Thursday, 9 April 2015

Black Swan/White Swan

I was immediately intrigued by Sati's idea for her White Swan/Black Swan blogathon. And the second I read about it, I knew exactly who I was going to write about. I knew I was going to write about Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. And then, thinking about it, I knew I should write about Walter as well. Breaking Bad is a show that I found incredibly well written, but also has such complex characters and such amazing storytelling. Even though I've only watched through the series once, I knew Walter, and especially Jesse were the exact people I wanted to write about for this.

1. Choose max 3 characters to write about.
2. You can also feature characters from TV series.
3. We are not looking for doppelgangers - we are looking for one person with two sides. For example in Black Swan you can write about Nina and her alter ego but not about Lily and Nina, which are two different people. You can write about Gollum/Smeagol but you cannot write about Bette and Dot - the Siamese twins from AHS: Freakshow - because technically they are two different people.
4. Write about why you chose the character 
5. Provide a theory on what causes the two different sides and what are the signs and contradictions between the two

Walter White

White Swan

-loyalty to family
-willing to smear his name to protect his family
-his loyalty to Jesse
-desire to provide for his family
-determination and resourcefulness

Black Swan
-driven to succeed at any cost
-willing to endanger/harm others
-desperation to be revered and loved

Let's start with Walter White. Walter starts off Breaking Bad as a regular ho-hum high school chemistry teacher, who also works part-time at a car wash. Upon discovering he has inoperable lung cancer, Walt ends up striking up a relationship with a past student of his, in order to cook crystal meth together, so that he might be able to provide for his family when he's gone. This starts to bring out a complete different side of Walt. A side that only shows in small cracks and spurts at the beginning, but eventually starts to completely consume Walt. Walt becomes obsessed with making money, more than even seems realistic or possible, at first. He always wants to go bigger and higher and eventually will stop at seemingly nothing to achieve his goals. Walt will hurt people, kill people and manipulate people in order to get what he wants. He see's the results of his actions and ploughs forward anyway. All he cares about is his family (or, at least, so he tells himself). Originally, Heisenberg was a disguise, an assumed name when doing 'business dealings'. But Heisenberg starts to take on a life of his own. What started as an assumed name starts to take hold over Walt. While I don't know if Walt was always capable of being Heisenberg, Walt finds himself almost completely consumed by this greed.

We know that originally Walt had pure intentions in mind. He wanted something to leave behind for his family, so that they wouldn't be struggling with consuming debt. But our first peek at Walt's greed and ego is when he refuses to have his treatment paid for by his old friends who are now rich off a company Walt helped fund, but sold his share. He doesn't want charity. He wants to be able to provide, like a man of the family should. But what started off as good intentions, soon Walt finds the business of cooking meth consuming him. He wants as much money as he can get, and will do almost anything for it.

As anyone who has watched Breaking Bad can tell you, Walt is neither all good nor all evil. We understand why he entered the meth making business, but we don't necessarily understand all his decisions. Walt is always looking out for himself but, by extension, we know he does this to protect and look out for his family. But he's willing to hurt his family and tarnish his name in order to provide for them, even if they reject him. He's constantly manipulating people to get what he wants, and will lie to anyone. Most of all, he lies to and manipulates Jesse Pinkman, his former student and meth partner. But while he is constantly manipulating Jesse, Walt also has a strange sense of allegiance to Jesse. Even when things go awry between the two, Walt can never find it in himself to hurt Jesse beyond repair. By the end of it all, his black swam may have overrun the white swan, but the white swan is still there, lingering at the edges. It's now been smudged by the black swan. His intentions are good, but his hands aren't clean and neither are his methods.

Jesse Pinkman

White Swan
-desire for family
-knows where to draw the line (though if often pushed past it)
-good with children
-desire to be "good"

Black Swan
-addicted to drugs
-lack of responsibility
-closed off to others

Jesse Pinkman is probably one of my favourite characters on TV. His character is so incredibly rich and complex. In fact, I had to think about his duality far more than I did Walter's. Walt is an obvious dual character while I feel Jesse's duality is much more subtle- which is one of the main reasons I find him so fascinating.

Jesse's duality, his black swan vs white swan, is very different from Walt's. Walt knows exactly what he's doing and how it affects others. Jesse, however, seems to be constantly undermining himself, and finding himself in situations, not really knowing how he got there. At the heart, he's a white swan. I know this isn't obvious at first. I mean, he starts off the show as a meth cook, looking to make easy money. He's unmotivated and he's also hooked on using drugs. But he cares about people (especially children). He craves a family and is loyal to the people he loves. At the heart, he wants to be a good person. But this is so at odds with how he acts and behaves. He keeps undermining the good intentions that he has. His refusal to quit cooking and using results in being disowned by his family and the loss of a girl he loves. He's constantly finding himself manipulated by people stronger than him, but also seems to crumble back into his destructive behaviour and self-pity when not being controlled. He makes rash decisions, usually in response to someone hurting, betraying or using a person he loves. But those rash decisions usually cause more damage than good. He finds it difficult to kill people because he cares about people and is strongly affected by death, even those he doesn't know well. But yet he still kills people for gain, to cover his tracks and so that he and Walt won't get caught.

Jesse is convinced that the only way to achieve anything in life is to be this 'black swan'. He thinks the only thing he is good at is cooking. He knows he's irresponsible and can't seem to grow up. He desperately wants a less destructive life, a normal life, with a family and people for him to love and who love him too. But he's stuck. He thinks where he is now, cooking and dealing, are the only things he'll ever amount to, so he continues doing what he's doing, being the black swan, all the while he's being crushed by the fact that he can't have this better life, that he can't ever truly be a white swan. Jesse is trapped in this life that he clearly doesn't want, but he feels he can't escape it, or just isn't really willing to try. He feels like this destructive way of life is the only way to continue. He has a front of not trying to show just how sensitive, fragile and caring he is.

Walt gets Jesse way in over his head by coercing him into cooking with him. It's a lot more than Jesse ever bargained for, and Walt is constantly pushing past what's 'realistic' or possible. He has good intentions behind cooking but, as mentioned, he's constantly having this inner battle, and Walt pushes him further down the path of destruction. It's an unhealthy relationship, where Walt tells Jesse the exact negative thoughts that Jesse has about himself (calling him irresponsible, useless, a junkie, etc), and it reinforces Jesse to continue what he's doing, because he's told he isn't worth anything more. So the cycle continues of Jesse desperately wanting to be someone different than he is, but not ever able to break the cycle. And now, not only is Jesse convincing himself this is the only way, but Walt insists this as well, getting Jesse to do things he doesn't want to do. Walt convinces him they are unavoidable and will lead to their success, attempting to convince Jesse that what they're doing isn't just black or white. And Jesse goes along with this, feeling that he doesn't have any choices. He has no family, and has lost the women he has loved, and doesn't even really have any friends. Jesse may be a good person, but he also can't live with the fact that his life is so destructive and the guilt that comes with never being able to achieve that better life. It takes a long time for Jesse to try and get out, and to completely quit. While he may feel trapped in this life of destruction, he also can't stop his habits and addictions. While he definitely is a white swan, he's also controlled and thinks being the black swan is the only option, and something he can't ever escape. The white and black sides of him are constantly at odds with each other, a battle which is suffocating him with guilt at the fact that he can never achieve the better life he so desperately wants.

Walter and Jesse are men who are going on very similar, but opposite paths. Jesse starts off as a black swan, who desperately wants to be White. Whereas Walter is a complete (and boring) white swan and descends into a criminal, a black swan. For a while, they meet in the middle, and that's where some of the best episodes on the show come from. It's when they meet in the middle, both a mix of the good and the bad, both having an inner battle of right and wrong, that things seems to get the most interesting. Walt and Jesse are two very contrasting characters, one starting as the white swan, the other as the black, and then, by the end, things have completely swapped. This character arc that they go through, both in their own lives and together, is expertly written, and so realistically human. Walt is someone we are always seemingly rationalizing. And Jesse, while we originally thought he was an irresponsible junkie, he's someone we come to root for. We see the heart of Jesse and know that he is good.

This was a lot of fun to write about! I've kind of been obsessing about Breaking Bad and it was really fun to finally do a big blog post about Walt, and my favourite ever character Jesse Pinkman. I hope you enjoyed this and I look forward to reading everyone else's entries!


  1. Oh, excellent write up! I love that people manage to find a theme inside a theme and make it more focused, here you wrote about two characters from the same show and MettelRay wrote just about serial killers. I love your write up especially on Jesse, he was really complex character, but in a low key kind of a way, that really made him feel real.

    1. thanks Sati! Jesse is such a great character and I consistently found him just as interesting (if not often more) than Walt, so I'm glad I finally got an opportunity to write something about him! Thanks for hosting this blogathon, this was a lot of fun to write :)

  2. I love that you went with Walt and Jesse. They're two of my favorite TV characters ever. Now I'm depressed all over again that Breaking Bad is finished. lol

    1. Aren't they great? This was pretty much just a perfect excuse to finally write about them :P