I won’t be revealing too much if I tell you that by the end of season four Walt has gone from being Mr. Clean to being a ruthless, scheming bastard. And a cold-blooded killer. Yet we still care for him – and, more importantly, we admire him. Why? Well, to draw on a distinction Jack Donovan makes in The Way of Men, Walt had always been a “good man,” but he wasn’t so good “at being a man.” However, as his character develops he begins to display all those “amoral” masculine virtues Donovan writes about.
The new Walt is tough, strong, courageous, and masterful. It doesn’t really matter that these virtues are deployed toward unlawful and often destructive ends. We admire these qualities in Walt nonetheless. And frankly it’s hard for me to get too exercised over the unlawfulness of Walt’s actions. It’s hard for me to be too disapproving of anything that undermines the stability of modern American society. The men of Walt’s world are killers and kingpins and assassins – but at least they are still men. One of the larger philosophical issues raised by this series – too large for me to explore here – is the tension that sometimes exists between masculinity and law and order; or: between primal masculine virtue and the virtues necessary to sustain civilization.