Reviewed by Nadir Hassan
Is bespectacled, lumpy nerd Walter White more like a frat boy than anyone previously imagined? Ask any suitably hormonal young man and he will tell you there is nothing quite as exhilarating as the chase for a woman, usually after a few refreshing cocktails. The excitement when you don’t know how things will turn out is matched only by the indulgence for post-coital bragging to your friends. The bit in the middle – the sexual encounter itself – well, that usually turns out to be a hazy disappointment.
That’s the lesson Walter learned in the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad, although it will definitely be too late to save him. Walt wanted stimulation and affirmation; instead he found himself stuck in a routine that fulfilled his dream to exceed even Gus Fring’s meth empire but instead left him feeling empty. The money was a way to keep score and was never the ultimate goal of Walt’s criminal existence, no matter how much he may’ve convinced himself otherwise. The montage covering the three months of Walt at the zenith of his power only proved that nothing else changed: he was still stuck in his robotic everyday existence of cooking meth, counting cash, taking unsatisfying showers and attending doctor’s appointments.
That montage, set to the remarkably appropriate “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James, was the centerpiece of this surprisingly mournful finale. Montages have become something of a trope on Breaking Bad, showing that even the violence of the meth world have a strange scientific beauty to them, as was shown in the first montage when the 10 men who could have revealed Walt’s identity to Hank were systematically and brutally murdered in a two-minute orgy of violence. That Walt used the watch Jesse gifted him to make sure the murders were on schedule showed that even now his former partner is complicit in the events he helped put in motion.
Inititally the second montage seemed like overkill. Then the trope kept (magnificently) expanding – starting with a cook, moving to the count, then the packing of the meth and its shipment to the Czech Republic while Walt looked on impassively. The show that painstakingly took five seasons to show how Walt reached the pinnacle gave only a few minutes to dispose of the fruits of his success. The point was emphatic: in the end it just wasn’t worth it.
The moment when Walt should have been dizzy with success and raking in money that Skylar could no longer even launder was subdued with sadness. Realizing he longer wanted, or perhaps more importantly needed, to continue he told Skylar that he was out and then paid Jesse a visit. The scene at Jesse’s house may have been one of the saddest of the series. The young protégé was now so disillusioned with his former mentor that he had a gun at the ready, in case Mr. White had come to extinguish a loose end. The two reminisced about their time together and the creaky old RV they used to cook in, even after being able to afford a better one. Walt seemed to genuinely prefer a time when danger lurked at every corner and he was unsure which day would be his last. Being a kingpin safe from law-enforcement and drug rivals just didn’t give him the same rush of excitement.
Walt has always flirted with danger simply because he needs it. A drunken boast at Hank’s place in season four soon after Gale’s death reignited his brother-in-law’s investigation into Heisenberg. He has lied often simply for the thrill of getting away with it. Which is why, although Walt is an incredibly smart man whose plans usually work, he will always end up making unforced errors. In an excruciating final scene we got to see what that mistake was. After a long idyllic build-up as Walt, Hank, Skylar and Marie enjoyed a lazy poolside meal, which was nonetheless suffused with tension as we knew something major would disrupt the peace, Hank went took a bathroom break and found the copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which Gale had gifted to Walt. Suddenly a light bulb went off in Hank’s head and now he knows who Heisenberg is. How fitting that a man of science, with a meticulous plan for every problem, should now be brought down by poetry.
For five seasons Walt has enjoyed his party; the last eight episodes will be the hangover.
Nadir Hassan is a semi-retired journalist and contributing editor to The Devil in the Remote.