‘Breaking Bad’ reveals the sad joke of ‘victimless crimes’

Jesse plays peekaboo with the little boy while waiting for the boy's addict parents to return in a scene from Breaking Bad.

Jesse plays “peekaboo” with the little boy in a scene from “Breaking Bad.”

As “Breaking Bad” winds down its fifth and final season, one of the most heartbreaking episodes (and that’s saying something) from the highly acclaimed AMC series comes in the middle of the second season. Episode 6, “Peekaboo,” finds Jesse (Aaron Paul) trying to recover drugs stolen from one of his dealers.

[Here’s a quick recap for anyone who hasn’t followed the show, which is very violent, gruesome and dark but is also a superbly written, acted and shot essay on morality, choices, pride, deceit, family and vice. Jesse is a drug-using high school dropout who cooks and sells methamphetamine. He is joined by his former high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Walter is looking for a way to secure his family’s financial future before he dies, and his chemistry wizardry produces a “better” meth product, which Walt and Jesse manufacture and sell—with far-reaching, horrific consequences.]

The junky mom calls to her little boy as Jesse demands they return his drugs and money in a scene from Breaking Bad.

The junkie mom calls to her little boy as Jesse demands they return his drugs and money in a scene from “Breaking Bad.”

Back to the episode at hand: Jesse finds the thieving junkies’ house and breaks in only to discover no one is home—or so he thinks. He has just settled down to wait when a 7-year-old boy (Dylan and Brandon Carr) emerges from a bedroom. When the boy announces he’s hungry, Jesse helps get him some food and plays “peekaboo” while they wait for his mom and dad to arrive.

The boy’s parents finally return home and are accosted by Jesse, who demands his missing drugs and money for the drugs the drug-addled duo have already used. The dad, Spooge (David Ury), tells Jesse they have his money in the backyard in an ATM they stole.

“FIDC [sic] insured, yo! It’s a victimless crime!” crows Spooge as viewers see the ATM heist that includes a murdered cashier. “I’m tellin’ you—victimless crime.”

With the ATM now inside the house, Spooge tries to smash it open with a sledgehammer while “Spooge’s woman” (Dale Dickey) pleads with Jesse for more drugs after he berates her about being a terrible mother.

“Give me one hit and I’ll be any kind of mother that you want,” she begs.

Jesse and Spooge continue to try to break into the ATM for several hours to no avail. The two junkies appear to be asleep later that night when the young boy comes back out to play “peekaboo” again with Jesse. “Spooge’s woman” takes advantage of a distracted Jesse and knocks him out with a liquor bottle, stunning the little boy.

After taking Jesse’s gun, money and drugs, the two addicts continue to try to open the ATM. Spooge tries to break in through the bottom by tilting the ATM against a chair and then laying on the floor and drilling in from underneath. “His woman” kills Spooge with the ATM after he repeatedly insults her. Victimless indeed.

Right before Spooge is killed, Jesse comes to, sees Spooge’s demise, and then grabs the ATM money as “Spooge’s woman” takes another hit of meth and is left completely wasted on the couch. After cleaning off his fingerprints from around the house, Jesse calls 911 and brings the little boy out to the front porch to wait for the police, pleading with the boy not to go back inside.

“You have a good rest of your life, kid,” a tearful Jesse tells the boy before running into the dark night.

Though a dramatization, this episode and the entire “Breaking Bad” series laughs at the idea of “victimless crimes” often promoted by advocates of public policy ranging from legalizing drugs to no-fault divorce. Prudent public policy maximizes individual liberty while recognizing the challenges of trying to live harmoniously in civil society.

The reality of this drama rings true because we are social creatures—none of us is an island. Our action, or inaction, ripples through society for better or ill. From the junkie mom, begging for just one more hit and then she’ll be the best mother you’ve ever seen, to the innocent little boy, whose upbringing will shape him for the rest of his life.

Let’s stop pretending we can isolate our choices and their inevitable consequences from vibrating through the broader fabric of our families, neighborhoods, cities, states, nations and world.

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  • lehiboy

    You realize that the actions of Jesse, et al, are becasue drugs ARE illegal, don’t you? You don’t see many murders over beer, cigarettes, etc., because they are widely available, tightly regulated, and thus have no illicit markets. Victims are created by the illegality of State prohibitions.

    • Dave_Buer

      Yes, I understand the libertarian argument that if you legalize vice, crime would disappear. It’s hard to even type that without laughing.

      • Guest

        What is harder to consider without laughing is your idea that government can eliminate vice and alter human nature. That you could assert that after millenia of evidence showing otherwise is the height of absurdity.

        • Dave_Buer

          Jeremy, hopefully you don’t really believe that conservatism proposes “that government can eliminate vice and alter human nature.” That would be absurd.

    • http://www.jchblog.com/ Jordan

      Well said @lehiboy:disqus, though ‘tightly regulated’ (depending on just how ‘tight’) may create some illicit markets.

    • lehiboyisafool

      So…what would happen if somebody addicted suddenly got broke and he couldn’t pay for drugs anymore. He would kill people and steal their drugs. No matter what we do, there are still idiots who will do drugs and kill people.

    • Michael Gordon

      “You don’t see many murders over beer, cigarettes, etc.”

      Actually, I do. Visit the “Thug Report” for a daily list of people murdered for these very things.

      “Youth murdered in tussle over beer, killer on the run”


      But yes, I agree with this FACET of your argument, but not the implications. Making mind-altering drugs freely available would be a social disaster even though I suppose it would reduce gang warfare over those same drugs.

  • Brian Greene

    Every “bad act” you described in your attempt to discredit the “victimless-crime” argument is a direct consequence of the “crime-culture” produced by the illegality of drugs. Ironically, although I’m sure quite unintentionally, your article makes a stronger case for de-criminalizing drugs than for the assertion that drugs are not a victimless crime.

    • Dave_Buer

      Brian, let’s just play this through a little bit. Drugs are decriminalized, regulations put in place. Inevitable economics: drug use increases. The number of addicts increases. Individual liberty decreases because of addiction. The number of broken homes increases. The number of families and individuals depending on government help to cope with the broken home situation increases. The inability of addicts to participate as productive members of society increases. Individual liberty decreases as more money is taken from taxpayers to pay for the increased use of government services from broken individuals and families. Addicts’ income doesn’t cover their now-legal drug habit, so the number of crimes committed to secure that money increases. Individual liberty decreases as neighborhoods become more unsafe.

      In reality, there’s lots of space to deal with criminal justice reforms that deal with improving how we handle low-level offenders. Sutherland is involved in those discussions, which are important and we expect to find a lot of common ground there.

      • Brian Greene

        Dave, I wasn’t advocating for legalization of drugs, and I don’t believe that drug use is a victimless crime. I was simply pointing out the fallacy of your original argument. If you want to argue that drug use is not a victimless crime, you can’t point to activities that occur only because drugs are illegal, because those activities cease when the legal prohibition is removed.

        You make a much better argument in your response to me by focusing on the impacts of drug use that would still exist even if drugs were legal. In addition to those you have identified, impaired drug users present a higher risk to public safety, addicts resort to theft from family and friends to sustain their habit, users become volatile when they need their next fix and can become abuse toward their souse and children . . . The list goes on and on.

        However, the war on drugs has been a complete failure and we must find a better way to deal with this social problem. I applaud your support for criminal justice reforms and would love to discuss that issue further with you.

        • Michael Gordon

          “However, the war on drugs has been a complete failure”

          Why is it that advocates of drug use are the ones, perhaps the only ones, to declare this war a failure? Since history can follow only one path, it is impossible to say with certainty what this nation would be like if everyone ignored dangerous, mind altering drug usage. I feel that the “war” has neither been won nor lost, neither will it EVER be won or lost, until human beings cease being human beings and become something more enlightened. Not in my lifetime for sure!

  • Michael Gordon

    An exceptionally well written essay. It gives me much to think about.

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