"Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."
In Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and his brothers have a run in with the Cowboys, an organized pack of gangsters who end up killing one of Wyatt's brothers. In the aftermath, Wyatt goes on a rampage, hunting down every Cowboy and killing him.
In one scene, he seems to overcome all possible odds through sheer will, walking into the open to shoot and kill the Cowboys who shoot at him from the safety of cover. One of Wyatt's cohorts can't believe what he's just seen. To make sense of it — to make sense of such an extreme display of will, to explain what looks like madness — this cohort says, "Well, if they were my brothers, I'd want revenge, too."
To which Doc Holliday, a man beyond good and evil, replies: "Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."
A reckoning can seem like revenge in that it can be read as the settling of a debt — and, as Nietzsche taught, debt is guilt and guilt is revenge. But I think there is a more interesting way to make sense of a reckoning, the way I think Holliday means it in this instance. A reckoning is a calculating of one's position within a situation and taking the necessary steps, doing what needs to be done, not just coming to terms but settling that which needs settling.
If revenge is a confrontation with another, reckoning is a confrontation with life itself and one's place in it. Acting out of revenge exhausts one's energy — after all, he who seeks revenge spends all his energy thinking about and going after someone else. What a waste. A reckoning, however, is a revitalization of one's energy, a shifting of alignment into a place of great fecundity, of great power.
Look at Wyatt Earp in Tombstone. He's married to a junky he doesn't love. He tries to be a good man, a proper man, earning money for his wife and family. But after his brother is killed by the Cowboys, it's as if he wakes up. He sheds his wife and bourgeois propriety and enters the wild — the wilds of killing, the wilds of uncertainty, the wilds of potential poverty, the wilds of love. Where he was once not just introverted but involuted, closed in on himself, he is now extroverted, exuding vitality.
A reckoning is an inflection point, a juncture, a turning, a transformative moment that redirects one's flow of energy. A reckoning shifts the very terms of the apparatus: it is a metabolic realignment.
The brilliant Breaking Bad is the portrait of a reckoning. When Walter White is given his diagnosis of cancer, he realizes that the very manner in which he lives is literally killing him. He is a weak man. Nice, maybe, but he does little that fuels his health. His teaching is his only thread to life, giving him a flow to his passion, chemistry. Otherwise, every tic, every decision, every move he makes siphons his vitality.
He presumably begins to cook meth because he wants to leave money for his family after he's dead. But that turns out just to be a spark that ignites his reckoning, his coming into his power: the show tracks his metabolic transformation, the realigning of his energy distributions.
A reckoning is messy as it disrupts flows long established. Reckoning is painful and loud (even if silent) and sends ripples through the network as this node affects others — Wyatt's wife, Walt's family.
And it can look like revenge. But just as Wyatt does not kill the Cowboys out of revenge, Walt does not beats this asshole kid in the store out of revenge. He's not exhausting his energy: he's igniting it. Revenge is ugly, always. Reckoning, on the other hand, even though violent and even grotesque, is beautiful.