‘Breaking Bad’: The 1 Most Crucial Episode of the Series When Walter White Changes Beyond Recognition

Not all fans agree with the exact moment during Breaking Bad when Walter White decides to sacrifice good in favor of evil. It’s probably a combination of events that lead to Walt fully transform into Heisenberg by the final season. However, there is one crucial episode that stands out as a major turning point in Walt’s character arc.

The AMC drama is considered one of the greatest of all time because it tells a complete story from start to finish. Along the way, so many tiny moments add up to Walt’s transformation “from Mr. Chips into Scarface” that it’s impossible to pinpoint the most significant.

Still, some of the most telling moments occur during a seemingly innocuous episode in season 1: “Gray Matter.”

Walter White won’t take Elliot Schwartz’s charity in ‘Gray Matter’

Skyler and Walter White
Skyler White (Anna Gunn) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) | Ursula Coyote/AMC

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Season 1 episode 4 may not seem like a huge driver of Breaking Bad at first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s the episode when Walt makes a few key decisions that will affect the rest of his life.

The episode begins with Walt’s college friend and former co-worker Elliot Schwartz’s birthday party. Together with another friend, Gretchen, the trio founded the pharmaceutical company Gray Matter Technologies. Walt sold his share of the company for $5,000 years before the Breaking Bad timeline began. Unfortunately, that was a costly mistake. Gray Matter became extremely successful and eventually reached a valuation of $2.6 billion.

At the birthday party, Elliot offers Walt a legal way to pay for cancer treatments. Walt feels inferior to Elliot, though, and out of pride refuses his offer of a job or money.

This seemingly small decision sets Walt down the road to becoming a drug kingpin who loses his sense of morality.

Walt feels like less of a man talking to Elliot

There are so many instances of Walt feeling inferior to his former peer Elliot, from the scene of him standing in Elliot’s grand 2-story office and library looking small to him seeing the framed clippings about Elliot’s scientific achievements, when we know could have belonged to Walt if he hadn’t left the industry.

When Elliot offers Walt the job at Gray Matter, he almost takes it, until his friend mentions the “excellent health insurance” and proves that the offer is out of pity, not admiration. Walt reacts badly to being made a fool of and takes out his anger on Skyler, who must have told Elliot and Gretchen about his cancer diagnosis.

From that point on, Walt has something to prove about his own self-worth and self-reliance.

Walt takes control of his own destiny

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More money. More problems.

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Being diagnosed with cancer is out of Walt’s control and losing his shot at wealth is, too. But one place he can influence is reasserting his role as head of the family by providing for their monetary well-being. It’s this aim that makes him resort to drug manufacturing — a move which eventually destroys him.

Walt realizes during “Gray Matter” that his wife and son will resent him if he refuses to undergo chemo treatments. But he can’t take Elliot’s money because of his pride. Walt chooses to do the treatments but pay for them himself, which leads to the inevitability of making meth.

By the final season of Breaking Bad, Walt finally admits to Skyler that he didn’t pursue the money for his family anymore — he did it because he liked it. That revelation was probably the biggest moment of clarity in the entire series.