Before the name was borrowed by everyone’s favourite meth-dealing alter-ego, it belonged to Werner Heisenberg, a German Nobel-prize-winning physicist. My knowledge of science stopped expanding in grade 12, so I can’t possibly explain his contributions to science, but he’s largely known for the uncertainty principle. Loosely speaking, it says that when you try to measure something, you affect that thing, possibly in ways you can’t expect.
Breaking Bad has been largely defined by its attention to unforeseen, or unforeseeable, consequences. It’s most obvious in season two, where the death of an addict results in an airplane crash, but it shows up repeatedly: Walt tries to gas the drug dealers who plan to kill him, but ends up with a prisoner in Jesse’s basement. Skyler only wants to frighten Ted Beneke, but puts him in the hospital instead. Walt and his gang can execute a flawless train robbery, but it all goes to hell when a kid on a dirtbike shows up. Most of the major conflicts of the series arise from Walt thinking he can work with – even control – men like Tuco, Gus, and Uncle Jack, only to see things spiral out of control.
If there were a moral to Breaking Bad, it would surely be something about hubris; references to Ozymandias were not coincidental. But to reduce the series and its protagonist to a moral lesson is simplistic, and beside the point. Instead, let’s say that Breaking Bad had a principle, and that principle was uncertainty; that real life, real human beings, are messy and unpredictable, and that the more you try to exert control, the faster you lose it. And that in its final episode, it threw aside the principle it had worked so hard to define in an attempt to tie everything up.