Years ago, I had an idea for a novel. It was way before I started blogging — maybe the mid 1990’s — and I was feeling a little out-of-sorts with respect to my life and career, so I had this idea of writing a novel about a geeky guy like me who gets down on his luck (lost job, wife left, dog died, etc.) and in desperation decides to use his job skills making money doing something illegal. Soon he gets caught up in a life of crime, in which he meets bad people and does bad things…and he learns that he likes it.
Although I’m a software engineer, I thought that criminal hacking would be kind of boring — and less likely to bring him into contact with the organized crime figures I wanted in the story — so I decided instead to make him a chemist, and have him make drugs.
That’s right. I had the idea for Breaking Bad before Breaking Bad.
Okay, I was going to have him make designer drugs instead of of crystal meth. And he was going to have conflicted feelings about what he had become. And it wasn’t anywhere near as complex as Breaking Bad. And I didn’t have any other real characters. And my version wasn’t really very original. And of course I never did any of the hard work of actually writing the damned thing…which is why real professional writers make fun of people like me who “have an idea” and think that gets us somewhere.
Naturally, when I first saw ads for Breaking Bad, I knew I had to watch it. The first few episodes were kind of frustrating, because I kept filling in the blanks with pieces from my own concept, which didn’t work at all, but once I settled into the actual story that Breaking Bad was telling, it became one of my favorite shows.
I’m sorry to see it end, but I understand the dramatic reasons why it has to. Creator Vince Gilligan has made good on his original premise, and the story has to end. Walter White has transformed from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Actually, he was only Mr. Chips for maybe half of the first episode, after which he cooks meth and kills a guy. That seemed like a pretty quick transition to me, but little did I know. He would go on to do so many worse things.
And yet, with the final episode of the series just around the corner…I still want Walter White to win.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Walt’s a good guy. He’s a terrible human being whose hubris and sense of entitlement have led him to do terrible things. I wouldn’t want him to succeed in real life. But dramatically, in a television series, I’ll feel very let down if he doesn’t somehow come out a winner on his own terms.
It’s a truism of good storytelling that the audience always identifies with the protagonist, no matter how terrible he or she turns out to be. I imagine it’s related to psychological transference — when you spend enough time with the character, the protagonist’s friends start to feel like your friends, his family starts to feel like your family, his enemies start to feel like your enemies. So even knowing the protagonist is a terrible person, we find our mood rising and falling with his fortunes. Tony Soprano was a good example of this — a violent, petty, lying thug. But when we saw the world through his eyes for an hour, we could feel his pain.
(Shows like Game of Thrones depend on this idea. The show plays out on such a large scale and supports so many story lines that it actually has several protagonists, which makes it all the more involving when they try to kill each other, and all the more painful when they succeed.)
I’m not even sure what it would mean for Walt to win.
(Spoiler alert for potentially every episode before the last one.)
Living happily ever after isn’t possible. None of Walt’s tricks can cure cancer. His time is running out. Of course, since survival is off the table, he’s got nothing to lose, which only makes him more dangerous. But whatever he aims to do, it can’t just be dying. He’s going to want to see his victory before he goes. But what does victory look like?
From the very beginning, Walt has always been motivated by the desire to make sure his family is well taken care of after he’s gone. Other than his Chrysler 300C SRT8, Walter hasn’t spent his money on anything extravagant for himself. (The only other luxury I can think of is a tankless water heater, and that was really for the house.) But leaving something for his family, that’s his obsession. His single-minded pursuit of this goal has actually cost him his family, but he can’t see that. His ego still tells him he’s doing something good for Skyler and Walt Jr…if only they’d see it his way.
However, it hasn’t worked out well, even by Walt’s standards. With his secret out and the feds after him, he has no way of getting any money to his family. It sounds like the feds have seized the car wash, and his wife Skyler has taken a taxi dispatch job to make ends meet. She’s also facing federal indictments for her involvement in Walt’s crimes.
If Walt thought about things like this like a normal person, he’d follow his lawyer’s advice and make a deal. Here’s what he has to offer: He knows what happened to DEA agents Schrader and Gomez. He can lead the feds to their bodies, and he can name the people who killed them (although he’ll die of cancer before he can testify). Depending on what Walt knows, and what the feds can discover from there, he might also be able to lead them to the Aryan Brotherhood’s meth operation and to the $70 million in cash they stole from him, which the feds will be eager to seize. In the process, they will discover a captive Jesse Pinkman, an actual eyewitness to the murders, ready and willing to testify against the bastards who have made his life a living hell.
Best of all, Walt is asking so very little in return. He’s dying anyway, so he doesn’t need anything for himself. He could plead guilty to all his crimes. All he’d want is a promise that they’d leave his family alone. I’m no expert (and those of you who are can correct me), but that sounds like a pretty good deal for the government.
Walt won’t do any of that, of course. We’ve already seen the flash-forwards to Walt driving around with an M60 machine gun in the trunk, and we saw him recover his ricin poison. He’s going to do something terrible. The most common suggestion I’ve heard is that he’s going to use the M60 to kill the Nazi gang, and then he’s going to use the ricin to kill himself.
I don’t buy it. Neither of those things sounds likely.
First of all, ricin poisoning is not a good way to go. It’s not quick and painless. And depending on how it enters the body, it could take hours or days to kill him. Since Walt was smart enough to make the ricin, he’s probably smart enough to know that. So, I assume, are the show’s writers.
Second, an M60 machine gun is a formidable weapon, but it’s not an “I win” button. No matter how badass Walt is in Heisenberg mode, even with the M60, he’s still just one man. The M60 weighs over 20 pounds (not counting ammunition) and it’s intended to be crew-served, so for Walt to use one effectively by himself, he’d have to be Rambo. And he is so not Rambo, especially now that he’s sick. The Aryan Brotherhood guys have fully automatic weapons too, don’t forget, and unlike Walt, they know how to use them. (Alright, they don’t know how to use them very well, judging by the shootout at To’hajiilee, but they’re probably still better than Walt.)
I suppose he could be planning to hose down the entire compound with the M60 from a distance, killing everyone with a rain of bullets, but an M60 really doesn’t really have the sustained fire capability for that. It would jam up within a few hundred rounds. He might be able to pull it off if he used a minigun, but even that thing can’t kill someone hiding behind good cover, such as a mound of dirt or that pit where they cook the meth.
Actually, I think I’ve just talked myself into this one. Although killing all the Nazis with the M60 wouldn’t work in real life, it might work in TV, where machine guns can fire thousands of rounds without jamming, so maybe that’s the plan after all. It would fit in well with the other thing I think is going to happen, which is that Jesse is going to kill Walt.
They’ve certainly given Jesse plenty of motivation. Walt told Jesse he let Jane die, he turned Jesse over to the Aryan Brotherhood to be tortured and enslaved, and that led to the murder of Andrea.
Now if Walt comes looking for his money and shoots up the place, Jesse should survive it down there in the pit. Since Walt’s secrets are out, Jesse going to the cops is no longer a threat, so Walt might be feeling warm and fuzzy about him again and decide to free him. And that’s when Jesse can kill him. Heck, maybe getting Jesse to kill him is part of Walt’s plan. He’d probably prefer it to dying alone in the cabin.
But then I have no idea what Walt’s going to do with the ricin. To kill someone with ricin, you have to get close to them. They have to trust you. And who’s left that trusts Walt? The only people who might meet up with him are the Aryan Brotherhood. Ricin may not be fast, but it’s lethal in small doses, so he’s got more than enough doses to kill all of those guys if he can get them to ingest or inhale it somehow.
Or…while writing this, I just watched “Granite State” again. At the end, Walt is sitting in that bar in New Hampshire when he catches his old friends Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz being interviewed on television. They downplay his involvement in founding the the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical manufacturer Gray Matter Technologies, and then in response to a question about whether Walter White is still out there, Gretchen says that the friendly, happy Walter White they knew has been gone for a long time. Right after that, Walt decides not to wait for the police. He’s clearly setting off to do whatever he’s going to do with the M60 and the ricin.
I’ve been assuming that Walt was angry at Elliott and Gretchen for downplaying his involvement in the firm, or even for talking about how nice he used to be, when clearly Walt hates his old self. I thought maybe they would be the targets of his anger. But in re-watching that segment, I realized that Gretchen was answering a question in which the interviewer mentioned that Heisenberg’s trademark blue meth was still showing up all over the southwest and even in eastern Europe.
Since Walt has lost pretty much everything else in the world, maybe his meth is all he’s got left. He’s insanely proud of his meth cooking skill. So maybe it really pisses him off that someone else is now trying to pass off their inferior product as his own chemical masterpiece. Maybe he’s going to make sure that no one else ever sells blue meth again.
Which makes me think that maybe he’s going to try to get the ricin into the next batch of meth to ship out of the Aryan Brotherhood camp, or maybe he’ll slip it into a shipment as it passes through Lydia’s hands. Inhaled, as a meth user might receive it, a lethal dose of ricin is pretty small (and meth addicts are pretty fragile), so if Walt can get the dosage right, he could kill hundreds of meth users. Once the authorities figure out the meth was poisoned, no one else would ever be able to sell blue meth again.
So maybe that’s it. Maybe Walt is about to become one of the worst mass murderers in history.
Or maybe he’ll just do what a lot of narcissistic assholes do when they realize they’re going to lose everything: Kill his family and then himself.
Okay, for the record, here’s my prediction. Walt will
- Visit Gretchen (and maybe Elliott) Schwartz, scare the crap out of her, and then extract a promise that she and Elliott will take care of his family.
- Use the M60 to kill the Aryan Brotherhood guys.
- Get into their meth lab and poison the meth, and then somehow get it shipped out.
- Die by Jesse’s hand.
Crap. Sunday night can’t come soon enough.
Update: My score: 50%
(Spoilers for the final episode.)
I got the Gretchen and Elliott thing right, and (as everyone did) the M60 v.s. Nazis. I was wrong about the ricin and about Jesse killing Walt, although Walt went there.