How Motivation Changes the Meaning of a Story

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Rick and Morty finally released the season finale and perhaps, the narrative conclusion to its biggest narrative set up, the ending to which gets you to put that character or even the whole show into a perspective you might have previously had, but have detached to the story that was being followed. As such, I want to discuss the best examples of events that completely change the meaning of a story.


Breaking Bad





With a teacher’s salary, the huge expenditure in treatment, an out-of-job wife, a son with a challenging disability and a daughter about to be born, the financial future of Walter White’s family didn’t present itself to be too bright. We know that Walt is not just a really good chemist, he is THE chemist, a major underachiever in the field, with a class of spoiled kids who did not volunteer to learn from him.


By the time he requests Hank for a ride-along, you cannot find yourself identifying the despicable Heisenberg that shoots before thinking and plans elaborate lies to manipulate people. Right now, you see a man desperate to give them a future, ANY future that he can besides crippling debt. He even refuses to take treatment for his painful condition, and hopes to wind up his financial matters within the next few weeks of his life.


As Walt is pushed deeper into this world, we are consistently left to remember that he had less than $7,000 as his whole life’s savings, most of which Jesse spent at a strip club. The first step towards building the best narrative arc on television was to create the underdog, the man without opportunities fighting with what little he has. Then came episode 5, Gray Matter.





Here, we learn that, at least to some degree, Walt’s financial constraints are self-inflicted. He refuses to take “charity” from the two elites that took his project, kicked him out and made so much money, they don’t even think twice before paying his hundreds of thousands in medical bills. Now, Walt’s entire journey falls under this new perspective.


There are two important points I need to address first. The financial future of his family was not entirely dependent on his medical bills, and even their dismissal will lead them down to unprecedented bills, health insurance and educational expenditure. Secondly, Walt isn’t entirely unreasonable to dislike the people who are successful because of the foundation he laid for them.


With that out of the way, we jump to the last episode, an episode about blood, meth and tears. FeLiNa. As Walt brings closure to Skyler, he makes his confession. Everything that he did, he did it for himself. Not the family. Not the children. Not Skyler. Him. At the end of the first episode of the show, Walt’s adrenaline rush is what allows him to finally perform sexually. Buying and installing a top-of-the-line water heater, a request by his son in the pilot, more than anyone, provided a comforting sense of accomplishment to him.





Cooking meth was the only time the world appreciated his intellect. Heisenberg, the best meth cook in America, the guy who brings 99% purity, where the next best can only reach about 96. If his emasculation was a result of many factors beyond his control, the whole ordeal of Breaking Bad was about taking it all back.


In the end, he did reconcile things with Elliot and Gretchen the way it deserved to end. After the biggest destabilization in television history known simply as Ozymandius, the king of kings Walter White set out to claim everything he could. With his two former friends, he used their position as the sweet, innocent faces of the charitable corporation to take credit for his life’s work once again, ensuring them that this time, it is he who holds the power, the soon-to-be-dead man with no home, no place in the world and no respect.


Moving even further into Felina, he murders each and every one of his accomplices towards his success, who refused to back down as he did from that life, which was, ironically enough, a mourning retribution for his greatest adversary, ASAC Shcrader. Walter White is not a consistent man, and as he strolled around a meth lab in his final seconds, he had, in the last few hours, left a legacy stronger than Walter White, the good-hearted samaritan or Heisenberg, the stone-cold drug lord ever could, defying the idea that there was ever a boundary between the two.


Malcolm in the Middle







If this show failed to show up on your radar when it was airing, you missed a unique and one of the most creative sitcoms of the early 2000s. Malcolm in the Middle follows a child with unfathomable intelligence, photographic memory and most other traits you associate with intelligence, living in a lower-middle class family, where he has to face the pressures of a family shoving him to maximise his capacity along with a societal trap that won’t actually let him be successful.


With such a depressing plot summary, how can one call this a sitcom? The answer is simply its raw creativity. The show isn’t just telling you 151 times that life is unfair, it puts it on this family to problem-solve their way out. The family, however, is not particularly reasonable, rational or understanding. Each one, by the end, faces an issue less derived from their poverty and more from their own convoluted schemes to quick-fix the situation.


At the very end of the show, Harvard refuses to grant Malcolm sufficient scholarships and is thus forced to consider other options for his future. He is offered a lucrative job for his talents, his hard work throughout these seven years, a payoff for all the struggles we have seen him go through.


Lois, however, refuses on his behalf. She deprives us of what we thought would be the climactic recompensation for his growth and development, a chance for his abilities to lift the family out of poverty. Crawling around in garbage, roadkills and sewage, Lois lets us know the path Malcolm HAS to choose, where for better or for worse, she is stripping away his autonomy.





Malcolm has to be the president of the country. He may not have any strong opinions on politics nor any deeply held beliefs, but there is no one in the world more perfect for that. The Wilkerson family, cleaning off the fragrance of porta-potty residue and dead skunks caused by Reese’s desperation to keep his job, knows that he is the only one smart enough to run the country and knows what the bottom of the barrel is like.


Malcolm’s intelligence always had us associating him with a scientific-oriented career, but after Lois’s outburst, it was clear that this is what he was built-up to do. It is not just intelligence that defines him, he weathered hand-me-downs, sharing his bed with his brothers, no allowances, saving up at a minimum-wage and physically demanding job, giving that money up to help pay the mortgage off, losing vacations, and learning about his mother’s pregnancy and a first instinct to be a financial meltdown alongside his parents....


Lois needed, no, she wanted the one in the white house to know what this is all like, to look after them and those who go through the same things. With this complete subversion of “be who you want to be”, Malcolm is pushed into accepting the need the world, his brothers, his parents have for him as the leader of the free world and accepts his fate as a janitor paying-off his tuition fees at Harvard.





Rick and Morty





Despite the shaky season 5, you have to admit, the finale, or more specifically, the Citadel arc was handled in a perfectly Harmon-esque method. If you are anything like me, you have followed the theories revolving around the man referred to as “Evil Morty”. Ever since his first appearance, the idea of revenge on Rick was thrown around in the fandom, that this is our Rick’s former partner exacting vengeance for any reason.


With the release of the monumental episode The Ricklantis Mixup, the show pushed the questions around his agenda even further, one of the more interesting being that he wished for Rick’s own Morty to kill him. With his flag reigning over a completely different Citadel, the audiences were left hanging for four more years to learn about the true origin.



In the finale of season 5, “Evil” Morty’s plans are revealed to be on a much, much bigger scale than previously imagined. Ricks have interlocked their interdimensional systems to revolve only around the universes where Rick exists, and he is the smartest man in the universe, and this Morty’s aspiration is simply to be free of Rick.


C-137 is simply the key to escape any and all Ricks. There is no single Rick he can kill that could get him out of the universes that they have trapped him in. For those who waited these four years for him, it was a heart-breakingly simple motivation, one that you cannot refute.


Before leaving, he addresses us as the audience, “If you have ever been sick of [Rick], you have been evil too.” The idolisation of Rick that some fans have had may have gotten them to skip over the thought, “Shouldn’t there also be infinite universes where he ISN’T the smartest man?”



With perhaps one final, orchestral performance of For the Damaged Coda, the once “evil” Morty leaves behind this cluster revolving around an infinite baby who wants what he wants when he wants, and forced an even greater system of dimensions into living with an infinite amount of the same man to travel through their worlds, destroy their lives and leave. With the Citadel finally ending, thousands of Ricks and Mortys murdered, we are once again pushed back into that narrative that Rick is the good guy with a spaceship full of survivors fighting the villain who destroyed everything for his selfish reasons.


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