Zachary Thomas Settle:
And Now He’s Alone: Season 5, Episode 15
Walter White is in decay, and he has been for some time now. Things seemed to take a turn for the worse, though, while Walt, or should I say Mr. Lambert, was in New Hampshire. While we remain uncertain of the situation with Walt’s cancer, there can be no doubt that Walt is in a state of physical decay. Perhaps the canned foods in the cabin weren’t as appealing as the dinners Skyler used to cook, but Walt has reached an unprecedented state of frailty. His fingers are too small to support a ring that symbolizes a marriage that once was, and we realize that there is no distinction between his emotional condition and his physical state. He simply doesn’t have the strength to follow to his commitments anymore; perhaps other commitments are far more pressing at this point.
But that’s the point of Walt’s place in life: he’s alone, and his commitments have led him here at the cost of every single relationship he once valued. And he is hyper aware of that reality at this point. Who has Walt not hurt? Who does Walt have left? It makes sense that Walt stayed in a New Hampshire mountain cabin by himself for a couple of months; the only party interested in contact with Walt is the DEA. So Walt occupies his time thinking of a kingdom that he built, having nightmares of the way it all came crashing down, and being so desperate for some sort of company that he offers to pay a vacuum repairman $10,000 for an hour of his time.
Walt’s exhaustion finally caught up with him in last night’s episode. Gretchen was right that Walter White is long gone, and though she can’t speculate about Heisenberg, we surely can. It seemed as if Heisenberg was nowhere to be found either. Walt simply can no longer muster the strength that perpetuating harsh personal dichotomies requires. The all-too dramatic moment of Walt slowly putting on the Heisenberg hat did not spark enough vibrancy for Walt to walk out of a gate and off of a two-acre lot because a paranoid old man told him it wasn’t safe. He would do it tomorrow.
We spent the majority of the episode speculating that Walt simply ran out of gas, and it seemed completely believable. The notion that the entire journey was too much for him to bear anymore, combined with the weight of Walt Jr., now going by Flynn again, rejecting Walt’s money served to convince Walt that his best bet was just to turn himself in. After the phone call, though, things changed.
Although Walt couldn’t muster enough strength from within himself to do anything but turn himself in, things were sparked from an outside source when he listened to the Grey Matter Industries interview, and Walt still has enough pride to fuel a final venture. But this is nothing new. Walt’s entire journey, both his rise and his fall, has only ever been triggered by his inability to appropriately respond to external factors.
Just Die: Season 5, Episode 15
There is so much to say, but so little time.
I was unable to post last week because of being sick, and, honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to put together an intelligible piece anyway. The fact is, last Sunday’s episode, episode fourteen, was absolutely brutal. It was simultaneously the most magnificent hour of television I’ve ever watched, and the most horrible. It was, in the words of my friend Matt, like “experiencing your world collapsing around you, captured on film.” It was virtually unwatchable at times.
Of course, the most heartbreaking event of the series to date occurred early on last week. Hank was murdered. In that moment, in the desert, as the shot rang out, it was like the show ceased to be a show. It became somehow tangible, palpable. It was real. And it was horrifying. The sheer genius of Vince Gilligan and his team is the way in which they have built these characters painstakingly over the course of five seasons, so that now we feel we really know them, down to the subtleties of their character and emotion. To lose Hank was to lose someone we know, love, and respect. To lose him that way was to experience the very darkness that is lurking out there in the world we live in everyday.
The clouds, of course, have been gathering all season. And now Walter White’s perfect storm is underway. I haven’t written about God all that much in these reviews, but if there was ever a time to do so, it’s now. Where is God in all of this darkness and mayhem? To be sure, Gilligan’s narrative is not theological in nature, but one must wonder in a universe as brutally real as his whether there may be an unseen Answer, a divine Comfort, leaving breadcrumbs to be found by us viewers. These days, there isn’t much – except, perhaps, for two glimmers coming from two of those characters that we have grown to love so much. And coming in the form of that divinely human attribute: dignity.
Last week, when Hank knew he was caught, that it was over, even as Walter spun his mad scientist tires trying to get his brother out of the trap he himself had set, Hank put his dignity on display. He was not a perfect character, not by any stretch. And even his choices in the episodes leading up to that fateful moment were not exactly dignified. Hank had selfish reasons for staying off the clock and detaining Jesse in his home and going on a rogue manhunt for his brother in law. He wanted to save face, keep his job, hold onto his pride. Pride is not the same as dignity. But when the moment came for Hank to face the music, gun to his head, a beautiful clarity and courage emerged. The words to his captor sounded like raw justice in the midst of sheer evil: “My name is ASAC Schrader. And you can go f–k yourself.”
Tonight, we saw the second appearance of this divine dignity, and it may have been the brightest moment in the entire series thus far. Walter, now in New Hampshire, in hiding, is desperate to move some of his money to his family, lest it all be for naught. They have rejected his invitation to escape and start over. They have been plunged into the abyss of pain in the wake of the great Revelation of Walter’s dark secrets. And they find themselves severely hamstrung financially, with wrecked reputations in the community. Walter Jr. especially has been steamrolled by the truth surrounding his father’s life. Everything he knew and loved and trusted was a lie.
Still, Jr. stays on the phone at his school even as the caller reveals himself to be his father.
Walt is pleading, crying, so happy to speak to his son, but at the end of his rope, dying. He wants to send $100,000, but he’ll send it to Jr.’s friend so that Skyler doesn’t know. Jr. can get the money to the family. He didn’t mean for any of this to happen. What they are saying about him in the media isn’t true. What he did, he did for his family.
As viewers, we are almost fooled by this sad sincerity.
But not Walter Jr.
“You want to send money? You killed Uncle Hank!” he cries. “You killed him! What you did to Mom…you asshole! You killed Uncle Hank! I don’t want anything from you…Why are you still alive? Why don’t you just die already, just die!”
The dignity coursing through the CP-afflicted body of this young man is a brilliant shot of lightning in this dark storm of destruction.
There is so much to say, but so little time. Jesse is in the crucible of judgment, experiencing the worst kind of hell imaginable. He is paying for his sins, and the sins of his mentor, several times over. Tonight, he lost another huge chunk of his own humanity, even as the man who led him by the hand down this very path remains at large.
At this point, my only remaining hope is that these two, mentor and student, may, in fact, cross paths one more time. And, perhaps there, find a moment of redemption, even if it is only the realization of Jr.’s prophetic word: Just die.
But, in the words of Augustine: Not yet.
Granite State: Season 5, Episode 15
With only the finale episode left, on the heels of winning an Emmy for Best Drama Series as well as another for Best Supporting Actress (Anna Gunn), Breaking Bad has few questions left to answer. As the series culminates, many have speculated whether or not Walter White will survive the finale and if not, what the circumstances of his death might be. What this most recent episode shows is that Walter White is already dead.
But not in the “cancer’s-back-doomed-to-perish” sense. The character Walter White no longer exists. When Walt runs, he does more than merely dissolve his official identity and disappear. Walt has become completely divested of his identity as Walter White. Now trapped in a hell of his own device, divorced from both his family and his work, all that is left of his identity is Heisenberg, physically seen in the retrieval of the black hat. The signifiers that gave meaning to Walter White have been removed–his family and his past. Everyone who knew Walter actively attempts to distance themselves and remove his memory from their lives. His son openly scorns him, asks why he doesn’t just die, choosing to reject even his father’s name, going by Flynn rather than Walter Jr. In the bar, Walt’s old partners from Grey Matter publicly condemn Walter and distance themselves as much as possible from their relationship with him. This is, surprisingly, what seems to most enrage Walt and pushes him to one last attempt at rectifying the damage he’s caused and the fallout from the collapse of his empire.
In spite of all the speculation and conjecture about how Breaking Bad will close, one thing seems certain: there are no happy endings here. Even the trajectory of Jesse’s narrative, which seemed as if moving toward some redemptive moment, is stripped away. Essentially a slave, the one thing Jesse cares for is taken from him when Todd coldly murders Andrea before Jesse’s eyes as punishment for his attempted escape, with the warning that they can always kill her son Brock too. Todd makes a similar threat to Skyler, appearing in the White household with a warning not to give them or Lydia over to the police. Todd seems well positioned to take control of Walt’s empire, having successfully removed any obstacles to his burgeoning role as Walt’s replacement and Breaking Bad seems well positioned to ensure that no one is saved in the end. The expression “nice guys finish last” would be perhaps poignant here, but there are no “nice guys” in Breaking Bad.
As certain as the bleakness of Breaking Bad’s final act may be, the series has been built upon surprise and the unexpected. It seems that answering the questions that are left, in the seemingly small time left to answer them is an impossible task. Regardless of what we may think and believe about Walter and the direction of Breaking Bad there is no doubt that what we will not get what we want in the end, and what we least expect will be the case: everyone will be wrong in the end.
Granite State: Season 5, Episode 15
Last week’s explosive episode saw Walter White’s world crumbling around him. This week, we see Walt’s inner world crumble. The slower pace of the episode felt right for the sequence– I’m not sure anyone could endure two “Ozymandias”s in a row. Instead, Walt was sent to his room to think about what he’s done.
Here, at last, Walt is entirely cut off from the family he claimed all the while to be providing for, holed up in a cabin in New Hampshire with no company but his barrel full of cash. He cuts out articles from the Albuquerque newspaper about his case and his family and watches from afar as their lives spiral into highly public shame. Saul points out early on that Walter’s best option is to turn himself in to save his family from bearing the brunt of his crimes. But Walt is not willing to bend until his family has his money– all of it– which means that the nazis are going to have to go down. Saul, who if nothing else is a master of risk-reward analysis, can see what Walter can’t– that Walter’s insistence on full measures, on “the empire business,” on killing the fly, is going to be his undoing. As if he hasn’t already come undone.
Having to change his name is an important symbolic humiliation for Walt. Mr. “You’re Damn Right It Is” is now Mr. Lambert, anonymously wasting away in a cabin. His hair grows with his loneliness until he’s willing to pay the “vacuum cleaner repair man” $10,000 for an hour of playing cards. This morning critic Sam Adams made the savvy observation that it “seemed appropriate that ‘vacuum’ was a key word on Breaking Bad last night.” (https://twitter.com/SamuelAAdams/status/382187380423548928) This vacuum repair man can do nothing of the sort, and the vacuum only increases as Walt must stew alone.
Walt’s call to Walter Jr. was one of the saddest moments of the series to me. Here was Walt trying again to make the case that he had something to offer to his family, that his work was not for nothing, and he had to listen to his son shout back at him that nothing Walt had done meant anything to him anymore. Watching Junior scream to Walt to “just die already” was a devastating mirror to the wide-eyed Junior of season two, thrilled at the success of his online campaign to help his dad. (Want to break your heart over some comic sans? http://www.savewalterwhite.com/). Here is yet another clear picture of the brokenness of it all, Walter’s utter failure to do any of the things he said he meant to do. I did feel for Walter in that moment. I think we all know what it feels like to try to do what we can to patch a situation only to be reminded that nothing we could do would bring any healing to the wounds we’ve inflicted. It seems, in this moment, that Walt realizes the futility of it all.
When Walt called the police, I thought he was really giving in. Perhaps he was. But that broadcast of Gretchen and Elliot saying that Walter had almost nothing to do with the founding of their pharmaceutical company Gray Matter relit the Heisenberg flame. His name is too important to him. He can’t let himself die Mr. Lambert. Walter is a dark Odysseus, and he can’t resist telling the cyclops his name. And he’s going to make his way back to Penelope whether she wants him or not.
About the Authors
Lauren Wilford is an intern for Image journal and a film and music blogger. She studies aesthetics and narrative as an undergraduate at Seattle Pacific University. You can find her at www.wilfordlauren.tumblr.com.
Robert Andrew Norman
Zachary Thomas Settle
Zachary Thomas Settle currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a PhD student working in political theology in the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt. He is also the editor, alongside Taylor Worley, of a forthcoming volume on theology, phenomenology, and film: Dreams, Doubt and Dread: The Spiritual in Film.