Max Rivlin-Nadler finds a larger lesson about the American Dream in Breaking Bad, the final season of which starts Sunday night:
As a teacher, Walter shouldn't have to take a second job just to provide for his family—it's even hinted that the fumes from the car wash were the catalyst for his cancer. As a citizen, he shouldn't have had to decide between cancer treatment and the well being of his family (but privatized healthcare will do that to you). People usually deal with these obstacles legally. They do so by racking up more debt, burdening their families, placing more people in the red of states that vote deep red. But Walt resists. He uses whatever agency he has to die on his own terms. Because the stakes of drug trafficking firmly places our protagonist so far outside the status quo, because our hero is a criminal, the viewer is forced to ask: if playing by the rules only gets you so far, why bother? Breaking Bad dismisses the idea that your blue-collar job will provide for you, that, if needed, the State will, too, and that doing the right thing will be its own substantive reward.
Janet Manley picks up on the show's religious undertones:
[Show creator Vince Gilligan] told the Times, "I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good?" So goes the setup for Breaking Bad, which pits the ultimate rationalist against the chaos of mortality.