Breaking Bad: Season 5
Aired: September 22, 2013
Writer: Peter Gould
Director: Peter Gould
– Walter White
With only one week left until this incredible run that Breaking Bad has been on is officially over, I think it’s time to ask the tough question: What outcome are we rooting for here?
Creator Vince Gilligan has often talked about his original pitch for the show, which involved turning Mr. Chips into Scarface. He accomplished that goal the moment Walt blew up Gus Fringe and took over control of his meth empire. Then, like Scarface, all that was left was the fall, which we got in “Ozymandias.”
And now we have a sad, broke, lonely Walter White with nothing much left to live for. He uses Ed the disappearer to avoid prosecution, but to what end? He isn’t behind bars, but Walt is in a cell of his own making, trapped in a remote cabin in the woods with only Ed for company. To pass the time, he can either watch one of his two copies of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium or he can read newspaper clippings to keep up on the fallout from his crimes. He’s reduced to offering Ed $10,000 just to stay a couple of more hours while he gets his chemo treatment in order to have some contact with the outside world.
Walt wants it all to mean something. He wants to feel like all of his criminal activities mattered because, most importantly, he wants to feel like his life mattered. He’s a dying man with a lot of pride concerned primarily about what his legacy will be.
One of the indignities he suffers when he decides to leave his cabin and reenter the world is having his one legitimate contribution to society stripped away. Gray Matter Technologies, the company Walt founded with his old friend Elliott, is now in damage control, desperately trying to distance itself from Walter White’s criminal activities. So on television, Elliott and Gretchen claim that Walt’s only contribution to the company was the name. In the history books, Walt will get no credit for the theories he says were the basis of the billion dollar, Nobel Prize nominated company. His one meaningful contribution to society – outside of his two children, of course – is completely taken away.
Seeing Elliott and Gretchen again reminds us that when Walt was first diagnosed with cancer, they offered to pay for his medical bills. But a combination of pride and spite kept him from taking their money. This was, however, just the first of many outs Walt was offered along the way. He’s continued to crawl further and further down the rabbit hole – becoming someone that Flynn no longer recognizes or has any compassion for – in order to create a legacy. Walt refused to walk away when his medical bills were paid off. He refused to take the buyout on the methylamine (citing Gray Matter net worth, and the $5,000 buyout he took from that company, as his main reason). It wasn’t until Skyler put him face to face with a storage shed full of money and asked him how much would ever be enough that he finally stopped cooking.
He could never just walk away. Walt’s Achilles’ heel is his pride and his need for all of this to matter. He was given another out at the start of this episode. Saul Goodman shows up at Ed’s vacuum shop and tells Walt that he should turn himself in to save his family from being persecuted while the government searches for him. Saul says that if Walt turns himself in and gives up the barrel of money, it will save Skyler and Flynn from any further pain. But Walt can’t take that offer. He’s still not ready to quit.
It isn’t until he desperately tries to send $100,000 – a small fraction of his once-sizable fortune – in a box of Ensure to Flynn’s friend, only to have Flynn scold him and plead with Walt to just die already, that he finally gives up. But instead of turning himself in – which he briefly considers – seeing the Gray Matter segment on television convinces him to head back to Albuquerque for one last showdown. Considering all of the many chances the show has given Walt to just walk away, I can’t imagine the final showdown ends in anything but death for him.
So again, I’m left wondering what a happy or satisfying outcome would be here. Maybe he guns down Uncle Jack’s crew and saves his remaining barrels of money, but even if he finds a way to get that cash to Flynn and Holly, it won’t undo the damage he’s done to them and their mom. It won’t bring back Hank. It won’t repair his forever broken family. And even if he manages to avoid being arrested or catching a bullet from Uncle Jack’s crew, the cops or Jesse Pinkman, he’s still dying of cancer.
Maybe he saves Jesse when he storms Jack’s compound, which would be a small bit of redemption, but Jesse’s chance at a happy ending went out the window when Todd killed Andrea. (Maybe Jesse somehow gets away and raises Brock, which would be nice, but is far from a storybook ending.) Besides, Walt is still the one who got him put there in the first place. In fact, if Walt had his way, Jesse would already be dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesse is the one to put a bullet in Walt and end things once and for all.
Walt has spent five seasons trying to create a meaningful legacy for himself. All he has brought is suffering and death to those around him. I’m not sure one final episode is enough to atone for all of those sins. There’s nothing he could do to ever make everything right again. So what does Vince Gilligan do to end this show on a satisfying note? What is it that he’s ultimately trying to say with this show? Obviously, the last two weeks have been about opening our eyes to what a bastard Walt can be and what devastation he has brought to those around him. Our eyes are open, so now what?
Vince Gilligan and Company love to write themselves into a corner, then come up with some brilliant way out of it. Finding a satisfying ending to this series after the last two weeks of heartache would be their greatest feat yet. And if anyone can do it, they can.
And another thing …
- It looks like we got our explanation for why Better Call Saul will be a prequel … Saul Goodman is no more. (Although, obviously he still could show up somehow next week if he isn’t off managing that Cinnabun in Omaha.)
- Folks on YouTube had a lot of fun using Hank and Marie’s reactions to Walt’s fake “confession” in mashups with over videos. I’m excited to see what people end up doing with the footage of Uncle Jack and his crew mocking Jesse’s confession.
- Todd may be a stone cold killer, but unlike Mike, he doesn’t have the swagger to convince Lydia to sit at the same table with him at a coffee shop.
- And speaking of those two, Todd’s respect for Mr. White seems to outweigh his crush on Lydia. He’s willing to go scare Skyler to keep her inline, but he won’t kill her.
- Poor Andrea. Poor Brock. And poor Jesse Pinkman.
- The Emmys have been dead to me ever since they shut out The Wire five years in a row, but I am glad to see Anna Gunn won this year. She deserves it for all of the shit she has to put up with for playing Skyler.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.