Hank and Walt: An Allusion to Ahab and Moby Dick
Read no further if you have not seen it. Spoilers ahead.
I wrote a blog post a while back about Breaking Bad‘s connection to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, driven home in the final season by a line Walt says when thinking about going into town from his safe house (Tomorrow…Tomorrow), but after finishing the series, I think there is an even greater allusion to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Here are my comparisons:
The White Whale – Walter White is most definitely a representation of an out of control animal, everything around him turning to ashes because of his wild actions. Even though he seems to do things that in his mind have a moral center, he ultimately ends up becoming a bull in a china shop. Take for instance the train job. Walter works out a detailed plan where they can steal 1000 gallons of methylene without anyone being the wiser and without killing the conductor and the engineer driving the train. They are completely successful, but a small boy on a motorbike sees them which prompts Todd to shoot the boy to cover their tracks, much to Walt’s dismay. There are many other plans that go awry, but Walt is almost a force of nature, his will imposed on others, manipulating them to his designs, but in the end the designs never work perfectly.
Ahab – Hank Schrader is Captain Ahab. He is in pursuit of Heisenberg, so much so that he will put his life on the line for it and even break the law to see to his capture. He is injured because of Walt’s dealings with the Cartel and walks with a limp for the rest of the series afterward, a reference to Ahab’s peg leg. When Hank discovers that Walt is Heisenberg, he stops at nothing to bring him down, having files delivered to his home, faking Jesse Pinkman’s death, faking Walt’s buried money, and ultimately when he captures Walt, putting the handcuffs on him, is brought down for it. Melville writes that if Ahab’s “chest were a mortar” he would have “shot his heart upon” the whale (Ch 41). So is the same for Hank in regards to Walt. Because of his unorthodox methods and obsession for Heisenberg, his white whale, he causes the death of Gomez when Todd and his Uncle catch them in an overbalanced fire fight.
I do not think that these comparisons are too vague to be conjecture. They are very strong, and if one looks deeper, one can see that this allusion to Moby Dick is running throughout at least the fourth and fifth season. Hank’s obsession for Heisenberg is beyond the need to catch the bad guy. It is just like Ahab’s.