Every week for the second half of the final season of Breaking Bad, TheAtlantic.com's J.J. Gould, Chris Heller, and Spencer Kornhaber have discussed the latest happenings on AMC's show. Now, they speculate on what will happen on Sunday's series finale.
Heller: I do not really know what will happen on Breaking Bad this Sunday. Neither do you. That's actually why we make predictions. We do it to create the illusion of agency over a story we don't control. We do it for bragging rights. But mostly, we do it to have fun. That's why it's no surprise to see the Internet is filthy with prophecies about Walter White this week: "cockamamie" ones and crowd-sourced ones and upvoted ones alike.
I wish I had a prediction to pass along, too. Whenever I try to imagine what will happen in "Felina"—a wicked title that's not just an anagram for “finale” but also a reference to the three pivotal elements of the show: blood (iron), meth (lithium), and tears (sodium)—I can't reconcile my desire to see tidy justice with the difficult morality of Breaking Bad. What sort of ending could be "just," anyway? If Walt kills Uncle Jack's crew, finally punishing those who erased his true legacy, he will still be doomed. Nothing will change. If Walt dies—either by the cancer that surrounds him or by the cancer growing inside him—the wreckage of his life will remain. Jesse will still be an irrevocably broken man. Skyler will still face a long prison sentence. Flynn won't forget how his family betrayed him. Marie won't stop mourning hers. Countless other families lost loved ones, too, and we can only presume thousands more destroyed their lives with poison, 99 percent pure.
I do not want to see Walt triumph, but I can imagine how he might not lose. I want to see someone—anyone, except Todd, Lydia, and the neo-Nazis—escape from Walt's rampage with something that begins to approach a "good" ending, but I can't help myself from wondering if everyone is doomed to suffer. Breaking Bad is a moral investigation of one man's descent into evil, but it's also a story about the chaos he created.
I'm not even sure I want to see the moments I've spent weeks hoping to see. Ask yourself: Do you really want to see Jesse kill Todd? Would it even be cathartic to watch at this point? If there's a definite moral tenet of Breaking Bad, it's that sin begets sin. The Breaking Bad of "Felina" is a different show that the Breaking Bad of "Face Off" or "Half Measures." It doesn't feel good to root against the bad guys anymore. We now know what happens to the people who kill bad guys. If Jesse kills Todd, it'll mark the dénouement to his own wretched tragedy.
So, no. I don't have a prediction. I know what I don't want to see, but I can't decide if there's a right way to end the story, either. Instead, I'll remind you to remember what Jesse told us weeks ago: "Whatever you think is supposed to happen, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen."
Kornhaber: I agree that predicting is generally a silly activity. I don’t feel the need to excuse our very-human desire to do so, though. You’re right, Chris, it’s fun. And though you sound pretty worried about the potential grim happenings in store, I’m fairly hopeful that even if unsavory things happen, Breaking Bad will remain Breaking Bad till the end—which is to say a very entertaining, at-times gonzo mix of expected and shocking.
In the past week, I've spent an embarrassing amount of time rewatching the clip from the end of "Granite State." That's partly for the pump-up effect wrought by the pure cinema of those shots of the cops closing in intermixed with swelling violins and the slide-guitar groans we've come to know so well. But it's also partly to figure something out. Who is the man who leaves that bar?
In our roundtable following the penultimate episode, we asked whether Heisenberg or Walter were alive. Spiritually, is this character the same one we've always known, or has he transformed into some final, new identity? Since Sunday, the show's team has given the answer: Both episode director Peter Gould and Breaking Bad musical director Dave Porter have said that the theme-song invocation was meant to signal that a psycho-chemical reaction has taken place and we're now on Walter White version… four? five?
So the suspense heading into the finale comes, in part, from a mystery about character development. What does Walter White want at this point? It’s a testament to the show’s quality and depth that this is the question; that we’re not merely feeling compelled to puzzle out how the big gun and poison factor in, but rather to try and piece together what, exactly, is going on inside the protagonist’s mind.
Certain outcomes Walt once desired now seem impossible. Hank’s death means Walt's family can never be whole again. It’s hard to see him regaining his loved ones’ respect after his son told him to die. The failed box-of-money bid felt like a final sign that his current fortunes will never go to his kids’ college funds.
But the fact that he was set off by Gretchen and Elliott’s interview means something. On national TV, they indicated both that his above-board legacy (Gray Matter) and his underworld legacy (blue meth) were no longer his. So I think Walter wants to build something new. He left that bar because he wants his life to amount to something other than destruction, death, and notoriety.
One something might be the disabling of the mass meth industry. Killing the Nazis out of revenge/self-preservation/self-aggrandizement would, as you hinted Chris, be the old Breaking Bad outcome. It would be Heisenbergian. But Heisenberg’s gone. This new Walter White might well try to murder Todd and his gang with the M60, but more significantly, he might drop the ricin into the methylamine to spoil it forever, to ward off large-scale crystal cooking by whomever the Nazis’ natural successor might be.
I imagine, though, the Nazis won’t go so easily—and, per last week’s episode, Lydia will sway Todd or perhaps Uncle Jack to try and off Skyler. It’s possible they may even succeed, or almost succeed, maybe killing Walter Jr. when he tries to intervene. But here’s one path to imagine. Walt stops/kills the Nazis. He corners Lydia, who now has no muscle to use against him. He blackmails her—threatens to leak her name to the police—into providing some source of long-term funds for his remaining family members, getting her to sign… something… that secures them a legal infusion of cash. Then he poisons her stevia. Or he reveals the methylamine is poisoned. Or something. OK, head starting to hurt…