“The whole thing felt kinda shady. You know, morality-wise.” –Skinny Pete.
Is there a more winning Greek Chorus on television than Badger and Skinny Pete? I think not.
And of course, since his scruples were immediately assuaged by more fat stacks, there’s your Breaking Bad summary, right there.
So what did you think?
One of the aspects of Breaking Bad that has struck me from the very beginning is the show’s reserve. Yes, it’s a drama of extreme behavior and sometimes improbable machinations. But one aspect that has always been held in reserve for the viewer is what’s really at the center of the whole enterprise: Walter White’s soul and conscience.
There have been no psychiatric sessions, no voice overs, hardly any reflective conversations. Walter White made a decision, and for years now, we have watched him act. We know his reasons, and even before his “confession” to Skylar in this finale, we know that his fundamental motivation has been the pleasure of feeding ego and pride. We’ve seen him hesitate before acting at times, we’ve heard some justification, but we’ve never been privy to any explicit interior struggle over what he’s done to other human beings.
In a way, that’s frustrating, but seen another way, it’s also keeps what we see very pure, in a way, and focused.
Walter White had, as Gilligan referred to it in the after show, his “Precious,” and that’s where he died. That was what he was about – creating a product that no one else could duplicate, this pure result of a process he had perfected. He did it, and doing so was what made a dying man feel alive. You could also argue that the satisfaction that we see is also about his “success” as a teacher, for the lab in the desert is Jesse’s work.
At what price?
Well, he doesn’t care. Walter White says a few things in this episode and even makes a confession of sorts to Skylar, but the one thing he never says is, “I’m sorry.”
And that’s okay, because he’s not. If he were sorry, he should say it, but since he’s obviously not really …then for him to do so would be false.
Who is Walter White?
Walter White is a dying man who operates in the world as a chemical agent – which means as an agent of change. Remember in the flashback in “And the Bag’s In the River” – he converses with Gretchen about the chemical composition of the human body. The numbers don’t add up to 100% and Gretchen asks:
Gretchen Schwartz: Sodium, 0.04%. Phosphorus, 0.19%.
Walter White: Point-one-nine. There we go. So the whole thing adds up to… 99.888042%. We are 0.111958%. Shy.
Gretchen Schwartz: Supposedly that’s everything.
Walter White: Yeah? I don’t know, it just… it seems like something’s missing, doesn’t it? There’s got to be more to a human being than that.
Gretchen Schwartz: What about the soul?
Walter White: The soul? There’s nothing but chemistry here.
And there, ladies and gentlemen, is Walter White. That’s his creed, his ethos and his reality.
Gilligan’s “Mr. Chips to Scarface” quote gets all the airplay, but one that is even more important is this:
“I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?” – source.
Walter White didn’t say he was sorry because he wasn’t. And the wreckage he leaves behind – on every front – no getting around it – reveals the end of Gilligan’s exploration of the question he’s posed himself, and I have to admire him because the answer offered onscreen is an honest one.
A weak materialist creates something that affords him a sense of power, even as he lives, powerless in the face of impending and inevitable death. It’s a delusion, but he persists because it satisfies him. It’s pleasurable. I liked it.
It’s the way he lived, it’s the way he died. No epiphanies or sorrow, just a consistent, soulless vision.
(Interesting that perhaps the ultimate impact of White’s death in the lab, with Jesse gone and all witnesses dead, was that the public would think he had still been cooking, and that this last batch was, indeed, the work of Heisenberg.)
I have a few thoughts – written, as required, before the finale – up at the NYTimes “Room for Debate” page.