So Breaking Bad is coming to its last three episodes and I think its time to launch a series of articles on why this god damn show is so fucking good. I briefly made love to this show last year, but didn’t really get into the meat of what makes this show so good; mostly because season 4 had just ended on such an awesome note that I was afraid Season 5 would be a disappointment and I would be left with egg on my face when the inevitable crash came. With only three episodes left though I think I can safely declare my undying love for this series without fear of ridicule and dive into how Breaking Bad changed TV forever.
First of all let’s discuss the absolutely amazing episode from last week because not only is it the major tipping point for the season and the entire series, but also a great example of excellent writing in general. Last week’s “To’Hajiilee” was a major event in the series (even though we don’t get to see the results of the shootout) because of one thing: the death of Walter White. Of course he didn’t literally die and we all know he can’t die in that scene since we’ve seen his future self preparing to do something with a big ass machine gun. What died out there in the desert was Walter White: drug kingpin, murderer, and all-around scumbag. As soon as he led Hank and Jesse to his secret money stash that Walter White died and can never return, and that’s why we see him crying behind the rock before surrendering, Walter knows its over. Even if he somehow manages to escape from this situation, even if they can hide the bodies of two DEA agents and relocate millions of dollars before someone comes to investigate, Walter White is dead.
He can never go back to the ordinary life he pretends to have; to be honest that facade was destroyed the moment Hank found out Walter was Heisenberg and this last episode made Walter finally confront that cold hard truth.
So far Walter has been able to delude himself into thinking that he’s still ordinary, cancer-ridden Walter who just so happens to have a drug business on the side for his family. Even when he’s racing across the desert and begging Jesse not to burn his millions Walter holds fast to his favorite mantra “It’s for my family!” but is it really? No, not really, it’s all about his pride. That $300 bazillion dollars (I forget the actual amount) represents the drug empire he built, his pride and joy, the one thing that’s given meaning to his sad and pathetic little existence. If he truly cared about his family he would have given up the drug business after he made the $70,000 that was his original goal, but like Walter told Jesse once (paraphrasing) “I’m not in the drug-making business. I’m in the Empire-making business.” So far Walter has been able to rationalize everything he’s done, killing Fring, poisoning a 9-year-old child, and every other horrible thing he’s done in the name of saving his family. Now the reckoning has come.
He’s finally come to that line he won’t cross; he won’t kill his family. When he began yelling Hank’s name as the skinhead assassins arrived Walter had made his decision to let Walter White die; he would rather let his life fall to pieces and surrender everything he’s made than kill Hank. Of course now he finally realizes that he’s part of something larger, something he can’t control.
He once told Skylar that if he didn’t go to work “a business so large it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up” and in the height of his arrogance he believed that, but the real truth is he never had that choice. If he had decided to simply not go to work, Gustavo Fring would have come and threatened his family until he agreed to cook or the suppliers who rely on his product would have eventually hunted him down as well. In the past few episodes we’ve seen Lydia trying to run the business without Walter and it just isn’t working, she’s gone through one producer already and the skinheads are having similar trouble. Likely if Walter hadn’t been forced to agree to cook because of the Jesse situation, blackmail or threats would have eventually forced Walter right back into the game. He’s not in control here.
That’s why even though he told the skinheads not to come, they showed up anyway. That’s why when he said it was off, they began shooting anyway. At the end of the day Walter is just too damn valuable for them to let him go, and he’s going to work whether he likes it or not.
The death of Walter White is an exciting turning point because it means one thing: Walter is going to get his redemption. Since the beginning of this show I knew there were only two ways it could end. Either Walter chooses to fully embrace his chosen career and become a new criminal overlord, or finally see what he’s become and find a way to redeem himself. For a while there it was looking like Walter was going to go with the former and I was half-expecting him to finally send a hitman after Hank, but I’m really glad to see he’s chosen the latter because I still remember the good man Walter once was. I remember the dedicated father, the brilliant (if boring) chemistry teacher, and the polite shy man that resorted to meth cooking out of desperation. I remember the hilarious antics that Walter and Jesse got up to in those early seasons, like when they ran out of gas in the middle of the desert and thought they were going to die. I remember it all, and that good man is still in there somewhere.
That good man will have to come to terms with what he’s done, make peace with the families he’s destroyed, and finally be held accountable for his crimes. His final months of life will be difficult, and I’m not just talking about his cancer, but he can still be saved.
I’ll be doing several more articles on Breaking Bad over the coming weeks, concluding with my thoughts on the series as a whole come the final episode. My next article will cover why Hank’s call to his wife was such a great piece of writing and next week I’ll have another article on this Sunday’s episode of Breaking Bad, which promises to be the best yet. And as always, if you have an idea or specific area you want me to cover, feel free to ask!