As Breaking Bad's finale looms Sunday, one question remains: Who dies in the end?
As Breaking Bad steams toward the best finale season of any drama in modern TV history Sunday, it’s the one question fans are gathered in bars debating ad infinitum:
Who is going to die in the end?
My thesis, delivered with great authority in a St. Petersburg bar last night, is that underemployed high school teacher-turned-meth empire mastermind Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is going to wind up forced to kill Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the former student who has been his surrogate son since the series’ start.
Relax, spoiler hounds. I don’t know anything more than any other critic who has sat through all of the show’s 60-something episodes and interviewed creator Vince Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, co-star Bob Odenkirk and Dean Norris, whose character Hank Schrader was unceremoniously executed nearly two weeks ago.
My theory is based mostly on the fact that the show’s final episodes have seen Walt systematically stripped of everything he holds dear. When Hank, his DEA brother-in-law, was killed, Walt saw the delusion that he could manipulate or intimidate him into accepting his life of crime dashed irrevocably.
One other thing that hasn't happened yet: Walt hasn't admitted his own complicity in all the awful things that have happened to him and his family. He seemed to blame Jesse for Hank's death, his former business partenrs for his ignominious life as a high school teacher, his bad health for the drive to establish a meth empire -- and so on.
But what happens if, tonight, he finally admits that the only thing all those awful events have in common, is him?
Last Sunday, Walt hid out in New Hampshire for weeks while his wife and kids endured the harsh attention of federal authorities. When Walt called his son to try and arrange getting him money, he learned that he lost their love as well, after his teen child wished for his death from cancer in that moment. Oh, and there’s the white supremacist gang which took most of the $80-million Walt earned from making meth in the first place.
I expect that Sunday’s episode will have caught up with the two “flash forward” sequences which opened last year’s run of episodes and this year’s stories. In those look ahead scenes, we saw Walt purchase a nasty-looking rifle and retrieve a tiny vial of the deadly toxin ricin (my thesis there: his former business partner Lydia, who loves to talk business in coffee shops, may get a little extra something in her cappuccino soon.)
There is one episode left to wrap up a fair amount of loose ends. Presumably, Walt is going back at the white supremacists who were his former business partners to take back his money. Since they are holding Jesse prisoner and Walt blames Jesse for Hank’s death – Pinkman snitched to Hank, which led to the DEA agent being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the white supremacists showed to keep Walt from arrest – what will the former meth lord do when he comes across his ex-partner?
What I love most about this last spate of episodes is that the producers of Breaking Bad have worked hard to avoid the obvious, and so far the twists of this story have been tough to predict. What’s obvious is they won’t cop out like The Sopranos; fans will get an ending to Walter White’s story, even if it’s one they may not ultimately want to see.
One other notion which comes to mind is a discussion I had with Gilligan years ago at a press party in Los Angeles. I talked about watching the slow curdling of a man’s soul, and the show’s creator offered a different take.
What if Walter White’s story was more about seeing the result of what happens when every boundary in life is removed? Gilligan suggested. What happens when you’re no longer bound by law, morality, or even financial circumstance? What kind of person do you become then?
Considered in that light, Walt’s Heisenberg alter ego just might be the truest face of his inner soul.
And if that is true, what happens when he returns to New Mexico Sunday to face the full consequences of his actions?
Guess who will be chewing over these ideas and much more on social media Sunday night?