Walter White and The 48 Laws of Power
The strategy and tactics of Breaking Bad
Walter White didn't break bad without the use of traditional power maneuvers. Below are some of the strategy and tactics I noticed throughout the series. These laws are straight from Robert Greene’s book The 48 Laws of Power. Some were used to Walter White’s advantage, while others may have been overlooked.
Application of the Laws of Power
Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions — Walt’s manipulative ways have been extremely prevalent. He used them on his business partner, Jesse, more than anyone. Walt took on a fatherly role with Jesse to soften him up and help him rationalize their decisions. Withholding pivotal information and future plans were tactics often used throughout the series.
Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation — Guard it With Your Life — In no way did Walt want to build his character. He wanted to build his reputation. Almost every decision was driven by his ego. This was shown by creating his own alter-ego “Heisenberg”.
Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You — Remember when Gus was about to kill off Walt? If not, here’s a short breakdown. Gus ordered Mike to kill him. Walt changed that quickly by ordering Jesse to kill Gale, who was about to take over as cook. By killing Gale, Walt kept Gus dependent on him to cook the meth and keep the operation running.
Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim — Lies, lies, and more lies. Walt was the best at this. For the longest time Walt never let the truth surface. He withheld information from many people throughout the series, especially his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank.
Law 13: When Asking For Help , Appeal To People’s Self Interest Walt was a smart guy. He was often a step ahead of the people close to him. He was excellent at stirring up peoples’ emotions and knowing what they wanted to hear. Walt used this tactic on Mike to form a partnership, as Mike needed the money.
Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally — Walt used this law a few times throughout the series. None bigger than when he took out Gus, the major drug kingpin.
Law 17: Keep Others In Suspended Terror: Cultivate An Air of Unpredictability — His wife, Skyler, was a victim of this. Walt scared her into not making any moves to take him down. Other victims include Jesse and his lawyer, Saul.
Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness — No one can forget Walt walking in to see Tuco at the end of Season 1 and blowing up his headquarters with Fulminated Mercury. How about when he stood over the meth-addict Jane and watched as she choked to death removing her from Jesse’s life forever.
Law 31: Control the Options: Get Others to Play With the Cards You Deal — With his life on the line, Walt was the one stating the available options to his boss, Gus. Walt could strategize with the best of them.
Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew — Everyone has their weakness. Jesse was too loyal. Skyler didn't want Walt Jr. to know about his father’s meth business. Gus needed his operation to run. Mike wanted to provide for his granddaughter. Walt identified these weaknesses and exploited them for his own benefit.
Law 34: Be Royal In Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to be Treated Like One — This comes back to Walt’s alter-ego “Heisenberg”. Walt created this character that demanded respect and was a grand illusion to all. This was ultimately how he became king of the business.
Law 35: Master the Art of Timing — Walt’s timing was incredible. His altercation with Tuco was perfectly planned and executed. He also used great timing with poisoning a child, Brock, to keep himself safe. Timing was one of Walter’s great strengths.
Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles — Walt had cancer throughout the whole series. Walt often used this tactic in serious altercations to create sympathy towards him. He rationalized all his decisions based on the fact that he had cancer and may not live much longer. Other examples include his gambling story and the car wash as a source of his income.
Law 38: Think as You Like but Behave Like Others — Walter White was both family man and Heisenberg the meth cook. This required two extremely different personalities to cope with both aspects of his life. In order to hide his meth business, Walt made sure to take care of his family duties and cover up the truth.
Law 40: Despise the Free Lunch — When offered a sum of money from his former business partner in Grey Matter Technologies to pay for his cancer treatment, Walt turned it down. That money was made on his terms — by cooking and distributing meth.
Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter — By killing Gus, Walt took out the leader of the industry. Then, Mike, who was in Gus’s operations, ended up working with Walt. No one else in Gus’s organization was ever a threat to him.
Law 43: Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others — The two people Walt continued to manipulate were Jesse and Skyler. He had almost complete control of Jesse’s soul and used his intelligence to keep Jesse on his side. Walt also preached “being a family” to Skyler keeping her loyal enough to not turn him in.
Where Walt went wrong
Law 18: Do Not Build a Fortress to Protect Yourself — Isolation is Dangerous — Walt burned many bridges on his path to king of the meth business. In the end, he had very few allies and almost no one to turn to. This was one of the keys to his downfall.
Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End — Walt’s plan was to die. He had no other choice when the doctor told him he had a few months to live. Once that changed with the news of remission, he never made an effort to draw up his escape plan. This was a fatal mistake.
Law 47: Do Not Go Past the Mark You Aimed For: In Victory, Learn When to Stop — From the beginning, Walt wanted to just make enough money to provide for his family when he would die from cancer. Finding out he had more time to live was the point where his greediness kicked in. Saul proposed he leave and get a fresh start. Skyler proposed he leave the business, while showing him his enormous stack of earnings. Walt finally decided to leave the business, but he dug himself too big of a hole. He just couldn't bring himself to stop. As Walt said himself, “I’m in the empire business”. Enough was never truly enough.