Breaking Bad Edges
| Gabriel |
First let me say that I love Breaking Bad for exactly the same reasons as Ross Douthat. If you haven’t watched it, go to Amazon and buy the first and second seasons — it will be the best $29.98 plus shipping you ever spend.
It struck me that the season 3 finale is entirely about exchange theory. [really serious spoilers follow].
For all of season 3, our antihero Walt has been cooking 200 pounds of meth a week for drug kingpin Gus. Both Gus and Walt are unusually bourgeois drug dealers. Walt needs Gus’s capital, distribution network, and muscle. Gus needs Walt’s chemistry skills. At this point we can say they are mutually dependent but it’s a strongly positive sum relationship (for them, if not for society as a whole) so they are both happy and they generally like and respect each other.
Unfortunately for both of them, in the penultimate episode of the season, Walt’s idiotic and impulsive assistant Jesse gets in a feud with two of Gus’s street dealers and in order to protect Jesse, Walt kills the two dealers and sends Jesse into hiding. Normally, Gus would have Walt killed, but as Walt reminds Gus, they are in a mutually dependent relationship and Gus can not afford to lose him. (It’s implied that his drug network has something close to “just in time” inventory practices). Gus understands this and agrees to keep Walt on. Thus they remain in a situation of mutual dependence but are no longer happy with the situation — Gus because Walt disobeyed him and Walt because he now fears Gus.
Gus is probably the smartest character on the show and he seems to have studied exchange theory in college. As such, he insists that Walt take back his former assistant Gale, who is a brilliant chemist in his own right. Gus actively encourages Gale to study Walt’s technique. Thus now that his mutual dependence with Walt has become unsatisfactory, Gus is recruiting another alter which means he will now have power over Walt (and can have him killed).
Walt realizes this and decides that since it’s not practical to kill and/or replace Gus, his only answer is to kill Gale. Note that Gale is a harmless dork, and of all the people in the Albuquerque meth industry he is probably the one who least deserves to be murdered. From a literary point of view this can be taken as a symptom of Walt’s moral decay that is the titular theme of the show since in the past Walt has only reluctantly used violence and only against hardcore scumbags. From a sociological point of view this can be taken as an illustration of the exchange theory premise that nodes don’t matter, only structure.
Unfortunately for Walt, he only comes to this plan after Gus becomes confident that Gale is ready to step up. So before Walt can kill Gale, Gus’s henchmen kidnap Walt and take him to be executed. He starts blubbering and offers to give up Jesse (who Gus has always disliked and has never needed, except to make Walt happy). When Walt is put on the phone with Jesse (to lure him into a trap), he explains the situation to Jesse and tells him to kill Gale. Gus’s henchmen are unable to reach Gale by phone or by car in time and so, understanding that Gus may once again be in a situation of mutual dependence with Walt, they refrain from killing Walt.
Cut to credits and wait 9 months for season 4 to start.