Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Parable of Breaking Bad

As the final episode of Breaking Bad looms it is clear that this has been one of the best shows on TV ever. For me it is right up there with West Wing and NYPD Blue, and in some ways much, much better. That's not to say it is a pleasant story. Or easy on the eyes. Viewer discretion is certainly advised. But as a story I can't say I've seen--or even read--much better. Much has been written already about its excellence as a parable.

So on the eve of its much anticipated finale--which, unlike any show I've ever seen, actually concludes one unified (and plausible) story arc--I wish to register a prediction that is just as much a comment on the show itself. In 24 hours we'll know if I was right. But even if I'm not there are probably some thoughts in here worth mulling.

At the beginning of this fifth and final season we saw a flash-forward to a moment in time to which we have only now caught up. In that moment Walter White returns home to retrieve a small vial of poison. Ricin, to be exact. Many have speculated who it is intended for, and I won't be the first to say I think it is for Walt himself. But let me explain why. I see three reasons:

Walter White, season 1, episode 1: The Pilot
1. This is how the pilot would have ended if Walter White had at that time been as good with a gun as he is with his chemistry. It is well known that episode one was like a microcosm of the whole show, and in that episode when the game was up and he had not only broken bad but been caught with guilt and collateral damage on his hands he did what he could to clear his name with his family and then tried to shoot himself.

I think this final episode will end much the same, except Walt is better at this killing thing now.

Looking at it this way raises some intriguing talking points too. In a sense we realize that the whole five-season run exists in the space between Walt's first and last attempts to die. And with all the breaking bad that is left to go, and with the body count that is yet to compile, in a sense and for half a second one wonders if death in the first place might have been a mercy. Yikes.

2. This is not a show about redemption but about breaking bad. We're talking All the Way Bad. And the furthest bad can go, once it has spiralled outward in all its external havoc and far-flung demise, is to spiral right back in to the suicidal darkness of despair. This will not be a happy ending. If it is it kind of betrays the story being told.

That's not to say a happy ending would be unwelcome--indeed, a well told story of some kind of redemption could be quite something--but it is to say that this would make for an inconsistent end to the "parable", as it were. As a parable of Breaking All the Way Bad, the furthest it can go is for the poison of Walt's doing to finally be his undoing as well.

3. One of the common threads throughout Walter White's bad-breaking has been his drive for control. Having played Mr. Nice Guy for too long he finds out he has cancer and then has one too many bad days in a row at the mercy of his eyebrow of a boss and he snaps. He loses it. Or should we say he seizes it. In that first episode we see the rush he gets from being criminally untamed. The worst of it is that he succeeds. And from that day on he is always grasping for control. Insidiously. Madly. Sometimes as if he is controlled by this lordless power. Several times he could have had his way out. But he kept on grabbing for more until he finally found himself "in the empire business".

The control runs so deep that he's actually cheating death. He's cheating death by managing it for personal gain. And in the end he will cheat death by beating it to the punch. I'm telling you for these reasons, and maybe more, as sad as it will be, the ricin is for Walter White himself.

I'm not saying I'll find this satisfying, but as an end to the parable it is probably the most fitting.
If you want to know what I WOULD find satisfying, it would be for Jesse to somehow escape to New Zealand and become a bush pilot.


Anonymous said...

You weren't far off.

Anonymous said...

I like the title of your post Jon. :- ) same one I used for this sermon -