He's one of the most iconic TV characters of all time. A downtrodden family man, the John Doe of John Does, who transforms into a monstrous, murdering, drug producing criminal, bit by bit, piece by piece. Walter White, played expertly by Bryan Cranston, is as intriguing as he is relatable, and it's the relatable aspect that is most disturbing.
Breaking Bad may have finished its run four years ago, but the psyche of Walter is still a hot topic for discussion. Was he bad all along, and had he secretly planned his empire long before his cancer diagnosis? Is he a certified sociopath, making his transition to the dark side inevitable from day one? Or are we all one bad day away from transforming in the manner Walter did?
A 'Breaking Bad' Theory On Walter White's Behavior
Well, none of the above are accurate. At least according to a compelling Reddit theory by KANNABULL, who makes a convincing case that Walter White had a specific reason to behave in the way he did. That reason is the fact that he's a person with Asperger syndrome, a high functioning variation of autism that affects 31 million people worldwide.
The number of those with Asperger's could be much, much higher, as its subtly makes it hard to diagnose. Was Walter White part of those without a diagnosis? The theory explores the various symptoms of the syndrome, while applying them to Walt's behavior. Let's check it out, symptom by symptom.
Hyperfixation With Topics And Memorization Of Precise Details
Those living with Asperger's can be completely transfixed on certain topics — often falling down the rabbit hole of a very specific subject — memorizing intricate details, while also letting the same topic dominate conversation, often out of context. This certainly applies to Walter and chemistry. There's no doubt Walter is a genius scientist, and his knowledge of chemistry is obsessive.
In #BreakingBad, when teaching Jesse Pinkman the skills of the trade, he explains the rich history of chemistry, as well as the basic knowledge required to create the methamphetamine. This suggests he has devoted time to becoming a walking encyclopaedia on his obsession, obtaining knowledge that isn't necessarily required, pointing at more than just a strong interest in the subject.
Pattern Recognition And Repeated Cognitive Behaviors
As well as a fixation on specific topics, people with Asperger's can also display rigid behavioural routines that remain the same, in a ritualistic manner. Walter demonstrates such fixed behavior, especially with his production methods. He has a inflexible set of procedures that must be followed by the book — such as the removal of clothes — and shows a level of anxiety if these rules aren't followed, expecting Jesse to do the same.
- Holy Heisenberg! This 'Breaking Bad' Theory Explains The Zombie Outbreak In 'The Walking Dead'
- You Can Visit The Real Filming Locations Of 'Breaking Bad' Just Don't Throw Pizza On Walt's Roof
- It's All About Me: According To Psychology, Walter White Is The Definition of Narcissism
Inability To Socially Interact
From early day science teacher, to the height of Heisenberg, Walt is always portrayed as socially awkward. But according to this Breaking Bad theory, that could also be a manifestation of Asperger's. People with Autism struggle to maintain friendships due to the difficulty in bonding with others, and understanding the emotions of those around them.
His actions do seem to go beyond being socially awkward, though. In interactions with his family, he finds himself in situations where he struggles to communicate, or gets easily offended or misunderstand the intent of others. For example, numerous times when discussing his cancer diagnosis he takes things the wrong way, and clearly gets frustrated with people trying to help — in particular Hank, when he says he'll care for his family, or offers to pay for treatment.
And then there's the scene below, following the plane crash, where Walt addresses his students, many of whom are clearly traumatized. He tries to allievate their fears by focusing on specific traits of the crash, with no real regard for the impact it has on people emotionally, even referring to it as the "50th worse air disaster" to downplay its significance. Note also this could be another demonstration of hyperfixation:
It's also important to note, often those with Asperger's find it easier communicating with people who are significantly older or younger than they are, which could go some way to explaining why his closest bond is formed with Jesse.
Difficulty Expressing Empathy And Appropriate Facial Expressions
Another common trait of those with Asperger's is the lack of appropriate facial response to certain situations. Again, Walter displays this; often during conversation he can fluctuate between looking completely bored, or looking like he's trying to stifle seething rage, regardless of the context of conversation. This also links in with the lack of empathy, as mentioned above.
Selective Hearing And Selective Mutism
Walt is prone to "spacing out," going into his own internal world and switching off from what others are saying. The Breaking Bad theory argues that, although it may be a case of Walt struggling due to the emotional stress of his situation, it could be another symptom of ASD.
As this tends to happen more and more as time goes on, the theory argues that, without Walt's obsessive focus of his teaching, something that preoccupied him in the past, his symptoms become more obvious.
Physical Clumsiness And Rigid Body Movements
A huge part of Walt's demeanour is formed by Bran Cranston's clever use of physicality created Walt's iconically rigid, borderline robotic nature; often he'd have the same stance, as the theory compares to a "non nonchalant gorilla." Because of impairment in the development of motor functions, this is another symptom of Asperger's, where people on the spectrum may move in repetitive, stereotypical ways.
At the same time, Walt is physically clumsy, often finding himself making mistakes when in various situations — the show even opens with him crashing his RV, and then stumbling out into the New Mexican desert, perplexed.
So, Does Walter White Have Asperger's Syndrome
To conclude, it's worth noting that the Breaking Bad theory certainly has a lot of evidence. The theory definitely adds an added element to look out for in rewatches, but above all else, regardless of any potential diagnosis, Walter White will forever be remembered as an intriguing character, for the exact nuances and trademarks mentioned above.
For more information on Asperger syndrome, you can visit the Autism Speaks website, where you can also make a donation, if feeling particularly charitable.
What do you think of the theory? Is it possible Walter White suffered from Asperger syndrome?