Breaking Bad – Meditations for the Final Season

Aside from the opening scene of Breaking Bad‘s season 5 premiere, the series has felt more like it is getting back to business as usual than preparing for a definitive ending. The only clue we have is Walter’s purchase of a really big gun and a lot of bullets. Is he going to storm a jail and break Jessie out? Is he going to bust through the front door of Madrigal’s US headquarters and exact revenge for some as-yet uncommitted act of vengeance for his killing of Gus Fring? Will Mike have wrested the business away from Walt by this point, sparing his life at the behest of Jessie and forcing Walt underground; only to have Walt’s inner-Heisenberg emerge to teach them all a lesson? Was it resignation, desperation, or simple despondency we saw in Mr. White’s eyes when he evaluated himself in that Denny’s bathroom mirror? We’re going to have to wait until 2013 to know for sure, but so far Breaking Bad has laid out a few key potential clues to where things might be going.

1. It Smells Like Band-Aids

I was surprised in discussing the opening scene of “Live Free or Die” how many people missed the call out to the pilot episode that started it all. In the pilot Skylar arranges Walt’s ‘veggie bacon’ in the number 50, in “Live Free or Die” Walt repeats this custom for himself. How important this wormhole to simpler times really is remains to be seen, but it does raise some questions about Walt’s state of mind as he returns from his exile, machine gun in hand. Is he pondering the loss of Skylar? Or simply revisiting the pivotal moment in his life when everything went wrong? Perhaps one clue was the appearance of Scarface. When fiction appears within fiction, it is usually for a purpose and when Tony Montana appears with his ‘little friend’ it is definitely a reminder that Tony, and his fictional archetype, are a sort of cartoon character. While the scene served to illustrate Skylar’s fear of what Walter had become, it also�possibly�showed us what Walt will never be. Walter’s reasons have always been divided between the hatch-ling of his inner bad guy, and his devotion to family.

2. Mid-Life Crazies

Looking back reveals something else we should keep in mind. What was it that initially motivated Walter to get into the drug trade? Over the years many of us have mistakenly attributed Walt’s break bad to his cancer diagnosis, but Heisenberg was really born from the awakening urges of a mid-life crisis. The pilot was thick with symbols of change and reflection: Morning, the start of a new day; birthdays, reflecting not only repetition but beginnings. Those symbols were initially reflected in Walter’s assessment of his life, and his blindly groping for change.

More than anything, the pilot established how dissatisfied Walter was with his life. When he first sees wads of cash on a news report, we can see the first spark in his eyes. Before Walter collapses at the car wash, he is gazing longingly at a leggy brunette with an equally hot sports car. Before Walter ever decides to pursue this impulse for the good of his family, he is already considering pursuing it as a means of escape from his existence. It’s a reason that never really left him through his journey, in fact at this point it seems to have taken over, but by my estimation it isn’t what drove him to buy that gun.

3. The Long Road Home

To end Breaking Bad with Walter acting solely from the Heisenberg half of his personality would be tragic. Creating a mesh of moral ponderances and criminal excess has been the trademark of Breaking Bad. The patented trademark. Trying to separate those two skeins of fabric in your skull computer is what makes Breaking Bad such a stimulating show to watch, and the bits of nuance that make the separation even possible are what make it the best written show on television. Up to that moment where Walter decides to leave his secret identity and life in New Hampshire behind to take up arms in New Mexico, we have to assume Vince Gilligan’s masterful story-logic will remain intact, but Walter White’s duality will not. The truth is neither Walter White nor Heisenberg would buy a machine gun and charge in bullets flying. Both personas must be broken. It is easy to see where Heisenberg might be exorcised, since this is an alter ego that has only recently become flesh.

Walt has been seduced by the dark side, but he is also not a career criminal with a career criminals ego-armor. No matter how serious things have become, he is playing an adult version of Cops and Robbers, and there are any number of scenarios�we’ve already seen a few of the best ones on Breaking Bad�where that ego could be shattered. The question is, what could push Walter White, after Heisenberg has suffered full on ego-death, to strap that machine gun across his shoulder and march in to whatever destiny.

4. The Ultimate Break Bad

The requirement of the new identity and the exile to New Hampshire are likely a part of the Heisenberg end game. As for what would draw him out one last time, there are two possibilities that draw on a recurring theme of Breaking Bad: family. Despite AMC’s very compelling marketing, you will never convince me that Walter White can be eclipsed by Heisenberg. There is always a part of him that will act unquestionably to protect his family, regardless of the amount of danger he must put himself or others in. So the first most obvious possibility for what Walt is up to with that gun would be acting to protect his family, but I fear that would be a little too simple. Considering the possibility that Walt may have created his own exile, finally contacting Saul’s mystery man with the ability to create new identities from stacks of cash, there is the disturbing possibility that Walt’s plan did not go as planned. That he was found, or more appropriately that his family was found, and that somehow they paid the ultimate price for what began as a glimmer of a mid-life crisis. Failing to protect his family is the only catalyst I can think of that would fuel Walter White, sans his inner-Heisenberg, to take up arms with murderous intent. Then again, and hopefully, it’s something entirely unexpected.

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