Warning to readers: Here be spoilers!

Midway through the fifth season of Breaking Bad, a watershed moment occurs—one with familiar but important resonance for those who would lead any enterprise.

Anti-hero Walter White (Bryan Cranston) sits upon a newly-established throne as the kingpin of the New Mexico methamphetamine business—merely a year removed from learning of his terminal cancer and devising an illicit plan to earn money for his family upon his passing.

Now, relishing the role of boss, Walt’s insouciant temperament is causing discord among his partners, his friends, and his family.

Recognizing Walt’s unstable direction, fellow meth cook, Jesse (Aaron Paul), and distributor, Mike the Cleaner (Jonathan Banks), want out. Having discovered a lucrative buyout opportunity, the duo urgently requests Walt to take the deal.

Selling Truth Cheaply

Here, Breaking Bad arrives at its watershed moment. Walt unveils his core reasoning for entering the drug trade. As a graduate student, he launched a startup with a couple of  friends. As with many startups, the early years were monetarily barren. Walt settled for a $5,000 buyout. Now, his share in Gray Matter Technologies would be worth $2 billion.

For Walt, meth offers a chance to start over—a chance to build an empire and earn his filthy lucre. But is it worth gaining an empire if you lose every relationship you value?

The closer Walt gets to the top, the more untenable his position of power becomes for every stakeholder—including his family, the sole reason he sought entry into the industry in the first place. Now, nothing matters except power, control, and cold hard cash.

What Will You Serve?

Often, we work toward establishing an empire and expect our families and friends to accept the long hours and absenteeism as par for the course, a necessity in order for everyone to experience the good life.

As leaders, we constantly face scenarios similar to Walt (minus the whole illegal part, I hope). With every choice we make, we have an opportunity to serve or be served.

Should we answer an urgent email on Sunday or respect our family’s time and respond on Monday morning? Should we encourage an employee to pursue her dreams when it hurts the department in the short term? Your choices reflect whom you serve.

Walter White serves himself and his unending search for power. What will you serve?

That decision makes all the difference.


Television is rife with examples of good and bad bosses—30 Rock, Firefly, The Office, Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development, even Downton Abbey. Some bosses serve those they lead, and some serve only themselves. Who’s the best TV boss? And why?

2 Responses to From Such Great Heights

  1. […] first review highlights the first half of Breaking Bad: Season 5. Midway through the fifth season of Breaking Bad, a watershed moment occurs—one with familiar […]