Breaking Bad returns for the first of its final eight episodes this weekend, and while other fans of the show have been outside in the sunshine and kissing attractive people for the past year, I’ve been locked in my room constructing a serial-killer-esque wall of notes and theories and giant red circles to figure out what exactly is coming up for Walt and Jesse.
I would give a spoiler alert here, but if you’re not caught up with Breaking Bad yet, you have bigger issues to confront, such as your deplorable personality and inability to prioritize the important things in your life.
The most recent episode left us as Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law and a DEA agent, came to the realization that Walter White is Heisenberg (while taking what is now a year-long poop). Most of what we know for certain about the end of the series comes from the opening sequence of the first episode of season 5, which is a four-minute flash-forward in which Walt meets up with his old arms dealer in a Denny’s and picks up a car that conveniently has an M60 machine gun in the trunk. The scene isn’t available online, but here are the facts we can take away from it:
- He turns his bacon into the number 52 and reveals it’s his birthday; his 51st birthday was season 5, episode 4. The show averages about a week per episode, so this scene takes place approximately 10 months after the most recent episode of season 5.
- His ID gives a fake state (New Hampshire) and fake name (Mr. Lambert) but real birthday (he didn’t want to hand his ID over to the waitress for a free breakfast initially, so the birthday meal wasn’t just an act).
- When the waitress asked how long the drive was from New Hampshire, he said 30 hours – Google Maps puts the drive from New Hampshire to Albuquerque at 33 hours. This means that A) he’s almost certainly back in Albuquerque for this scene, and B) he probably did actually drive from New Hampshire to New Mexico, since he knew how long the drive was. Based on this and the previous point, we can deduce that he’s gone into hiding and is now living in New Hampshire full time under an assumed identity.
- He enters the bathroom to meet up with his old arms dealer, where they exchange Walt’s wad of cash for the dealer’s keys. The dealer makes Walt promise this “won’t cross the border;” Walt replies that it won’t even leave the city.
- Walt then begins coughing and pops a pill from a prescription bottle.
- He leaves a $100 tip for his waitress on top of his free meal as he leaves.
- He goes into the parking lot, where he finds the car his new keys belong to, complete with an M60 machine gun, four boxes of ammo, and a user’s manual in the trunk.
This leaves us with three major questions:
- Why has he gone into hiding, and did he go with or without his family?
- What does he need a machine gun for?
- Where is this all heading?
Let’s break those down one by one…
Why Walt’s in Hiding
First of all, there are two options here; Walt either
A) Entered witness protection through the DEA in exchange for his testimony/information
B) Used Saul’s “guy” from Season 4 to make himself completely disappear
The clear choice is option B. Hank has been chasing Walt for so long, and Walt is the absolute top of the meth world; who could he possibly give up in exchange for DEA protection that would mean more to them than throwing the infamous Heisenberg behind bars?
That presents another set of questions; did Walt
A) Go into hiding with Skyler, Walt Jr., and Holly, or
B) Leave them in New Mexico and assume a new identity alone?
I can’t know for sure, but I don’t think there would be any strong reason for Walt to come all the way back to Albuquerque if his family wasn’t there. For that reason, I believe his family is still in New Mexico and must play a major role in his return.
What the Gun Is for
An M60 machine gun is not a subtle weapon. For all his recklessness and danger-seeking, Walt’s attacks have generally been quiet (ricin, the Lily of the Valley for little Brock) or, at the very least, not traceable back to him (the explosives on Hector Salamanca’s wheelchair that killed Gus Fring). A machine gun is not quiet, and is not the kind of weapon you can easily use to frame someone. It also seems like a major departure from Walt’s preferred murder tactics: he’s a chemist at heart. If he wanted to find a creative, subtle way to kill lots of people, he certainly has the means for it at his disposal. You kill a bunch of people with a machine gun, especially within the limits of a major city (and Walt said it wasn’t leaving Albuquerque), you’re either going to get caught or die during the battle.
I’m not the only one baffled by the gun; show creator Vince Gilligan said in an interview that the only thing they knew last summer was that the machine gun in the trunk had to pay off, so even the writers didn’t know where they were going with it at the time.
I can only think of three options for the machine gun:
A) He’s found some way to frame someone else for it
B) Family-based revenge (avenging the deaths or threatened deaths of one or more family members)
C) Business-based revenge (removing competition from the meth industry, escalation from an attack directed at him, etc.)
Option A seems too far-fetched, and if it were option C, the showmanship seems unnecessary and over-the-top.
If he were avenging his family, though, the “final blaze of glory” element of a machine gun starts to make sense. He also left a $100 tip for the Denny’s waitress; maybe he was still rolling in dough and he wouldn’t have even noticed that bill was missing from his wallet, but when has Walt ever been generous with strangers, even at his most kingpin? I think it’s more likely that he knows he’s going to die soon and is giving away the last of his accumulated wealth. (The coughing and popping of pills in the bathroom implies that his cancer is back, which may be another specter of looming death.)
Where They’re Going with This
So far, we’ve gathered that Walt has gone into hiding illegally while leaving his family in New Mexico, and has returned several months in the future because one or more of them has been murdered or threatened with murder.
This is where it gets good.
Walt’s ego would never allowed him to quietly assume a new life as an unnoticed citizen of New Hampshire; plus, it would be a pretty boring final eight hours of television if we just followed Walt getting used to his new commute and figuring out the office’s coffee maker. He undoubtedly re-enters the meth business under his new identity and re-establishes himself as a kingpin.
Walt will convince himself that he’s still doing this for his family’s benefit. After all, Vince Gilligan has said over and over that Walt’s most significant characteristic is his ability to lie, both to others and to himself. It’s what’s defined his transition from relatable hero to unstable, terrifying villain – from tighty whitey-clad chemistry teacher to The One Who Knocks.
Gilligan has also said, “I feel like this ending represents on some level, however small, something of a victory for Walter White.” The word “victory” is a hard one to process when put in terms of Walt – what, he gets away with it? In a universe where every bad person except Walt has gotten their karmic comeuppance, that would feel like a serious cop-out. I believe the only true “victory” Walt could achieve would be over his fatal flaw: he finally confronted the truth of his situation without flinching and saw himself for what he was.
Walt’s continued involvement in the meth business will get his family killed, somehow. I believe that baby Holly will be at the center of it all – pink has always been a color associated with death in the show (the pink teddy bear that lands in the White’s pool after the plane crash; the pink sweater Walt was wearing during the crash itself; the pink lipstick left on the cigarette in Jesse’s car after Jane’s death). Holly is almost always wearing pink when we see her. She may not be the first to die, but the deaths of her entire family will somehow center around her.
Walt, in overcoming this fatal flaw of compulsive truth-avoidance, will realize that his family would still be alive if it weren’t for him and his bad, bad ways. He will realize that everything and everyone he’s ever cared about has turned to dust around him, and he’s at fault for that.
The second-to-last episode of season 5 is titled “Ozymandias.” A promo for the second half of season 5 has Walt’s actor Bryan Cranston reading the famous Percy Bysshe Shelley poem of the same name, in which the narrator stumbles on a disintegrating statue of a long-forgotten king whose empire has been dead for centuries. The inscription on the statue reads “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” – an ironic statement for someone whose works have long since crumbled and disappeared.
Walt realizes he has become Ozymandias. He is the forgotten king, who has sacrificed everything in a mad rush for power only to realize the power doesn’t mean anything. He doesn’t want to be that person. He doesn’t want to die, forgotten, purged from the memory of anyone who had ever known him.
You know who he’s more okay with being?
That’s what the machine gun is for. He goes out in one last blaze of glory, avenging the deaths of his family and imprinting his name in the memories of Albuquerque citizens for years to come. He even watched that movie with Walt Jr. in one episode. It wouldn’t surprise me if the phrase “say hello to my little friend” makes it into the final cut.
Of course, this could all be wrong; after all, from the foreshadowing in season 2 with the teddy bear in the pool, it would have been quite a leap to get to “mid-air plane collision,” much less Walt or Jesse’s involvement in the whole thing.
Still, how great would it be if Walt went Scarface?