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Breaking Bad Returns: What Does Walter White Deserve?

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Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Walter White (Bryan Cranston)

Breaking Bad‘s fourth season, last year, had Walter White declaring “I am the one who knocks,” but it wasn’t until the final episode, as Walt engineered the death of Gus Fring, that he actually became that guy. Season five quickly makes clear that Walt’s troubles are not exactly over: he’s still a target of the law (including his brother-in-law) as the crystal-meth kingpin Heisenberg, and he’s still a non-natural-born killer in a deadly profession. But he’s also confident, victorious, imperious, almost serenely cocky.

I don’t know how this will all end. (It won’t, in any event, until the second half of the season next year.) It’s no spoiler, however, to assume that it will not end well–if for no other reason that any form of “ending well” for the morally depraved Walt would not exactly be ending well on the cosmic scale.

But how badly should it end?

This will be the biggest endgame for a TV antihero/villain since The Sopranos and The Shield in 2007, and back then, fans debated like members of a jury what would be the proper just deserts for Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey. (Then, in Tony’s case, disputed exactly what happened to him.)

Mackey’s fate–he wriggled out of jail one last time, but in a way that left him disgraced, alone and pushing papers in anonymity forever—was in its way as controversial as Tony’s. Many fans wanted him in prison, or dead, or killed in prison. Creator Shawn Ryan argued that it was a dire punishment for Vic to have to live with the aftermath of his corrupt choices for the rest of a pathetic, diminished life.

What would be justice for Walter White? You could make an even stronger case that death would be a kind of undeservedly heroic exit for him, a redemption, a return to the status quo ante—after all, we met him as an innocent man, a dying man, before he beat lung cancer. At one low point—season three’s “the Fly,” he not only wished for death but pinpointed the precise moment that it would have been right, with his nest egg secure, his family provided for, having seen his baby daughter come into the world.

Walt has always been about his family—at least his justifications have always been—so I have to think that his ultimate punishment would be losing them. Not for them all to die (I’m not that callous; then again, I don’t know what’s coming, so never say never). But to be caught out by Hank, say—or to be responsible for Hank’s death and then caught out?—to have his son and someday his daughter know what he actually was, would mean losing the very core of his identity.

Breaking Bad, after all, has been the process of Walt taking on one identity as a man after another: Mr. White, Heisenberg, The One Who Knocks and now The King. One of those identities has been The Provider—as Gus once told him in a defining conversation, Walt needs above all to be a man, and “a man provides.” To know that he hasn’t provided, that he has in fact taken away his family’s belief in his goodness forever, to know that he is The Depriver: that seems to be to me the worst kind of punishment for Walt, and if I have to guess where this show is going, that would be it.

But as I said, I don’t know any better than you do, and I’ll be watching eagerly to find out. I’ll be in this space Monday morning, reviewing Sunday night’s return episode. In the meantime, what sentence would you pass on Walter White?

19 comments
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rickyjames
rickyjames

I'm really surprised that nobody is pushing for the obvious ending - Walt Jr. becomes hooked on Walt's blue meth and eventually dies from it.  At some point the show must depict the true evil of the drugs Walt makes, which it last did in "Peekaboo".  Walt must win the world and lose his own family and be cancer free to truly have time to appreciate how much he has lost.

If he's gotta die, it's gotta be in the car wash with the lady and the car in the background as it was when he first passed out in Ep 1.  Go back and watch that scene - that is when Walt started his journey, and it has some kind of mythic vibe that must be brought full circle.

Hadeel Ghoneim
Hadeel Ghoneim

 after the " madrigal "episode i guess that his crawling baby will find the hidden ricin and die on it..

Brian Gibson
Brian Gibson

 This is the worst possible scenario for Walt but one that still doesn't come close to making up for all the damage he has done.....He gets told he has full remision and completely over the cancer, nothing to ever worry about again. Late that evening he gets a call from the police, his son has died from a car accident and they find out he had been experimenting with meth with his friends.

Elana Quattro Formaggi Paulini
Elana Quattro Formaggi Paulini

I found Walt initially quite sympathetic- afflicted with pride but a solid guy that had put aside his ego and considerable talent to choose stability to be able to provide for and raise his impaired child. That's a hard slog. What I love is that first season where your established empathy and understanding  allows you to see his reasoning for despicable acts as justifiable. How easy it is for anyone to push beyond their moral comfort zone when faced with something they deem unacceptable.

Jesse finding out about his girl overdosing would be sound. Hank finding out is all to likely- I really hope it happens in a suprising way. Some involvement with Walt Jr would cost both parents.  Was the death of Skylar's boss ever discovered or suspected to be suspicious?

It would almost be most torturous if the cancer does not return- his justification for his behavior would no longer exist. Whatever happens, I cannot wait.

ministerial
ministerial

Let's be frank: from episode one Walter White has never been sympathetic.

He did not "break bad."   

He was bad and broke worse.

I have always despised Walter.

The show's triumph is making me like Jesse.

Shoot the Critic
Shoot the Critic

I don't really want to "guess" what's going to happen to Walter White. I trust that Gilligan and the writers will give a satisfying ending, as I think both The Sopranos and The Shield did (at least for me). I just hope that Jesse survives and finds some happiness. He's the character I most care about. - Shoot the Critic

Raydog1000
Raydog1000

Walter is the man go Heisenberg!

Mark Youngkin
Mark Youngkin

I wouldn't put it past Gilligan to have Walter White completely get away with everything.  He makes enough money to quit the business on his terms and goes back to teaching chemistry. Then, ostensibly safe, a student high on someone else's meth takes over the classroom and offs him along with some classmates.

BemusedOne
BemusedOne

I wouldn't put it past Gilligan, but I don't think it would be believable that the man Walter has become would ever be satisfied teaching chemistry again. His ego has grown way too much for that type of work.

7_ugogirl7
7_ugogirl7

Disregard this post.  I will let my first post stand.

7_ugogirl7
7_ugogirl7

I think Jessie should somehow find out Walt let the love of his life O.D without doing anything to help.  I also hope Walt's brother-in-law finally discovers that Walt is Heisenberg, and Walt's wife was an accomplice after she saw how much money he was bringing in.  She needs to be taken down a peg or two by her own sister she stood in such judgment of.

COfoEVA
COfoEVA

Lots of people are going to die, I have a feeling Jesse will kill Walt.  Hank will somehow find out Walt too, and that will be explosive.

BemusedOne
BemusedOne

I don't see Jesse outliving Walt, or really surviving at all, though there'd certainly be a nice justice to him taking down Walt. Maybe he could be a witness for the DEA?

ministerial
ministerial

That's the odds-on favorite for the show IMnshO.

crocostimpy
crocostimpy

My personal opinion is that Walt should finally succumb to the cancer.  But I don't know whether he should be on top when it happens or at rock bottom. It would be the ultimate insult to have everything but then lose it to something he can't control. But it also would be the final insult if he was outed by Hank and his kids have to live with the fact that he was a criminal and a murderer. I haven't decided which way is 'better' dramatically.

mnich13
mnich13

I think Walt has to die, and I think that letting the cancer do it doesn't carry the karma the Walt deserves.  Vince Gilligan has said he's very much a believer in one getting one's just desserts.  I just think that before Walt gets his, everyone he loves will need to find out all about him.  Poor Skyler has been trying to protect Walt, Jr. from that ever since she found out, but I can't help but believe that when the final showdown between Walt and Hank happens, everyone will be there for it somehow.

In the end, Skyler will get mercy, and Walt will get justice.

vilechuckles
vilechuckles

 Didn't they hint at the end of last season his cancer was back??  That's probably going to be it.   When Hank finds out that's going to be devastating.  I bet he's the one that dies.  It'll probably be similar to how Michael Corleone died broken and alone.  

Robin Lee Stephenson
Robin Lee Stephenson

Yeah but Skyler is an accomplice and she needs to have some justice exacted.  However, it's all make believe so enjoy the show before it runs out of scripts and Booby wakes up in a dream.

GordanShumway
GordanShumway

Here's how I think it will end; the last scene of the show will be Walter White, forced into the anonymity of a witness protection program, working some crap job at a car wash...then coughing blood into a handkerchief. CUT TO BLACK.