WARNING: If you haven’t watched the latest episode of Breaking Bad (Buried), do not read any further.
As Breaking Bad progresses on the road to its finale, viewers around the world are getting a glimpse of that rare TV series that paints with a palette of grays, rather than black and white. In recent years, many series have attempted this, with varying results. I found The Sopranos to be far too black, and Lost to be far too complex to follow, with too many roads not traveled in the story arc.
Breaking Bad, however, despite its clear direction (from Mr. Chips to Scarface), has constantly raised questions of good and bad, never siding with either one. From the very beginning, the premise – that a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher would turn to cooking crystal meth to leave money to his family after his death from lung cancer – invites deliberation. In a country with poor health care (it’s been hard for people here in Europe to grasp that part of Breaking Bad), how does one pay for treatment that can cost as much as a home? Certainly, Mr. White is evil, harming others who are addicted to the drugs he makes. But at one point he justifies this by saying that if he didn’t make the meth, others would, and at least his is as pure as possible.
The final shot at the end of season 5 (the current, final season is either season 6, or the second part of season 5, depending on who numbers the season) showed Hank Schrader, White’s DEA agent brother in law, with a flash of inspiration. He had been chasing the mythical Heisenberg (White’s nom de meth) for a long time, and finally put the pieces together.
Thanks to an inscription in a copy of Leaves of Grass (this wonderful edition, if you’re curious), Hank Schrader realizes that W. W. is Walter White. (Kudos to Dean Norris, who has made Hank Schrader one of the most interesting secondary characters in Breaking Bad.)So when the final season began, it was obvious that there would be a confrontation between Hank and Walter, and Walter, who now has the power to be bold, tells Hank that even if the latter could get evidence against him, he would probably not get to trial before he dies, since his cancer has returned. As they confront each other, Hank says, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I’m talking to.” Walter replies, “If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.” Walter shows, with these words, that he is exactly what Hank thinks.
Meanwhile, Jesse is becoming unhinged. He first wants to give his money away; five million dollars. He goes to Saul Goodman, and instructs the lawyer to give it to Mike Ehrmantraut’s granddaughter Kayleigh and the parents of Drew Sharp, the boy who Todd killed a few episodes earlier. Jesse has always had a thing about children, and he doesn’t want his blood money – those are the words that Walter used a few episodes earlier – and wants it to assuage his guilt for what has happened to children in the past couple of years. Walter puts the kibosh on this, and brings the money back to Jesse.
Later, sitting in his car in a parking lot, in a funk, a homeless man comes up to him asking if he could help him out. Jesse brushes him off, then, in a flash, realizes what he must do with the money he has. He gives a bundle of bills to the man, then starts driving, tossing stacks of benjamins around in a neighborhood of Albuquerque.
In the second episode of the final season, it becomes clear how much everyone in this story is tainted by what Walter has done. Skyler, after being confronted by Hank, who seemed to think that she didn’t know much about Walter’s business, won’t say anything; she’s in it up to her ears just like Walter. She had been waiting for Walter’s cancer to return, but now she’s standing up for her man. And Hank realizes that his career as a DEA agent is over; how can he explain that, all this time, his brother in law was a meth kingpin, while Hank knew nothing? Surely his superiors at the DEA would suspect that he was protecting Walter.
In an aside, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle goes to the desert to see her new meth-cooking partner, Declan. Visiting his tiny lab, in a bus buried in the desert, she hides as Todd shows up with a group of armed men who proceed to exterminate Declan and all his men. While Lydia has been mousy and scared all the time – and still is; she can’t bear to look at the dead bodies, and hides her eyes – she is also ruthless.
Walter takes his money – six barrels full – and buries it in the desert, then returns home. Skyler explains that she told Hank nothing, and that he doesn’t have any evidence. Walter passes out, and a few hours later, when he wakes up, he gets to the heart of his feelings: he’s willing to turn himself in, and wants Skyler to make sure the money goes to their children. He says, “Please don’t let me have done all this for nothing.”
Walter is both powerful and helpless, as he sees his death approaching. He realizes what he has done, and how much suffering he has caused, and seems to be looking for a way out. But we know, from the flash-forward at the beginning of the first episode of this season, that things will get very bad for him and his family. Walter’s journey is not yet over.