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Breaking Bad (Heisenberg vs Crazy 8)

In an attempt to lure back a majority of its fan base back to its network, amc has been showing re-runs of one of the most popular TV shows of all time: Breaking Bad, in what they have branded as the “Breaking Bad Binge.” The show itself is filled with sub-plots that bring to light the techniques we use in making decisions. The lead character, Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston is thrown into the deep end in a game theory point of view as soon as he decides to break bad and become a drug dealer. No sooner does he attempt to undertake his first drug deal than he is put on the spot when he encounters one of Jesse Pinkman’s associates who goes by the alias Crazy 8. When Heisenberg (Walter White’s alias) realizes he is about to loose both his product and his life, he attempts to poison Crazy 8. His attempt was only good enough to daze him which leads up to his first encounter with the prisoner’s dilemma.

With Crazy 8 locked up in Jesse’s basement, Heisenberg writes down a list that demonstrates the choices available to him.

List of dilemma facing Heisenberg

List of dilemma facing Heisenberg


Payoffs of Crazy 8 and Heisenberg

Payoffs of Crazy 8 and Heisenberg


It is definite that the prisoner’s dilemma is in play as clarified in the model below. It is a case of kill or be killed where either has +1 as their payoff if they live and -1 as a payoff if they are killed. As demonstrated by my model, it is quite obvious that both have a better payoff if they kill the nemesis rather than calling a truce as they are not sure what strategies their counter-parts if ever they were to call a truce. This is demonstrated by the table that Heisenberg draws up while in the restroom of Jesse’s house. In this situation, Heisenberg chooses to kill Crazy 8 because his payoff is at its best if he kills Crazy  8.  As expected he finally throws all thoughts of releasing crazy 8 out of the window and goes ahead to kill him.

This is a pretty neat illustration of the prisoner’s dilemma in which Heisenberg was for the first time in his new business caught up in a situation that implied the use of game theory. This ends up not only to benefit him in this situation where he got rid of a business partner he could not trust, but also helps him deal with other business partners like Tuco, his second partner and with Gustavo as well.

In the end, the rules of Game Theory hold as Heisenberg always emerges as the winner as he is always the man with a better pay-off from his superior decision making.



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