It’s a curious thing to think about, but without direction from the wonderfully dapper Gustavo Fring, Hector ‘Tio’ Salamanca, or any of the other foes who have hounded Walter White (Bryan Cranston) since Breaking Bad transformed him into the black hat-wearing Heisenberg, Walter’s life has taken on a kind of amorphous quality – it is equal parts the freedom Walt so longed for and spoke at length about with his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul), even as it is a life lacking the organization and precision a devoted and determined scientific mind such as his needs in order to fully see the results once hypothesized about at the beginning of such a grand experiment.
Between making raids on evidence lockers, robbing trains and disposing of bodies (innocent teenage dirt bike enthusiasts and Mike Ehrmantraut, alike), it’s been a rough start for Walter as he’s made a go of things on his own. And now, because of his arrogance, it seems Walt truly is alone; without Jesse, without his wife (emotionally, anyway), Walter White is in uncharted territory with neither an endgame in mind or one desired beyond turning what made Heisenberg infamous into an empire.
Walt’s scientific mind has been at the root of his vanity, which has, time and again, taken him from bad situation to worse, and back again. Walter’s navigation of such tumultuous events yielded him not merely a seat at the head of the table, but also the ego to believe he belonged there. At the beginning of last season, Walt was hanging on for dear life, convinced one wrong step would leave him dissolving away in some plastic bucket like the ambitious fellow whose throat had just been cut by Fring. Soon, as Walt came to terms with the fact that his life was now kill or be killed; he found himself on a terrible ride where every moment had been the direct result of the one that came before it, and there was no margin for error – just like in the laboratory: if one thing goes wrong during the process, the results are null. It goes back well before Fring, when Walt and Jesse were merely taking long weekends in an RV, cooking their way toward a goal, which was to make enough money so that they could eventually stop. Unfortunately, as variables mounted and the plan began to veer off course, so, too, did Walter White’s morality.
Since that first cook, Walt’s life became an experiment, his life is now a lab, and the end result will come because Walter White is nothing if not an incredibly diligent scientist.
The first part of this final season has been Walt’s struggle to see his new life, and his new business finally take shape. And it seems, after a very chaotic start, things begin to fall into place after Walter discovers Fring left a very profitable and seemingly stable door open with Lydia (Laura Fraser). Before he’s even managed to fully fill the void in New Mexico, Lydia’s hitting him up with the chance to go international with his ultra-pure product, and begin feeding the habits of those in the Czech Republic. As is her modus operandi, Lydia proposes this expansion in exchange for Walt not killing her after she’s given him the names of the now 10 individuals who need to be permanently silenced.
Since those doomed to never speak another word are being held in various correctional institutions, Walt’s plan is going to need some outside help capable of getting inside. And so, it comes to pass that keeping Todd (Jesse Plemons) around, despite the whole killing of the kid thing, was the right choice. Not only has Todd filled in nicely in Jesse’s absence, but his familial connections in the prison world have also allowed Walter to write a script that’ll see 10 people whacked with frightening efficiency. That’s what a great scientific mind can provide to semi-organized crime.
And with that impressive display of influence, Walt kicks off a successful three-month long campaign of cooking that leaves his little carwash business with more cash than Skyler (Anna Gunn) can possibly count, much less launder. Faced with Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt) feeling it’s time Holly and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) head back home, Skyler finally comes clean to her husband that she’s no longer even bothering to count the money. Instead, she presents Walt with a staggeringly large stack of cash that, as it turns out, better illustrates the fruits of his labors than a mere tally at the end of some secret ledger would. By not doing her job, Skyler seems to have given Walt the evidence that now is the time to walk away. If anything says what Walt’s genius is capable of accomplishing, it certainly can’t be said any better than a pile of cash so immense a bookkeeper is reluctant to take a guess as to its value.
Still, even though Walt’s endgame was money, and later an empire, it was all predicated on the notion that he was going to die, sooner rather than later. There’re plenty of reminders of that fact in ‘Gliding Over All.’ A telling shot of the scar on Walt’s right side and his appointment at the hospital with a prognosis left unsaid. Whatever the forecast for Walt’s health, his glance at the paper towel dispenser that previously felt his fury was perhaps evidence enough the damage he has wrought since embarking on this treacherous path. Like the money, all Walt needs is a little physical proof. And with that, it appears Walt may believe his empire to have reached its zenith.
But despite his assurance to Skyler that he’s out, in spite of his paying Jesse in duffle bags full of cash, the one thing there isn’t physical evidence of is just how out of the game Walt truly is. But that’s not the only question left unanswered.
Showrunner Vince Gilligan and his team of writers have taken Breaking Bad and infused it with a laser sharp focus from beginning to end. Now, as the series careens toward its inevitable conclusion, its creator seems ready to let it play out the way it must. Gilligan should be commended for his willingness to let the bad guy take center stage, and to convince so many of his viewers that Walter is owed not only their loyalty, but their sympathy, as well. Audiences have been inured to root for those on the other side of the law; it’s the same kind of principle that has made The Sopranos, or Boardwalk Empire popular.
Like the characters populating those series, Walt’s just as prone to falling victim to little foibles that may prove his eventual undoing, and leaving a copy of Leaves of Grass, inscribed by Gale Boetticher, on the tank of his toilet for Hank to see, has certainly set the ball rolling in that direction.
Since the radiant cold open of season 5, Breaking Bad has teased exactly what could have produced the Walt desperate enough to buy a high-powered machine gun on what appears to be a return from some kind of exile. Now, thanks to Gilligan and his staff of writers, it seems that Walt’s ruination may come as a result of treating the dead as if they can no longer pose a threat and for being conceited enough to balk at the suggestion Gale Boetticher could possibly be the man known as Heisenberg. It wasn’t difficult for Walt to point Hank away from Gale, but where’s he going to point his brother-in-law now?
Breaking Bad will conclude next summer on AMC.