Why won’t you just die already?
So, that was a change of pace. That episode was pretty much what I assumed it would be: checking in with all of the relevant parties in the aftermath of the fall of Heisenberg. I thought it was pretty beautifully handled. Beautiful in a dark, dark way. The depth of Heisenberg’s fallout was a sad place for everybody involved. Walt fell as far as he could. Every step he took to have some power was a failure. He couldn’t intimidate Saul because his cancer had weakened him into a coughing fit. He can’t plot his revenge because there is no communication and his sickness is preventing him from walking the 8 miles to town. And, Walt Jr. will not listen to his desperate attempt to get money to his family. Walt is powerless. He has to spend $10,000 for one hour of companionship.
That is until his pride is wounded too far. He can’t handle that Gretchen and Elliot have turned their backs on him completely, saying that his only contribution to Grey Matters is the name. Do you all think that this is Walt’s true motivation coming out? Does this mean that family is not the most important thing to him? Is his pride more important than it all? Or has he given up on helping his family because Jr. has disowned him?
But, Walt isn’t the only one who has hit a dark spot. Saul has to move to Nebraska, which for him seems as bad as hell. Skyler is living as a shell passing through meetings with attorneys, only hearing that she is in trouble and needs to tell them anything she can about Walt. Marie has to cope without Hank and in the mean time Neo-Nazi’s are storming her house to steal video tapes. She isn’t even able to grieve properly because she is living in fear. All around, it’s pretty messed up.
And then, there is Jesse. Jesse is ruined. Seeing Andrea get murdered might just break his spirit completely. He now has no ability to fight against Todd and Jack because he can’t risk anything happening to Brock. As emotionally draining as last week’s episode was Jesse’s scenes left me feeling hopeless in a way the show hasn’t left me feeling before.
With one episode left, I think the most compelling question is going to be about Walt and Jesse (as I think it should be). What will their potential reunion be like? Jesse must be harboring all of his hatred to Walt, but what will he do if Walt is the one who rescues him? I’m very excited to see.
I am also very sad that we only have one episode left.
No matter how much you got, how do you turn your back on more?
Thanks, Bryan, for getting us started.
I always took Walt’s commitment to the family to go hand in hand with his pride. Here’s how I see it working in the world of Breaking Bad. In the beginning of the show, the defining feature of Walter White is a sort of bourgeois, suburban boredom, where anything distinctive about the man (as husband, as as father, as scientist) fades away, flattened out into the suburban horizon; Walter White is just like every other suburban male. He’s part of a family. Now, Walter has an amazing raw intelligence, but it is one that is not being harnessed properly. Furthermore, it’s an intelligence that is fundamentally bored (i.e. not bored by this or that, but rather existentially bored). In fact, his family is the sole site in which something like Walter White the individual appears. In fact, Walter White–the individual–just is the family man. Literally, it seems that his family is the only group of people that acknowledges (recognizes?) him–the only group to which he ‘appears’ and matters.
Then comes the cancer and the feeling of mortality, the threat of death. WW recognizes that once he is dead, there will be no remembrance. He will fade away, flattened out even in the minds of his family. Their world will be empty of him and he has left no legacy behind him. Thus, him ‘breaking bad,’ which provides an opportunity for him to leave a legacy–here a monetary one (which correlates to greatness in the dull world of suburbia). WW is in the strange predicament of buying into the suburban worldview while at the same time pushing against it by trying to fulfill its particular glories and promises (of wealth and power and a relief from existential boredom). So, WW’s pride (certainly a quality of his character) tracks this logic, but that logic is not reducible to it.
This episode, I agree, is incredibly interesting because it transports WW outside of the world of suburbia (a world he occupied even when he was Heisenberg at his height–this is how I take his ‘condo’ days) and shows how without that world he is less than nothing, literally fading away. I think seeing G + E certainly sparks his pride, but it also highlights this logic once again: WW doesn’t exist. He is nothing. Gone. He does not anymore appear (nor did he ever). And this launches the dialectic that started everything. If it is pride, it is more than just an emotion, but something like an existential craving to appear to others.
With all of that said, I’m still quite wary about where the show is going. The torture of Jesse feels cheap because it seems mostly to be a set up for making neo-Nazis appear (more?) evil (really?) And WW’s vengeance might then appear to be welcomed by us, the viewer. I’m excited to see the last episode and hope it doesn’t disappoint…but I’m cautious.
Thanks, guys, for the great start! I couldn’t agree more with both of you – what a different, slower, and someways darker episode followed by a fire bomb spark at the end, Bryan. Martin, I think you are I are on the same wave length. All you say about Walt’s suburban identity is what I’ve been harping on when discussing his rivalry with Hank. The pride vs. family is a false dichotomy – the two are the same in Walt’s mind, because “doing it for his family” is what gives him the logic of his own self-aggrandizement, which I also agree is about being seen/remembered/recognized – what we often boil down to “reputation” but does, I think, include these much deeper impulses. And Natalie, was the phone call with Walt Jr., which brought about Walt’s lowest moment, the bitter bare realization that “it” (and damn, what a lot is encompassed in that “it”) will have been in vane – that is, without reward or recognition – flip the expectation of Walt Jr.’s death? Not a death of the son for the sins of the father but a kind of patricide?
But the real question for me (for all of us, right?) is where this is headed. And not really in terms of what exactly will happen, but more, how will it feel when it does. I almost jumped back in last week to join the “is this taking the cheap way out” debate? I’m glad I waited, only because I genuinely don’t know! What I did love about the ending (besides all the intense – maybe too obvious? – ways it affirmed my own sense of Walt’s psychology; see above), is that it made clear that if Walt does go after Jack, Todd & the boys, it will not be out of “redemptive” motives. It will be the same ego-driven desire to get control back, to be on top, to matter. I still do not see any satisfying way that Walt could “succeed” – that is, if he saves Jesse, gets his money, and/or gives it to his family I will feel disappointed. Maybe one of these things could happen? But this can’t be a redemption story, at least not in any obvious way. A few things I think might/might not happen: 1) Jesse will not end as a meth slave. He might die, but we will not leave the show with him in chains; 2) Todd might kill Walt. This, in fact, might be the patricide that is most fitting; 3) Walt might die in any other number of ways; 4) Walt might not die, but will fail to achieve his goals of revenge; 5) the White family will be worse off than they were at the beginning (it does feel fitting to me, within the logic of the show, that Skyler will not go to jail but will work the rest of her life in near penury and despair as a kind of purgatory of her complicity). But how it will all play out; I have no idea!
As for the neo-Nazis, I am right there with the rest of you: they are definitely being set up to remind us that there is evil even worse than Walter White (though that feels cheap and over the top). But I think it could be possible that they will come out on top, or at least survive for the moment. In which case, their “excessive” evil might be meant to show us the full depravity of the world Walt has been moving in, no matter how much he wants to think he is above it. That would be superior, at least for my money, than serving as a path of redemption for Walt.
OK, Natalie and Travis – you were both the most skeptical of the possible redemption-arc from last week. Where do you stand now?
If you want something else to watch, put it on the list,
I suppose I remain dubious of the redemption arc, but hopeful that its resolution will still satisfy. The main reason for this hope is that, despite my concerns, I don’t find myself wanting Walt redeemed. I can’t buy into the direction this arc is going, and I trust that might be what the arc is trying to do – give us the illusion of a redemptive narrative that is void of any redemption Walt would actually want in the end. For all our analysis, when I look at how Walt makes me feel towards him, I don’t feel empathy or even sympathy – I feel pity. And given what we’ve said about his existential boredom with suburban life, his pride and how wrapped up that is in his notion of family, his desire for recognition (from his petty jealously of Walt Jr’s money making website in the first season, to his petty attempts to outsmart Hank, to his petty inability to see just how far from developing Grey Matter he really is), and all the other pathetic aspects of Walt that make him Walt, I tend to think Walt would rather inspire any emotion out of someone observing him (jealously, hate, scorn…) than pity. Pity is the saddest most pathetic feeling to direct toward someone because it simultaneously judges them as unworthy of dignity and pride in any way. Pity, as distinct from empathy, looks down on the person to whom it is directed; it contains no respect. It denies Walt the type of recognition he wants for everything he’s done since his diagnosis.
I was struck by the way Walt described Jack’s wrongdoing towards him: “they stole my life’s work!” – really, his life’s work?? Because the meth empire was really just his last year’s work that it now seems he wants to define his whole self by. If we’re left pitying him for everything since his diagnosis, then we too steal his life’s work – his way of making meaning of a life about to end.
And I’m just not sure you can tease a redemption out of that!
A few stray thoughts:
1. Todd tells Lydia that the batch is at 92% and he tells Jesse it’s at 96%…so who is he lying to? My hunch is he’s lying to Lydia, and that Jesse has actually managed to make meth that is better that Walt’s. I’ll be curious to see if this comes up next week in the finale. His chemistry genius is one of the few aspects of self Walt has left to cling to. If the (undervalued!) student has surpassed the master, that might be the final nail in the coffin of Walt’s pride. And it certainly fits well with pulling Gretchen and Elliot back in for the final act.
2. I’ve become intrigued how visual symbols are used in the show – we’ve talked much of the colours (and blue was used again in some fascinating ways to denote complicity in Walt’s empire this week, particularly with Saul wearing the bright blue shirt and carrying all blue luggage as he went on the run). Some others to ponder – Heisenberg’s hat almost made me laugh. Really, of the few things he was able to take with him, he chose that hat? But what a great visual cue for his desire to hang onto that life’s work. Skylar’s bathrobe from season 1 made a reappearance again too – I think indicating also her desire to return to a time before this all began. But I’m most intrigued as we have all noted how silly the neo-Nazis seem (like the writers asked each other, “what’s something more evil that Walt we can introduce? … I know … Nazis!!”). But when it comes down to it, the only way we know they’re neo-Nazi’s is their tattoos. We haven’t actually seen them doing anything ideologically Nazi-like. They’re standard drug criminals, but with extra scary tats. Much as I enjoy the visual symbolics of the show, I also think they sometimes try to do too much work (like, I’ve never figured out what the hell purple is all about but it clearly matters!) – and this might be another of those cases.
3. Which leads to my final thought – we’ve discussed what ‘evil’ is in this show for a few weeks now. And I’m left wondering if in addition to everything we’ve mentioned, there’s also something arbitrary and shallow to evil, demonstrated in particular by this somewhat vacant symbols. But this week, we got a new question, framed by Saul and Walt – what is good? It’s not something the show has asked us to ponder before, and I’m intrigued they’re introducing it in these final weeks. Any thoughts?
Ok, I’ve gone on long enough. I cannot imagine how this all ends!!!
I just want to chime back in about one of your stray observations, Natalie. I don’t think that Todd was lying to Lydia or to Jesse. I think that was supposed to represent time passing. Jesse and Todd’s cooks are becoming more pure. He went from 92% to 96%. Also, that does not make it better than Walt. According to Gale, Walt can achieve 99% purity.
Very interesting comments, everybody! I am so excited about this last episode!
Right, of course, Bryan – which actually reminds me of something else…Of everything shocking that happens in this show, I was perhaps most shocked of all by the passage of time within this episode, which none of us has mentioned really. I’m not sure what other series has had time pass so slowly as BB, with entire seasons only covering a couple of weeks. So to have a month or more flash by in the movement from one scene to another was somewhat disarming for me. I’m not sure what to make of that yet…perhaps nothing. But it does speak to just how monotonous life is for Walt outside of his meth life – less happens in the New Hampshire mountains in a month than happens in 10 seconds in New Mexico.