to ask Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko: “How much is enough?” It is the same question that “Breaking Bad’s” psychopathic murderer Todd recently posed to his neo-Nazi uncle when he asked: “No matter how much you got, how do you turn your back on more?”
And another better article by Colin McEnroe echoes this idea in comparing him to Jamie Dimon:
So who is Walt to us? At the micro level, he’s that person – usually at your job – whose selfish and ruinous choices never seem to come with a price. We all know a creep who’s been riding for a fall for what seems like forever. Fall already!
At a macro level, he’s a stand-in for all the Wall Street guys who crashed your 401(k) and were never punished. Even as the exhausted Walt trudges down to the road to perdition, Jamie Dimon – where do they get these names? – is flying high. The big cheese at JPMorgan Chase has survived a cascade of revelations about the bank’s fraudulent practices and shoddy bookkeeping. And when I say “survived,” I mean that not only does Dimon face no prosecution but also that he has been re-upped for his job as CEO and chairman. He even got to finish out his term on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York after his bank, in the London Whale imbroglio, pulled the wool over the eyes of regulators – you know, like the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Is that how most people feel about Walt?--has all sympathy for him disappeared? I don't know since I haven't even finished the second season yet. I'm probably not going to watch seasons three and four, but the finale tonight seems like one of those broadly shared cultural moments, and I don't want to miss out. So I'll be watching with everyone else. I think I understand enough of what's going on to make sense of the Gilligan's choice about how to end it.
McEnroe makes an intersting point about the Jesse Pinkman character:
Jesse Pinkman, meanwhile, has provided us with a rich opportunity to explore our own attitudes about mercy, conscience and redemption. Nobody wants Jesse to die, even though he has done unconscionable things (see: murder of Gale). How do we explain this?
The easy way is to blame Walt and what Ernest Becker called “the spell cast by others – the nexus of unfreedom.” Falstaff could be speaking for Jesse when he says, “I have forsworn his company hourly any time this two-and-twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the rogue’s company. If the rascal hath not given me medicines to make me love him, I’ll be hanged.”
Blaming Walt is too easy. What has kept us spellbound is Jesse’s plausible series of transitions from street-rapping huckster to full partner in Walt’s empire to the rare publicly-beheld man in the vise-grip of contrition. We’ve watched a full-blown Augustinian awakening; and it turns out to mean something to us if it’s real, if it’s not crafted by handlers and read off a sheet at a dais.
Huh? It never occurred to me that Jesse could be anything more than a miserable little pissant. The show becomes a whole lot more interesting for me if on a track paralleling Walt's becoming a monster there's Jesse's becoming more human. In my limited watching of the show the only occasion for seeing something 'more' in Jesse was in the episode ATM episode where he tries to shield the junkies' little boy from the horror of what happened inside. I'm curious to know whether Jesse's development is central to the story or just a subtheme.
So the picture I get of Gilligan's view of American society is that there's this thing over here called conventional America, and it's really pretty boring because it is shot through with alienation and the discontent that comes with living in "civilization". "Nice" but uninteresting people live there. And then over here there's the jungle, and that's the real world, THAT'S where life is interesting--THAT'S where you find out what you are made of. I'm ok with that as a premise for a dramatic series, but it's not my real world, but in my boring little world, there's more than enough scope for significant moral dramas.
(If you comment on this post, don't worry about spoilers; I'm not into this on that level. Also, what happens to Hank? He's interesting to me as Walt's alter ego for having one foot in civilization and the other in the jungle, and I'm interested to learn if he finds a way to live humanly in the tension between them, a balance that the Jekyll/Hyde Walt does not find. I'm at the point where Hank has just been transferred to Texas and is learning he is no longer the big fish in the little pond.)