Bloggers are abuzz with predictions for the finale of Breaking Bad, with posts ranging anywhere from theories based on the color schemes of each character’s attire to Walt’s pattern of adopting the mannerisms of his victims to the idea that Jesse is fulfilling the Hamlet story arc. (I much prefer the claim that Badger and Skinny Pete are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.) The theories are wildly outrageous and fun to speculate over. Not since Lost has a show encouraged the audience to ask, “What else is going on?”
Creator Vince Gilligan has filled the show with foreshadowing and allusions, but I can’t help but think that he’s recently thrown a school of red herrings our way in order to feed the fanaticism. If there are allusions to the show’s ending, I’d bet that they only exist in order to subvert them. (For example, the flash forward shows Walt wearing a jacket like Jesse’s and using Skylar’s maiden name, which I think is Gilligan’s attempt to fuel the theory that Walt takes on traits of the people he kills, when my gut tells me that he’s going to avenge one or both of them.) I don’t believe Gilligan has tipped any part of his hand for the finale and is instead saving the most shocking moments for last.
But to get in on the fun, this is my attempt at filling in the chasm between the firefight in the desert at the end of last week’s episode, “To’hajiilee,” and Walt’s unceremonious return to Albuquerque.
To start, the facts. There are only three episodes left in the series: “Ozymandias,” “Granite State,” and “Felina”. If you recall from the wonderful teaser for this season, “Ozymandias” is about the inevitability of the toppling of kings. This, I think, is going to be the action climax of these last few episodes. I’ll go into more detail about what I think happens, but I’m almost positive that Hank gets killed when this episode begins and Walt will be forced to go on the run—empires are left in ruins. “Granite State” refers to New Hampshire—my home state!!—and I think this is where we see what Walt was up to when he fled there. As for “Felina,” who the fuck knows? Craziness abounds, I’m sure.
Okay, so what happens from here?
Hank dies. I know that the shootout seemed as though the neo-Nazis weren’t trying to hit Hank and Gomez—because why kill some feds if you don’t have to?—but last week’s episode lingered on Hank’s celebratory call to Marie long enough for me to think that that was an unexpected goodbye. They also made it clear that the two of them had yet to “call it in” when the shootout began. (A bonus nod that Gilligan likely threw in, only making sense after the fact: Hank’s wave to a handcuffed Walt.)
So Hank dies, likely Gomez as well, and the neo-Nazis approach the cars to tie up loose ends with Jesse. But in classic Heisenberg style, Walt thinks on his feet and makes the following offer—or thereabout—to save Jesse’s life: “New deal, neo-Nazis: Jesse can be your cook, especially now that I have to go on the run after you killed Hank.” They take him to their meth lair and make Jesse school Todd on the recipe’s intricacies. And either Jesse is uncooperative and refuses to cook for them or they get one batch out of him, just enough for Todd to bring the blue back, and in the most merciless act yet, Lydia orders her Swastika-emblazoned army to kill him.1
This is where possible plot threads branch off.
Option A—no twist: Walt digs up as much buried cash as he can carry and he and the family finally take advantage of Saul’s connection to get new identities, and they flee to the east coast.
Option B—Shakespearean twist: Marie catches wind of Hank’s murder and embraces her newfound rage. She storms into the White house and confronts Skylar, a knife is pulled, and Skylar is killed. From this, Walter, Jr. finds out the truth about his father. (Because he has to, right? It adds an exclamation to the end of the king’s reign.) Holly gets sent to child services. No one wins.
Option C—Sophoclean twist: Maybe Jesse sabotages the cook or takes out Todd before he’s killed and Lydia has no choice but to track down Walt to help with their production. She instructs her henchmen to abduct Skylar and the kids to lure him back. He’s conflicted, maybe tries to hatch a scheme to get them back, but it fails and they’re also killed.
Whichever narrative pathway is traveled, Walt is on the run and has the motivation for vengeance.
Quick aside | Interesting callback/opportunity for character growth:
From the show’s first few episodes, Walt has been the victim of his own hubris, which is best demonstrated by his refusal of Elliott’s offer to pay for his treatment. When Walt is on the lam, he’s likely going to need help—money, connections, safehouses, something. There has been bad blood between Walt and the Schwartzes since their early days at Gray Matter Technologies, but it might be a nice evolution of the character if Walt asks for help from Gretchen (interestingly, his former chemistry assistant) to, say, avenge Jesse’s murder.
Here’s how I arrive at this. Walt’s lecture to his chemistry class at the beginning of the show:
“I’ve come to realize that much of what I teach my students applies not only to what goes on in the classroom, but in life also. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It’s fascinating really. It’s a shame so many of us never take time to consider its implications.”
In the beautiful forests of New Hampshire2, Walt might just have the chance to consider his implications. In the flash forward, we can see that he’s got his hair back, he looks haggard, so we can assume that he has given up on chemotherapy and has accepted his mortality. So what’s he going to do with his remaining days? I have to believe that he chooses to (try to) redeem himself.
And here’s my argument for why Walt can still be redeemed—whether audiences want such a thing or not. His entrance into the meth business was justified long ago: Walt was a man given an expiration date, and he was desperate to provide enough for his family to survive after he was gone. Dive a little deeper into the character’s psychology and you start to understand even (some of) the murder and deceit. Look back at Gray Matter to see how he was cheated out of an empire. Back then, he used to check the stock value of the company, torturing himself with what might have been. After he started building his own empire, he stopped torturing himself. But he was never able to shake the chip on his shoulder. When people would doubt his intellect or would try to force his subservience, Walt would erupt with violence.
As deplorable as you found Walt’s actions to be, the most terrible thing about him is how everyone around him—Hank, Skylar, Marie, Saul—became darker and uglier because of what he turned into. And the way he has ruined Jesse pushes him firmly into the villain category.
But the way for a monster like Walter White to redeem himself is to take down an even less forgivable monster: Lydia. Think about it—Walt was motivated by his family, and by his pride, but what was Lydia’s motivation? From what I can gather, she has a high-powered (and likely high-paying) job at a multinational corporation. She doesn’t need the money; she doesn’t need a safety net for her daughter. She has willingly entered into this violent world because she likes it. Or simply because she can. And she’s done it all ruthlessly, not once blinking when she ordered the hit on all of Mike’s imprisoned lackeys, totally unfazed when she blindly walked over the bodies of her former business partners. If she kills Jesse, the one character in this dark world who suffers from regret, she’ll be even more terrible than Walt.
After all, it takes a monster to slay a monster.
I can’t pretend to know how he’ll try to beat her, but I’m anticipating a bit of misdirection from Gilligan. We see the massive rifle in Walt’s car, we see him retrieve the ricin from his old house, and we think he’s planning to go out in a blaze of glory. That’s not his style, though, is it? I think they’re plants. Maybe he’ll plant the gun on someone, tie some crime to Lydia, maybe even use the ricin to poison himself and pin it on her to really put the nail in her coffin. He may be dying, but he’s also a genius, so his final play has to be one where he tries to outsmart everyone.
Or maybe he really has gone full Scarface and everyone dies in the end. Who knows?
No matter how the show ends, no matter what becomes of these characters, it’s amazing to see how far things have come. Look back at one of the best exchanges of the show’s run, from a scene where a sleep-deprived Walt explains to Jesse when the perfect moment would have been for him to die. How different his legacy would have been had he gotten his wish.
Walter: There was some perfect moment that passed me right by, but I had to have enough to leave them. That was the whole point. None of this makes any sense if I didn’t have enough. And it had to be before she found out. Skyler. It had to be before that.
Jesse: Perfect moment? For what? To drop dead? Are you saying you want to die?
Walter: I’m saying that I lived too long. You want them to actually miss you. You want their memories of you to be… but she just won’t… she just won’t understand. I mean, no matter how well I explain it, these days she just has this… this… I mean, I truly believe there exists some combination of words. There must exist certain words in a certain specific order that can explain all of this, but with her I just can’t ever seem to find them.
Jesse: Mr. White, why don’t you just sit down?
Walter: You know, I was thinking before the fugue state, but during the fugue state I didn’t have enough money, so no, not then. And plus my daughter wasn’t born yet. It had to be after Holly was born.
Jesse: Mr. White…
Walter White: Definitely before the surgery. Ah Christ, that damn second cell phone. I mean, how could I possibly?… Oh, I know the moment. It was the night Jane died. I was at home and we needed diapers and so I said I’d go, but it was just an excuse. Actually that was the night I brought you your money, remember?
Walter: No, no, it’s, uh… Oh, that was the moment. That night. I should never have left home. Never gone to your house. Maybe things would have… Oh, I was… I was at home watching TV. Some nature program about elephants… and Skyler and Holly were in another room. I can hear them on the baby monitor. She was singing a lullaby. Oh, if I had just lived right up to that moment… and not one second more. That would have been perfect.
How do you think Breaking Bad ends? Leave your theories in the comments below.
1Jesse doesn’t have to die, but it’s without a doubt the biggest dramatic element that Gilligan has at his disposal. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t take advantage.
2The foliage is stunning, truly.