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Breaking Bad #508: Poetic justice

Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I had nightmares after last night's "finale." I will put spoilers after the jump, but here I will say that at least some of those nightmares involved baby Holly toddling around with that uncovered, not-fenced-in pool five feet from the back door of her house. I don't know whether Junior pushing the baby around the perimeter of the pool while the adults chatted happily in the foreground was supposed to fill me with dread, but it did. Are there no parents working on this show?

Now on to other intimations of danger...

How will I make it to next summer knowing Hank is finally on Walt's trail??? The Hank-gets-dangerously-close sequences have always been terrific. And now that Walt has thoroughly lost my sympathy (that prison-killings sequence was so chilling, and I think the way it was presented shows that the creators know we're no longer rooting for Walt at all), Hank is the new hero, as Emily Nussbaum predicted:

To escape this moral checkmate, Gilligan might shift yet another character into the foreground, revealing that the show is actually (as a friend suggested) a hero's tale in disguise. In that version of Breaking Bad, the protagonist is not Walt but Hank, a man with no children. Despite injury and depression, Hank brings down a vast drug ring, even when he discovers that the kingpin is his own brother-in-law, a sneering brainiac who has always considered himself superior. But because Hank is decent, and the show is on the side of good, Hank triumphs. That ending would have the virtue of symmetry, and pleasure, and closure, and relief, for the suffering audience.

"Right now, however," she adds, "its easier to imagine someone innocent coming to harm." Yes, especially with that pool and the chronically undersupervised baby!! Ahem. Or, maybe the one who comes to harm is Hank. Will the last half-season find Walt considering killing his brother-in-law? Once that would have been unthinkable. But now, by the end of last night's episode, I have to ask, Who wouldn't Walt kill to stay on top? (Even though that raises a further question: on top of what?) Whatever happens, next summer's episodes ought to be good and wrenching.

Questions I have: did Walt really mean it when he told Skyler he was out? My first thought was "What game is he playing now?" But he seemed sincere, and I took the final sequence to mean that he really did want to retire on his earnings and go back to family life. (And now justice will catch up with him. It's like the Hayes code says: crime must not pay.) So, if he really did quit, what does that mean for Todd? And for Lydia? I'm guessing we'll see more of the Czech Republic scheme, and I'm certain we'll see more of Todd. I haven't forgotten that he's (apparently) more dangerous than Walt seems to appreciate.

How could Walt have been dumb enough to leave that Walt Whitman book out where Hank (or anyone else) could see it? Did he do it on purpose? Or had he never noticed the very incriminating inscription? ("Dear Walt, Thank you for teaching me to cook such good meth. 'W.W.' stands for your name. Love, Gale.")

Other questions? Predictions? What do you want to see happen (or, what do you dread happening) in the last eight episodes? And who's going to get that ricin?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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"Will the last half-season find Walt considering killing his brother-in-law? Once that would have been unthinkable."Actually, one astute person could see it coming and made this prescient observation earlier on this blog:"The series has the feel of the Godfather II about it, with Hank playing the role of Fredo. If Hank goes out on a fishing trip, he aint coming back."Now, it has the feel of Godfather III about it"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."The first part of season 5 seemed like an extended, though necessary, prelude to the upcoming climax. It got deep into Walt's psyche, but to the exclusion of other interesting characters (I, for one, really miss Badger and Skinny Pete). Now that we've eaten our vegetables, I'm ready to move on to dessert. I think the last part of season 5 will be even more exciting, because it will pit Walt against Hank, good vs. evil, with all of the characters suitably aligned and engaged. My question is: Who will Skyler side with?

I loved the ending and was surprised to see lots of disappointment on Twitter and on Alan Sepinwall's blog. I love that Hank has a hunch but nothing certain to go on, and presumably Walt's trail is pretty cold right now. What I didn't buy was that he was getting out. At first I thought Walt was just saying that also, but that picture of domestic bliss around the pool made me think, huh, I guess he was serious. Which I just don't buy. He learned with Gus Fring a season or two ago that you don't just say I'm going to stop making meth now. What about Declan? What about Lydia? What about the loose ends of Jesse, and Todd, and the skinheads who were paid to off nine guys? What about Saul? Way too many people left knowing too much for Walt to say "I'm out" without putting himself into his own witness protection program.Which was also my problem with Mike's end, by the way: a career criminal like him would know you're not out if they know just where to find you. He would have gone on the lam, with or without his granddaughter.But back to this episode: hope Nussbaum is right and that's the direction for the final season.Someone on Alan Sepinwall's blog had a most astute observation: during Walt's MRI he does a literal 180, spinning on the table. That has to be significant on a show this careful. Is the cancer back? Or was that Fortune's wheel showing us his luck was about to run out?Also Marie was wearing yellow instead of purple in that final scene. And earlier in the episode, Walt was wearing an entirely purple outfit. Walt-as-Marie? Will he take up shoplifting in the final season? ;)

Also what happened to Kaylee? as a fellow parent I'm still wondering if anyone picked her up from that playground.

Amy - I'm not sure what you mean about Mike. He was going on the lam, before Walt shot him. Or do you mean at the beginning of this season, before Walt talked him into working with him and Jesse? (Also: who is Declan?)I wondered about the MRI results too. But at this point I'm not sure how much the cancer matters. Walt's living on borrowed time regardless of his health, thanks to his many capital crimes. And we do know he makes it to his 52nd birthday at least. I'm sort of dreading whatever happens to get us to his buying that gun in that parking lot.We should start an Internet campaign to raise awareness for the abandoned and neglected little girls on this show. It'd be easier to shrug off poor Kaylee's loose end if we could say, oh, I'm sure her parents found her eventually. But we never saw or heard a word about Kaylee's parents, which I always found odd. If Mike is that attached to his granddaughter, he must have some kind of relationship with his daughter or son, right? I mean who drops her off at Grandpa's? And do they know about his million-dollar trust fund for their kid?

...As I think more about this episode and where it leaves us, I am reconsidering how much "pleasure, and closure, and relief" viewers might get from an ending in which Hank "triumphs." I'm not even sure triumph is possible given the awful situation Hank now finds himself in. Think about what he is figuring out sitting in that bathroom: his brother-in-law is the "monster" he's been chasing. Catching Walt and exposing him as "Heisenberg" -- which Hank must feel obliged to do, to end the carnage -- will tear his family apart. It will destroy Walter Jr. And, knowing what Walt/Heisenberg is capable of, Hank has to fear for his own safety and that of his family as he decides what to do with what he has learned. And of course there's the personal sense of betrayal and anger as he figures out just how elaborately he has been deceived by Walt and Skyler. I don't really see a happy ending of any kind. I'll be relieved if Hank simply survives.

Mike shook Jesse's hand, made it clear they'd never see each other again... and then went back to the exact same playground bench where he always hung out. That's what I mean about him not going on the lam. He decided he was going to go when Walt tipped him off that lawyer had flipped. But I'm saying he should have been long gone already.

Declan is the guy that Walt said that corny "Say my name!" business to. He's one of Walt's buyers for the meth.

Like you Mollie, I was unnerved by Walter Jr's wobbly stroll around the pool with his sister. I was convinced that Holly would end up in the water and put an abrupt--and tragic--end to the family idyll. To the writers' credit, the spell was broken in a much subtler and more portentous way by Hank's discovery of Gale's inscription. As a plot device, it sets up the trajectory for the final eight episodes, which I, too, believe will be devoid of happy endings for anyone. But, seriously, Leaves of Grass as bathroom reading material?I think Walt really believed, however unrealistically, that he could just walk away, and the happy family gathering was meant to affirm his sense of relief. But, just as in Godfather III, we know that something will pull him back in.And why did Vince Gilligan wait until the 8th episode of Season 5 to play "Crystal Blue Persuasion " by Tommy James and the Shondells? That gauzy tune from 1969 should be the show's anthem (although Tommy James claims that he got his inspiration from the Bible, not from drugs).

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