Recently I was talking about Breaking Bad with someone who has not watched it and I was asked "What is the theme?" This question puzzled me and I got confused, what to answer. So I want to ask the question here.

What is the main theme in Breaking Bad?

  • I'd go out on a limb and say that the main theme of "Breaking Bad" is... breaking bad.
    – Mithoron
    Oct 27, 2023 at 14:44

7 Answers 7


There are quite a few themes that run throughout the series, including:

  • sin
  • the importance of family
  • power and its corrupting influence
  • envy and regret

Ultimately, you are asking a massive question, so I'll try and explain my interpretations of the themes one by one. Before I do, I'm assuming you've watched this whole show and thus this answer will be rife with spoilers.

Finally, this will be rather long...

The Importance of Family
Skyler and the kids

This is the obvious theme to start with as it is what starts Walt off on his entire adventure. Throughout the first series in particular, everything Walt does is aimed at providing for his family. He desperately wants to protect them and ensure that they have enough money after his death - he even goes as far as to calculate the exact amount he needs to earn, before he dies/retires from the business.

As the series goes on this theme retains its significance because Walt continually forgets it, instead acting for his own selfish benefit, a fact he finally admits in the final episode in the series, when he tells Skyler all his actions have been for himself.

The importance of family can also be seen in Walt's actions not just to provide for his family, but also to protect them. When he fears at different times that they are in danger, he immediately rushes to protect them.


Of course, Jessie is part of Walt's family too. During the series, Walt wants to keep him under control - but that doesn't mean he doesn't act to protect or provide for Jessie at times. He makes a point of giving him cash and looking after him following Hank's brutal beating of him.

Obviously, their relationship is complicated and Walt frequently treats Jessie in a deplorable way. But, there are many times in the series when he could have cut Jessie out of the business, and doesn't.

In addition to Walt's feelings for Jessie, we Jessie's feelings for Jane Margolis (his lover from Series 2) and the Cantillos.

He falls in love with both of them and feels responsible for them. In Jane's case, he is careless and selfish, leading her away from the "good" path and down into drugs again. Following her death, life appears to lose meaning to him, as he feels so guilty. With the Cantillos, Jessie desperately tries to provide and help them, even going so far as to give them a huge amount of money.

When Brock is poisoned, Jessie is outraged. When he discovers that Walt was behind it, he goes so far as to try and burn his house down, showing his overall family loyalty is stronger to the Cantillos than it is/was to Walt.

Hank and Marie

Despite being chased by Hank, Walt tries to protect him (at times). For example, in the Final Season, when Walt is at his worst and Hank is dying on the ground, Walt begs for him (unsuccessfully) to be kept alive.

Hank and Marie both show their loyalty to the White family by trying to protect (and even kidnap) the kids in the Final Season, to get them away from Walt and Skyler's corrupting influences.


There are other demonstrations of family importance in the series, such as the Twins coming to New Mexico following Tuco's death, or Hector Salamanca's loyalty to his family (leading to his death and murder of Gus).


In some ways, sin in the series is brutally and explicitly discussed, whilst in others it is completely absent.

In the series, Walt commits the crime of cooking and distributing meth. However, we never see any sign whatsoever that he has considered the effects of selling meth has on people. He is more concerned with protecting his family, making money and providing high quality meth as it is the staple of Heisenberg. He never appears to question the damage such an addictive drug does to the hundreds and thousands of people that will take it.

However, other sins are extremely prevalent in the series. We see Jessie battle with it continually, as he realises his own actions have hurt so many others (leading him to throw all his money on to the street as he loses interest in protecting himself any more).

We can also see varying levels of sin, depending on your definition of what sin is. We see Walt obviously selling meth and committing murders. Hank on the other hand works as a respected law enforcement agent, but is cruel and unforgiving to Marie during his rehabilitation. Skyler smokes, drinks and even threatens suicide whilst pregnant. Marie becomes a kleptomaniac, stealing from stores and eventually house viewings. Gus leads a criminal empire, dispersing his drugs across the South West of the country and murdering any who stand in his way (including the entire leadership of the cartel). Gale manufactures meth for Gus, which will lead to the addiction of hundreds and thousands of people - but has no interest in murder or hurting anyone directly.

Thus, we can see that almost every major character has committed some sort of sin. However, each sin is of a different importance. Almost all the sins we see committed have a reason. For example, Mike commits all his actions to protect his grand-daughter. However, it is left to the viewer to decide whether the sins committed by characters, compared to their living circumstances, absolve them or free them from judgement.

For example, in the Final Season, many fans were obviously happy to see Jessie get out. But lets not forget, this was a man who directly led Jane Margolis down a path of death, who murdered Gale, who manipulated an entire rehab group by introducing meth into them. However, as his conditions throughout Season 5 were so brutal, it was hard not to set aside those sins and allow him his redemption.

Ultimately, sin is around every corner in Breaking Bad.

Power and its corrupting influence

As mentioned earlier, Walt only admits in the final episode that all his actions have been for his own benefit. However, its been obvious to the viewers for a long time. Whilst there is some evidence of his corrupting influence on other characters, by far and away it is Walt's journey that is of significance.

As he grows his meth business, he becomes more irate at the idea of anyone having any control over it. He refers to it as his empire. When Hank states his belief that Gale was Heisenberg, Walt reacts with quiet fury, disgusted that someone else get credit for his brilliant work.

The power he derives, not just from cooking, but from cooking so well, leads him to be arrogant. However, this arrogance is only fed by the fact every character he meets in the drug world goes along with it, as they realise just how good he is. All of this contributes to his total corruption.

Envy and regret

These are probably my favourite themes of the series, as they are introduced so early and are so relevant throughout.

In the very first season, we see Gretchen Schwartz offer Walt money. He kindly refuses, but she discovers he has told his family she is providing the money. When she confronts him, we see the first taste of just how dark and twisted Walt is. He is bitterly furious about both Gretchen and Elliott and feels they have ruined his life by cheating him out of the company he helped found.

We never really find out exactly what transpired between Walt and Gretchen, other than the fact he left her rather abruptly, which led to his leaving the company and her marrying Elliot. This regret (to leave the company) never leaves him.

He reveals this to Jessie later in the Series, when he discusses how he was bought out for $5,000. Now the company is worth over $2 billion. He discusses how he checks the company's worth every single week. This self-inflicted torture sustains his envy and regret and makes him more twisted and bitter than ever.

Whilst the meth business gives Walt an outlet for this anger, it has clearly been underneath the surface for a very large time.

We see this envy and regret one last time, in the final episode of the series. In a tragic scene, Walt shows up at the Schwartz' house and manipulates them into leaving all of his money to Walt Jr. when he is old enough. He leaves $9.72 million - a huge amount, yet so pitiful compared to what he could have had. Would that amount even cover the house he is standing in whilst making the deal?

It clearly shows that whilst, as the old adage says, the drug business is easy money, it still is nowhere near the amount he could have had had he stayed with Grey Matter. Even at the end, his regret is still there.

Other Themes

There are of course countless other themes in the series, but these are, in my opinion, the four most important.

This truly is a colossal sized question, so I figured I had to stop here or write endlessly! Hopefully this will give some indication as to the major themes and any pesky friends with pesky questions in the future can be answered!

  • First of all, excellent answer of course. But it's interesting that you mention that "we never see any sign whatsoever that he has considered the effects of selling meth has on people". In fact the whole series is not too inclined on showing the darker side of distributing meth. Ok, we see a meth-head now and then and there's also Jane's decline and the topic of dealing it to a rehab group. But compared to all the bad more "indirect" consequences (i.e. the murders and things), the show lays significantly less emphasis on the more direct consequences of making people addicted to meth...
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 19, 2014 at 16:43
  • ...This doesn't only apply to Walt, but actually to all the characters, especially Skyler, who's more afraid of the people potentially endangering their family and later the murders Walt commited than the actual problem of destroying thousands of lives by meth. Though, Skyler's own guilt in willfully ignoring and playing along with Walt's deeds is probably a whole topic on its own.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 19, 2014 at 16:45


Breaking Bad is about 'Breaking Bad'. A Chemistry teacher who doesn't earn much but is perfect at what he does, loves his family and has cancer and is about to die. So, he kind of goes on a journey, a quest where he will do what he does best to earn for the people he love the most who will remain alive after he dies. He does everything for his family but with the line of work that he gets in it is always dangerous to cope up with people. So, to keep his family safe, he has to often commit crimes which he doesn't want to but feel that they are necessary.

He loves his family, he cares for his partner in crime but he often does things he was never supposed to or he never meant to. Power overtakes his mind and things get worse. In the end he is killed not by his health or disease, he is killed by his sins.

Andrew's answer is perfect.

  • As Walt says in the end, he did it for himself, not for family he destroyed - he wanted to actually live before he died.
    – Mithoron
    Sep 15, 2023 at 18:05

I just finished watching the series for first time ever, and can't help answer this already accepted question. Sorry about that.

For me, the theme is crime doesn't pay. Well more like crime seems to be quite profitable and exciting when you begin but eventually you will have to become a completely ruthless and heartless person, a monster if you will, in order to survive that world and not only will you probably lose all your earnings to rivals, or law, and probably die a violent death, but also completely destroy your family's future (assuming they aren't criminals themselves).


I would have to say that the theme is dichotomy or bifurcation, two personas leading two different worlds by a single person. He foreshadows this in one of the early episodes concerning a molecule that is chiral, two mirror images of a chemical substance, one harmless but the other destructive and deadly.

We see this played out with his two names, Walter and Heisenberg, with his two roles, kingpin and father. He refuses to give up either of them up.

Early in the show, he is predominately harmless, and role he chooses is that of father. But towards the end of the show, he becomes predominately kingpin and dangerous. Someone did a spectrum of the outfits he wore on the show. They get darker and darker and the show progresses.

Sure, there are other sub-themes like family and sin, but those are just implications and incidents to the bifurcation of Walter White, essentially the effects of his dual life.


Breaking Bad is about self will run riot. In the beginning Walt is afraid for his family. He uses that as justification for breaking the law when his real motive seems to be anger at God or the Cosmos. Time and time again God gives him a way out and he doesn't take it, his pride and anger drive him. When his son sets up the Web site his pride won't let him use it because it would be charity. He is hell bent on taking power and settling his score with the universe. He believes he is superior and he intends to waste no more time being a do gooder in a world where nice guys seem to finish last. He had a good life before when he was humble and it turns out that the treatments worked on the cancer so if he had stayed humble chances are good fortune would have continued to follow him but he got prideful. And played GOD.


The answer to that question varies, however the show conveys many themes at once. For one hypocrisy is a large theme in Breaking Bad. If you think about almost every single character in the show was a hypocrite. Marie for instance was strongly disliked by the public for being a hypocrite, but if you think about it almost everyone was a hypocrite. Hank, being a cop isn't afraid the break the laws, Skylar who goes against her high morals to help Walt, Ted was willing to break the law for thousands of dollars yet wouldn't accept drug money. The list goes on. The only few exceptions would probably be Jesse and Flynn.

Another theme is power and corporation. How power affects our minds and how it is only human nature to crumple for corporation when there is too much wealth, power, and pride in sight. Jesse, while speaking his big scene in the rehab center on accepting one's actions expands on this theme and how we must have consequences for our actions and rationalizing doesn't help anyone. You see this in Walt when he takes drastic actions on other people's lives and quickly moves on, telling himself it was for the best.

There are of course others but the other responses covered most of them.


The greater, encompassing theme is Redemption. I think the show struck a chord with many people who haven't reached their goals or are failing to some degree in their lives. Walt is a brilliant scientist who founded a business and left before it became wildly successful. He settled for a high school teaching job where his students don't respect him. His life is boring in many ways. When he starts making meth and builds the business, he creates something that is The Best that exists. He got out of his comfort zone and pursued his dreams. Cooking meth has moral implications, which made the story interesting. In his own way, Walt is a Hero.

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