This post contains spoilers to the greatest American television series in at least the past decade. If you haven’t watched it, stop reading now.
Otherwise, today we’re going to evaluate the titular proposition: Walter White Is An Alpha Male.
Why do we bother classifying men and their behaviours as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Sigma, etc? Occasionally it seems fruitless and ‘spergy. Individual men are too complex for their essence to be perfectly reduced into Vox Day’s Socio-Sexual Hierarchy, much less the standard Alpha/Beta dichotomy used by the community at large.
But as we say: the map is not the territory. Alpha Vs. Beta and the Socio-Sexual Hierarchy are imperfect high-level descriptions of an infinitely detailed landscape. Like all good maps, they are useful, which is why anyone with a bit of life experience can nod knowingly at the archetypes they make use of. From Vox’s Socio-Sexual Hierarchy:
Alpha: The alpha is the tall, good-looking guy who is the center of both male and female attention. The classic star of the football team who is dating the prettiest cheerleader. The successful business executive with the beautiful, stylish, blonde, size zero wife. All the women are attracted to him, while all the men want to be him, or at least be his friend. At a social gathering like a party, he’s usually the loud, charismatic guy telling self-flattering stories to a group of attractive women who are listening with interest. However, alphas are only interested in women to the extent that they exist for the alpha’s gratification, physical and psychological, they are actually more concerned with their overall group status.
Lifetime sexual partners = 4x average+.
Beta: Betas are the good-looking guys who aren’t as uniformly attractive or socially dominant as the Alpha, but are nevertheless confident, attractive to women, and do well with them. At the party, they are the loud guy’s friends who showed up with the alcohol and who are flirting with the tier one women and cheerfully pairing up with the tier two women. Betas tend to genuinely like women and view them in a somewhat optimistic manner, but they don’t have a lot of illusions about them either. Betas tend to be happy, secure in themselves, and are up for anything their alpha wants to do. When they marry, it is not infrequently to a woman who was one of the alpha’s former girlfriends.
Lifetime sexual partners = 2-3x average.
Delta: The normal guy. Deltas are the great majority of men. They can’t attract the most attractive women, so they usually aim for the second-tier women with very limited success, and stubbornly resist paying attention to all of the third-tier women who are comfortably in their league. This is ironic, because deltas would almost always be happier with their closest female equivalents. When a delta does manage to land a second-tier woman, he is constantly afraid that she will lose interest in him and will, not infrequently, drive her into the very loss of interest he fears by his non-stop dancing of attendance upon her. In a social setting, the deltas are the men clustered together in groups, each of them making an occasional foray towards various small gaggles of women before beating a hasty retreat when direct eye contact and engaged responses are not forthcoming. Deltas tend to put the female sex on pedestals and have overly optimistic expectations of them; if a man rhapsodizes about his better half or is an inveterate White Knight, he is almost certainly a delta. Deltas like women, but find them mysterious, confusing, and are sometimes secretly a little afraid of them.
Lifetime sexual partners = 1-1.5x average
Gamma: The introspective, the unusual, the unattractive, and all too often the bitter. Gammas are often intelligent, usually unsuccessful with women, and not uncommonly all but invisible to them, the gamma alternates between placing women on pedestals and hating the entire sex. This mostly depends upon whether an attractive woman happened to notice his existence or not that day. Too introspective for their own good, gammas are the men who obsess over individual women for extended periods of time and supply the ranks of stalkers, psycho-jealous ex-boyfriends, and the authors of excruciatingly romantic rhyming doggerel. In the unlikely event they are at the party, they are probably in the corner muttering darkly about the behavior of everyone else there… sometimes to themselves. Gammas tend to have have a worship/hate relationship with women, the current direction of which is directly tied to their present situation. However, they are sexual rejects, not social rejects.
Lifetime voluntary sexual partners = .5x average
Omega: The truly unfortunate. Omegas are the social losers who were never in the game. Sometimes creepy, sometimes damaged, often clueless, and always undesirable. They’re not at the party. It would never have crossed anyone’s mind to invite them in the first place. Omegas are either totally indifferent to women or hate them with a borderline homicidal fury.
Lifetime sexual partners < 2
Sigma: The outsider who doesn’t play the social game and manage to win at it anyhow. The sigma is hated by alphas because sigmas are the only men who don’t accept or at least acknowledge, however grudgingly, their social dominance. (NB: Alphas absolutely hate to be laughed at and a sigma can often enrage an alpha by doing nothing more than smiling at him.) Everyone else is vaguely confused by them. In a social situation, the sigma is the man who stops in briefly to say hello to a few friends accompanied by a Tier 1 girl that no one has ever seen before. Sigmas like women, but tend to be contemptuous of them. They are usually considered to be strange. Gammas often like to think they are sigmas, failing to understand that sigmas are not social rejects, they are at the top of the social hierarchy despite their refusal to play by its rules.
Lifetime sexual partners = 4x average+.
Lambda: Those men who have quite literally no interest in conventional male-female sexual relations. They clearly have their own hierarchy of sorts, but I can’t say that I know much about it other than it appears to somehow involve youth, free weights, and mustaches.
Lifetime sexual partners = 10x average+
Note that Vox’s Alpha and Sigma categories map to the traditional Alpha. Delta, Gamma and Omega map to Beta. Most of Vox’s “Betas” would probably earn an Alpha/Lesser Alpha from the Heartiste Sexual Market Value Test.
Which scale is better? Neither, I say. The SSH is a powerful descriptive tool, while the simple A/B dichotomy captures the raw essence of the divide between Men and Non-Men. Each is optimized for a desired level of granularity. See also: The 1-10 scale versus the Boner Test.
So where does Breaking Bad’s Walter White fit in? (On the SSH that is, not the boner test.)
Simply, he doesn’t. Not easily, at least. Heisenberg, as we’ll refer to the late-series Walter, is an extremely atypical man, both in the superficial details of his life (cancer-ridden science genius meth empire kingpin), and the nature of his character and soul. This is what makes him an interesting case for analysis.
Let’s start with Heartiste’s three-point measure of the Alpha Male:
- How hot are the women he can attract,
- How strong is that attraction for him, and
- How many of those women find him attractive.
Sadly Vince Gilligan does not showcase Heisenberg’s pick-up skills in a Breaking Bad/Keys To The VIP crossover, and so we have very few opportunities to observe the reactions he gets from women in his fictional universe. But what we can observe are Heisenberg’s general changes in behaviour, and infer from our own experience how his transition will affect his sexual options.
In early season one, Walter White is a meek, mincing, terrified shell of a man, and a bit of an enigma on Vox’s socio-sexual hierarchy. His cringe-worthy obsequiousness marks him as a Gamma, but his reasonably attractive wife (by 45-year old American woman standards, internet tough guys) suggests some beta or even lesser alpha qualities in his salad years. It seems he once had a bit of mojo, but the weight of the world has crushed him into submission. Let’s split the difference and call him a fairly typical Delta, but caught in a spiritual free-fall toward the Gamma and Omega abyss. If he hadn’t gotten into the meth game, I wager he would be divorced and/or cuckolded within a year from the outset of the series.
Heisenberg in contrast is a force of nature: Strong, domineering, selfish, and manipulative. If he turned his icy stare on female civilian targets, it would be a Tinglegeddon-triggering panty-moistener of mass destruction. If he cared half as much about getting laid as he does about cooking meth, he would be banging more and cuter girls than 95% of men with his looks, age and lifestyle. Fact.
But Heisenberg also does not fit comfortably under any label.
He is a Sigma in that he acts without regard for his standing in the social hierarchy – note the lack of ego in his use of Skylar’s affair to provoke useful sympathy, and provide cover for his own secrets. Also observe that he has no trouble keeping up the appearances of his Delta public persona. An insecure, prideful and status-conscious non-Sigma would recoil in horror at the thought of feigning Gamma-ness at a car wash checkout counter: “Have an A-1 Day!”
Heisenberg also displays some Alpha ‘Leader Of Men’ qualities as well. When Heisenberg encounters weak men, he turns them into adoring fan boys – Jesse and Gale, Gus Fring’s other meth cook. When he encounters strong and rational men, he forms profitable relationship’s based on mutual self-interest. Gus, Todd, and Saul certainly don’t view Heisenberg as their best friend/father substitute the way Jesse and Gale do, but they do see him as a strong, and intelligent force of nature. Their relationships are based on a mutual recognition of usefulness.
The only people who Heisenberg truly alienates are the few who are strong and morally driven – Mike, Hank, Marie, and perhaps now Jesse. The psychopathic Heisenberg has no trouble manipulating the emotions of the clueless. He gets along well with fellow psychopaths (Gus and Todd) as well as non-psychopaths who are rational enough to run an internal emulation of the psychopathic mind (Saul). He generally does an excellent job of manipulating non-clueless non-sociopaths.
As painful as it may be for some to admit: Heisenberg is a leader. He inspires loyalty and obedience in his lessers; functional relationships with his equals; and he routinely bends his enemies to the force of his will.
And now we come to Skylar, possibly the most hated character in the history of human storytelling. Let’s learn what we can about Walter/Heisenberg from Skylar’s behaviour in the show:
- Skylar gives Walter a half-hearted handie on his birthday; Heisenberg starts getting sex on the regular.
- Skylar stands with Heisenberg when she finds out about his side hustle. She covers for him, launders his money, and eventually turns her back on her sister and any shred of deniability she had, in order to protect Heisenberg.
- How hot is she? I think opinions could go either way. Many would call her a one. But with good makeup, light, and smiling for once in her life – I honestly think you could make a case that she’s a hard two. Jokes aside though, she’s still certainly more attractive than the typical American 45 year old woman, so I refuse to take points way from Walt because his aging wife isn’t Sophia Loren.
- Skylar becomes a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man, cheats on Heisenberg and gives her paramour all of his money.
(Side bar: I have a theory about Skylar White. I believe that Vince Gilligan envisioned her character to be the reprehensible shrike that originally earned her the title of most hated non-villain in TV history. As the series went on, some combination of pressure from AMC higher-ups and perhaps Anna Gunn herself, resulted in attempts to make Skylar unnaturally and incongruently sympathetic and ‘strong,’ with a side helping of Dalrock-certified divorce/infidelity salesmanship. Hopefully this little digression into social justice warrior mode won’t interfere too much with one of the greatest series in American television history.)
Regardless of the possibility of authorial intent divided against itself, my interpretation of Skylar’s behaviour is that she is a woman caught between the pull of a strong man, and absolutely everything else she cares about in life. Her affair was a last-ditch effort to escape Heisenberg’s orbit, but she never achieved escape velocity. This is the behaviour of a woman in the thrall of an Alpha/Sigma.
As for Heisenberg’s lack of interest in chasing fresh tail, one might ask: Is it ‘Alpha’ or ‘Beta’ to eschew fresh poon, stick with your wife and mother of your two children, in manjaw and in health, and focus on providing for their future? It is neither. Alphaness and sexual market value are about options. Heisenberg has chosen to devote his remaining time on Earth to the family he has. He has ‘oneitis’ for Skylar, the internet tough guys will say. Walter should GFTOW. Sure guys. How limited is your world view that you can’t perceive how the rules change when you’re a dying middle aged man with two kids?
Heisenberg is also a firm adherent to most of the non-polyamorous tenets of the Sixteen Commandments Of Poon:
III. You shall make your mission, not your woman, your priority
Forget all those romantic cliches of the leading man proclaiming his undying love for the woman who completes him. Despite whatever protestations to the contrary, women do not want to be “The One” or the center of a man’s existence. They in fact want to subordinate themselves to a worthy man’s life purpose, to help him achieve that purpose with their feminine support, and to follow the path he lays out. You must respect a woman’s integrity and not lie to her that she is “your everything”. She is not your everything, and if she is, she will soon not be anymore.
IV. Don’t play by her rules
If you allow a woman to make the rules she will resent you with a seething contempt even a rapist cannot inspire. The strongest woman and the most strident feminist wants to be led by, and to submit to, a more powerful man. Polarity is the core of a healthy loving relationship. She does not want the prerogative to walk all over you with her capricious demands and mercurial moods. Her emotions are a hurricane, her soul a saboteur. Think of yourself as a bulwark against her tempest. When she grasps for a pillar to steady herself against the whipping winds or yearns for an authority figure to foil her worst instincts, it is you who has to be there… strong, solid, unshakeable and immovable.
VI. Keep her guessing
True to their inscrutable natures, women ask questions they don’t really want direct answers to. Woe be the man who plays it straight — his fate is the suffering of the beta. Evade, tease, obfuscate. She thrives when she has to imagine what you’re thinking about her, and withers when she knows exactly how you feel. A woman may want financial and family security, but she does not want passion security. In the same manner, when she has displeased you, punish swiftly, but when she has done you right, reward slowly. Reward her good behavior intermittently and unpredictably and she will never tire of working hard to please you.
VIII. Say you’re sorry only when absolutely necessary
Do not say you’re sorry for every wrong thing you do. It is a posture of submission that no man should reflexively adopt, no matter how alpha he is. Apologizing increases the demand for more apologies. She will come to expect your contrition, like a cat expects its meal at a set time each day. And then your value will lower in her eyes. Instead, if you have done something wrong, you should acknowledge your guilt in a glancing way without resorting to the actual words “I’m sorry.” Pull the Bill Clinton maneuver and say “Mistakes were made” or tell her you “feel bad” about what you did. You are granted two freebie “I’m sorry”s for the life of your relationship; use them wisely.
XI. Be irrationally self-confident
No matter what your station in life, stride through the world without apology or excuse. It does not matter if objectively you are not the best man a woman can get; what matters is that you think and act like you are. Women have a dog’s instinct for uncovering weakness in men; don’t make it easy for them. Self-confidence, warranted or not, triggers submissive emotional responses in women. Irrational self-confidence will get you more pussy than rational defeatism.
XII. Maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses
In the betterment of ourselves as men we attract women into our orbit. To accomplish this gravitational pull as painlessly and efficiently as possible, you must identify your natural talents and shortcomings and parcel your efforts accordingly. If you are a gifted jokester, don’t waste time and energy trying to raise your status in philosophical debate. If you write well but dance poorly, don’t kill yourself trying to expand your manly influence on the dancefloor. Your goal should be to attract women effortlessly, so play to your strengths no matter what they are; there is a groupie for every male endeavor. Except World of Warcraft.
XIII. Err on the side of too much boldness, rather than too little
Touching a woman inappropriately on the first date will get you further with her than not touching her at all. Don’t let a woman’s faux indignation at your boldness sway you; they secretly love it when a man aggressively pursues what he wants and makes his sexual intentions known. You don’t have to be an asshole, but if you have no choice, being an inconsiderate asshole beats being a polite beta, every time.
XV. Maintain your state control
You are an oak tree. You will not be manipulated by crying, yelling, lying, head games, sexual withdrawal, jealousy ploys, pity plays, shit tests, hot/cold/hot/cold, disappearing acts, or guilt trips. She will rain and thunder all around you and you will shelter her until her storm passes. She will not drag you into her chaos or uproot you. When you have mastery over yourself, you will have mastery over her.
Bottom line, Walter White is a complex and brilliantly conceived character. He is a psychopath in the most extreme sense of the word and he has been placed in a very unique set of circumstances. It is impossible to simply say, ‘He is a Gamma’ or ‘He is an Alpha’ and call it a day. Whatever labels we affix to Walter and Heisenberg, his transition from the former to the latter resulted in a huge increase in social dominance, power, and sexual options.
Heisenberg also has clear values (mastery of cooking quality product, providing for his family) and he is 100% devoted to them, to the complete expense of outside perceptions of him, and the effects on those around him. He believes in himself and his abilities. That’s the definition of good inner game.
So my conclusion, patient reader, is that Christian McQueen is correct when he describes Walter’s transformation in his Return of Kings post Breaking Beta:
“As Walt transforms into a man who does what he wants, when he wants, we start to see his confidence grow, his physical stature changes and his outlook on life change. Here is a man who may be dead in a few months, due to the cancer, who decides to really LIVE. No longer will he be beaten down by societies demands of XYZ.”
And Krauser is incorrect (also, clearly a bit emotional) when he describes him as a Gamma in Walter White Is Not An Alpha Male:
“The manosphere has rapidly degenerated into a gaggle of fools gossiping like women about things they don’t understand. It’s lost. Dead. I shall bury myself in a cave until the apes have overrun us and civilisation reboots. Until then, I wish to knock this Breaking Bad rubbish on the head. Yes, it’s a great show. So great in fact that the writers really get the socio-sexual hierarchy and Walter White is as pure a gamma as ever puffed himself up on false pretentions.
In five seasons Walter has sex with one used up old troll who treats him like shit until she becomes scared of him and then she merely exercises thinly-veiled contempt. And she cheats on him with an uber-chode. Look at her. A mingerSo no, Walter White is not an alpha male. The only way you could possibly think he is alpha is if you misunderstand the whole point of the socio-sexual hierarchy. I’m not trying to diss him on morality here. Sure he’s a reprehensible character but that’s neither here nor there. He has none of the alpha outcomes.
I pity new manosphere guys who are being fed such tosh.”
(Must be that time of the month.)
I’m sure others will weigh in soon enough on the pressing question of Walter White’s alpha street cred. Comments are open on this post.
Now head out this weekend gentlemen, and – because you’re young, single, and hopefully cancer-free – chase some fresh tail with reckless abandon. Don’t stress over any single one of them. Don’t over-invest. Don’t get married to a stone-faced harpy whose XXY chromosome abnormality will spit out a shuffling, palsied, genetic dead end. And for God’s sake, don’t try to kill any kids with poisoned cigarettes.
But while you’re doing all of that, raise a glass to Walter White – twisted, diseased, evil, unlucky, psychopathic freak of a man, and Alpha Male.