Walter White’s departure from Gray Matter Technologies before the events of Breaking Bad hinted at his Heisenberg transformation. Portrayed by Bryan Cranston for all five seasons of Vince Gilligan’s AMC drama, Walt was introduced as a high school chemistry teacher when the series debuted. Despite his efforts in molding young minds with his scientific expertise, it was made clear early on that Walt’s career wasn’t fulfilling enough. However, details surrounding his background explained his discontent in life, leading to Walt’s Heisenberg future
Years before Walt was a husband and father, his priorities were focused on his research at California Institute of Technology, where he attended with his best friend, Elliot Schwartz (Adam Godley). In 1985, Walt and a team won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work involving crystal structures. Upon graduating, Walt and Elliot co-founded Gray Matter Technology. Gray Matter was a scientific research company that went on to become a multi-billion dollar institution, but Walt was long gone by then.
Though Gray Matter started slow, the company employed a lab assistant named Gretchen (Jessica Hecht), who Walt eventually dated. The pair were engaged until Walt abruptly broke up with her. Around the same time, Walt left Gray Matter, selling his share of the company to Gretchen for a small amount of money. Soon after, Elliot and Gretchen got married and built up the company, meaning Walt had no stake in the enormous income Gray Matter was earning for its owners. Diving deeper, Walt departed from the company he helped create after feeling inferior with Gretchen due to her family’s status with money. He may have overreacted, but Walt’s reaction to power and money made for a regretful decision. As a result, leaving Gray Matter actually steered Walt into becoming Heisenberg.
After building a successful meth cook operation with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), Walt wasted no time acquiring power. With darkened clothes, sunglasses, and a porkpie hat, the character transformed into a ruthless drug kingpin who showed no fear in the face of his enemies. When he was Heisenberg, Walt was no longer intimidated by others, which was something he struggled with while at Gray Matter. Leaving the company resulted in missing out on success and money, and Walt wasn’t going to let that happen again. Walt set out to regain that power rather than live a simple life as a high school teacher. Though he was technically to blame for his own actions, leaving Gray Matter certainly put him on a path that led Walt into becoming a cold-blooded drug kingpin.
Coincidentally, Walt got the last word when it came to the complicated dynamic between himself, Gretchen, and Elliot. In Breaking Bad season 5, Walt’s identity as Heisenberg was unearthed, forcing him to go on the run as a criminal. He also lost the support of his family, who now viewed him as a despicable monster who put his thirst for power above the well-being of his loved ones. Unable to pass on his money before reaching the end of his journey, Walt orchestrated a plan so Gretchen and Elliot would financially provide for the White family without them knowing the true source. With the help of Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) acting as snipers, Walt used his intimidating dominance in forcing his old colleagues to do what he wanted. It took decades, but Walt finally found the power he so desperately wanted.