We call them W. W. Moments.
Ian and I use this phrase to describe moments when truth emerges quite suddenly, often in unexpected and unavoidable ways. It’s a reference to a particular scene in the series Breaking Bad.
What follows is a major spoiler, so if you haven’t seen that series and you expect to do so, read no further.
Throughout the series, Walter White is cooking high-grade methamphetamine and making an absolute fortune. This started out as an attempt to supplement his income as a high school chemistry teacher and pay for his cancer treatments. But it doesn’t take long for it to spiral into a life of crime, violence, and grand secrets. All of this, of course, is kept from his family. And that is especially important because Hank, his brother in law, is a DEA agent.
Throughout the series, Hank seeks answers obsessively. He wants to capture an individual known on the streets as Heisenberg, an elusive, prolific meth cook who has crafted a blue form of the drug, the purest he has ever seen. Hank goes to great lengths to investigate and capture Heisenberg, including getting severely injured. He’s taken off the case, but he just can’t let it go… Little does he know that Heisenberg is his own brother in law.
Breaking Bad has five seasons. Well through the final season, Hank has been continuously on the trail but unable to figure it out.
Until one particular moment. The W.W. moment.
Skyler, Walter’s wife, has recently figured it out herself. She has become complicit, laundering the drug money through the recent purchase of a car wash business. That night, Skyler and Walter decide to share a narrative to help all of this make sense. Walter has a gambling problem. . . but he’s really good at it. He won a lot of money, and they have invested it in the purchase of this new business.
This is the lie they decide to tell Hank and Skyler sister, Maria, over dinner.
And at first, it works. At first.
Then Hank goes to the bathroom, where the weight of the full truth emerges unexpectedly and unavoidably. In a mundane moment of calm, Hank reaches behind him to find some bathroom reading material. He finds a book of poetry by Walt Whitman, and inside the the cover, is a written dedication by Gale Boetticher, an individual that Hank has already encountered in his investigation: “To my other favorite W.W. It’s an honour working with you. Fondly, G.B.”
Memories from the investigation suddenly come rushing back, and in a moment of absolute horror, Hank realizes the unexpected but unavoidable truth: Walter White, his own brother in law, is Heisenberg.
W.W. Moments. . . Despite the great amount of wrongdoing and secrecy that happens in this world, I think that truth often takes on a life of its own. It refuses to stay silent.
If you’ve ever discovered a W.W. Moment, you know that it can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. It can serve as the ticket to long awaited accountability, but the knowledge carrier is also put at risk just for knowing the truth. Above all, it is disorienting. Truth is not necessarily what we thought it was.
Yet truth does emerge, and this is a good thing. Even a holy thing.
W.W. Moments are truth’s revolt, pathways of revelation that cannot be controlled – not by an alliance, an authoritarian, or an autocrat. Not by a family, a business, a conartist, a religious institution, a university administration, a crime ring, or even the highest office of the land.
Truth revolts and reveals.