Shawn: Really? Ok, the fact that we have to wait a year for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad isn’t a surprise – back before season four when AMC – brainiacs – almost dropped the show and finally settled with the creators on ordering a final sixteen episode season I knew – everyone KNEW – that AMC would pull a “Sopranos” and split it in two. But after witnessing the moment I have been waiting for since Walt walked into Tuco Salamanaca’s and had his distinctive, then not-yet named Heisenberg visage recorded on a security system I’ve known – again, we’ve all KNOWN – it was going to come down to Walt vs. Hank. And so now, here it is: Walt has a change of heart, or maybe better said comes back down to earth from Tony Montanaville* but now it’s too late. All along during Walter’s transformation we’ve seen that he has a serious problem with hubris and it makes a wonderful kind of sense that after everything, all the crazy close calls and chaotic madness, it would be such a simple, stupid mistake stemming from that hubris that would topple him in the end.
JGrez: So what Vince Gilligan has brought us back to is the classic protagonist-versus- antagonist scenario, and yet Breaking Bad has never really been about classic roles has it? Think about it. Do you feel that Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a Meth-cook-turned-drug-lord via a modest high school teacher and family man “beginning”, really represents a “traditional” protagonist? Or how about Hank Schrader, (Dean Norris) a do-diligent DEA agent perpetually chasing a criminal mastermind named Heisenberg – a phantom who he now realizes is none other than White, his brother-in-law of all things – as an “antagonist?” No. Not really. As far back as his X-files days Gilligan’s charm is his ability to blur the perception of right and wrong (good v. evil). The cast of Breaking Bad does little to let this down.
From the beginning the story of an ordinary man’s foray into the Meth business raises questions as to what a man will do to protect his family . Walter is a gifted chemist and born teacher but he is also a businessman – a businessman who is haunted by a mistake earlier in life, the mistake of opting out of a business that, after he sold his share for peanuts, went on to become a billion dollar company. These peanuts, as he tells his former student and eventual partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), amounted to “a few months rent” at the time, somewhere in the now painstakingly infinitesimal amount of $5000. Yet after that 5k escape Walter’s former colleague and one-time love interest turned that company into billion dollar legacy.
Talk about an opportunity missed.
Walt never recovered from this, from being forced to go on and live as a nobody teaching high school chemistry holding down a second, part-time job at a car-wash just to support his family. Sure with said family he had other riches, but once the realization that he had contracted cancer Walter’s views on those spiritual and emotional riches changes and so does his life – quickly. So he has this gift of chemistry, he knows how to make a near perfect product and he can make enough money to take care of his family if and when he dies. Gilligan and his writers ask “is this wrong?”
Shawn: And what does this mean? This perfect product – Walt still smarts from turning away from his one big chance and now, nearer to the end of his life than he maybe thinks he should be as he enters his fifties, Walt finds something he is truly amazing at AND can turn into an empire. And it turns out this one second chance at what he once so casually threw away is more important to Walter White than ANYTHING else.
JGrez: Near perfect meaning in the purest chemical make up. As the story goes we know that Walt can cook 99% pure Crystal methamphetamine. Quite possibly the most potent and stimulating form of the drug the world has ever seen (fictional of course). But with near perfection comes a cost as we have seen throughout the series. Countless deaths and lives altered. So perfect? Well Bakes that really depends on who you ask.
Shawn: Perfect Joe, because in a capitalist, open-market sense of the words we live and die by in the world today, perfection writes its own ticket. Legal/illegal. Good/bad/ Just/unjust. Walter White is a real American hero – a real WTO icon because he gets it. He’s done the ‘right thing’ and the ‘good thing‘ and come out the other side of disappointment, grasped the bull by the horns and become the avatar of the age. Walt isn’t focusing on right or good any longer. No, now he’s focusing on ‘perfect’ – the one thing he does perfectly and how it will help him finally transcend the flawed self-story he finds himself trapped inside.
JGrez: But was not Walt finally trying to escape it? You saw that stack of cash in the storage unit. I mean that was “THE” stack of cash; enough dollars where his wife Skylar White (Anna Gunn) whom had been laundering his meth money began storing it because of how fast it came in. She goes onto say, “I don’t know. I lost count.” He proceeds to take care of Jesse to the tune of his agreed $5 million (maybe even more). And Walter White I believe thinks, “OK, THIS is it.” Or maybe he just cannot leave. This IS his life now. And it’s not so much his choice but perhaps fate’s choice.
Shawn: Is his complete focus on total conquest an exaggeration? Maybe, maybe not. I truly believe that at the point in his life immediately following his successful assassination of Gus Fring Walt may really believe that his family is safe – that he can handle ANYTHING because with Gus out of the – as he so succinctly put it earlier in the season – “he is the danger now”. However, after all we’ve seen him say and do, after his mind-blowing dismissal of Jesse (thankfully corrected in the season finale as you alluded Joe) and to say nothing of the lives he’s taken or even almost taken (poisoning a little boy?) I find it questionable whether if, say Junior’s (I know, I know – it’s Flynn!) safety stood between Walt and his “empire business” , he would side on the point of his son. And Skylar? Wow – she’s right to worry. So that makes the question, in one year when Hank comes up against Walt, who will be caught in the fallout?
* Bold statement but true: Tony now pails in comparison to the man, the myth, the enigma. Say his name with me now: Heisenberg!!!**
** “You’re god damn right.”
Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.