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It seems to me that Walt could have worked at a very high salary for Gus, solving his financial problems without too much risk to Walt and after all, he begged the reluctant Gus for this arrangement.

But it seems to me that Walt eventually became irrational -- in particular, the whole "I'm in the empire business" does not sound like what a person who suddenly had a fortune placed in his lap, after struggling for decades as a teacher and low-level worker in a carwash would say.

Could it be that be confronted with his own mortality by cancer affected his thinking? Or even the drugs he was taking being responsible for the irrationality? "Chemo-brain" is a real and serious thing.

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  • While I don't know if we will get a legitimate answer here, meaning a quote from either the dialogue or the shows' writers/eps, I do think this is a valid Q. My only concern is that (as it stands) this will draw a lot of speculation, as I have seen such arguments purposed on Reddit in regards to behavior becoming more aggressive as time goes on, but might be too speculative or broad , and potentially offensive for the rules of this site. Commented May 26, 2023 at 20:43
  • @DarthLocke: I think the emphasis on cancer and its treatment in the series was significant. For example, he was just laid off or something. It was the demonstration that the Universe was not fair so why be an honest person yourself? But I am also interested if the writers might have thought that chemo changed Walt's thinking, affected his decision making because he sure became an impulsive, vicious guy.
    – releseabe
    Commented May 26, 2023 at 20:49
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    I agree with Darth Locke. If you re-word the question asking if there is any proof from writers/producers of the show about what you are asking, then it would be a valid question. As Darth Locke states, the way that it is currently worded will only draw speculative answers :) Commented May 26, 2023 at 23:37
  • I think we're in danger of conflating two very different things here. Chemo brain does not lead to megalomania, it leads to 'confusion' in a one-word description.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 8:39

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The cancer is Walter's initial trigger to contemplate earning money from drugs, but not relevant to his switch in motivation later

The series is fairly explicit in describing Walter's initial and changing motivation. While, from one point of view, his later actions might look "irrational" this is only true if you ignore the clear signals that his motivation changes over the course of his character arc.

Initially, he is a poor teacher who has to work a nasty second job to cover his bills and support his family. His cancer diagnosis is going to destroy his ability to support his family and, on seeing how much money even amateur and not very competent meth dealers can make, triggers him to try enter the business and make enough money to pay for his treatment and leave something for his family. His decision to enter the illegal business has a clear and simple motivation.

But, once he gets started, his experiences rapidly teach him things that start to modify his outlook. Very early, for example, he is faced with the problem of dealing with unreliable partners who just want to steal his product. Instead of responding–as you might expect a meek teacher to–he attacks the dealers (this is the scene where he blows up their office using mercury fulminate). He discovers that he has the skill and the cojones to risk aggressive action and win against some scary people. His motivation is already shifting.

Dealing with Tuco reinforces his self-belief in aggressive action and his ability to cross even more moral lines. His motivation is shifting further as he discovers he does have the capacity and skill to get what he wants. It is not longer just about paying his medical bills or providing for his family. Furthermore, we see his unwillingness to accept help from his very wealthy former colleagues. This is a strong hint that his motivation is partly his ego. He doesn't just want help, he wants to prove himself a powerful figure who doesn't need help.

Later, when he starts to deal with Gus Fring, he may look desperate to get more cash but he is already wary of the people he is going to have to deal with. And by this point his alter ego, Heisenberg, is already far more Machiavellian and far more motivated by the desire to prove his own skill and power rather than just cover his bills. He has discovered the motivation of empire building for its own sake. He wants to prove he can be wealthy and powerful on his own terms (as his wealthy ex-colleagues have become by legal means). Arguably, he is trying to compensate for bad choices he made historically with their startup firm which left them wealthy and him a poor teacher.

This slow shift in his motivation is laid out very clearly in the final season. As he plans for the final resolution with the Nazi group, he has a conversation with Skylar. She expects him to excuse his behaviour, as he has done in the past, by saying everything he did was for his family. But he doesn't make this excuse and says, to paraphrase: "I did this for me." His motivation had long since shifted from being paying his medical bills or supporting his family: he wanted to prove his ability to build an empire; his ego was the driving force; he was killing his self-image as a meek teacher.

Given this character arc, his actions are not irrational at all. They would look irrational only if his motivation never changed. But he already had all the cash he needed very early in the timeline. But, by that point, he had discovered more about his capability and had become Heisenberg now motivated to build and empire from his own skill to prove he could, to feed his ego. At many points he could have left the drug business with plenty of cash but he wanted to prove how powerful he was and how he could win against the competition. More money was no longer his motivation.

This arc is clear. Chemo is irrelevant.

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