(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
Breaking Bad is a dark, evil show, and these last three episodes epitomize it. Nobody gets off easy. Walt suffers. Everyone who knows Walt suffers. Everyone who so much as meets him suffers. Walt’s lies and his actions, which in his mind strictly concern himself, spread out to destroy all those around him, as far away as two colliding airplanes.
The scene that ties the season together comes at the end of episode 12. Walt, having been blackmailed by Jane, who sees Jesse’s money as her—ahem, as their—ticket to freedom, drops off Jesse’s duffel bag full of cash, $480,000 worth. He tells Jesse he’s making a mistake. The door is slammed in his face. Walt stops by a bar for a beer. Skyler calls. Walt lies smoothly, tells her all the stores are sold out of baby diapers, so he’s continuing the search. Sitting next to Walt is Jane’s dad, Donald. They start up a conversation.
Which to some viewers seems improbable. That these two happen to meet at this moment at this bar. This objection is, to me, meaningless. Breaking Bad is not out to recreate the real world exactly as it is. No show is. Any that claim otherwise are lying. Drama is a kind of heightened reality. Although that’s a bad word. It’s an altered reality. Drama skews the world in order, ideally, to shed light on it. In Breaking Bad, the reality is the emotional lives of the characters. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what is highlighted. That’s what the let’s call surreal nature of the show’s exterior world—the meth-cooking chem teacher—allows an exploration of. Same thing with the plane crash at the end. Is it realistic? It is, emotionally. Not that it couldn’t actually happen in the real world too. It plays a dual role: one, as a metaphor for the wreckage Walt is making of his life and of the lives of those around him. And two, it’s actually two planes crashing, and all of those people dying, and Walt acting as the catalyst for it.
So this scene in the bar represents the best of what Breaking Bad does best. Walt and Donald talk about Walt’s new baby, born at the start of the episode, while Walt was busy selling 38 pounds of meth to associates of Gustavo Fring, AKA Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), owner of a chain of Los Pollos Hermanos fast food restaurants. The deal comes through when Walt receives a one word text: “Pollos.” He races over, but Gus isn’t there. Instead we meet his henchman, Victor, who gives Walt a location and says “One hour.”
Walt races to Jesse’s apartment to get the meth and finds Jesse and Jane unconscious, on heroin, which Jane introduced to Jesse the night before. Jesse wants it because he’s been a complete mess since Combo was shot dead.
Episode 11 opens with Combo’s death. Having expanded their territory, Jesse has Combo selling on a new corner when a car pulls up with two very hard dudes in it. They stare at Combo, say nothing, drive away, then turn around and watch Combo from across the street. A kid rides up on a bicycle, like maybe 10 years old. He shoots Combo.
With Combo dead and Badger lying low in Fresno, Skinny P quits. Walt and Jesse are left without any way to distribute their 38 pounds of meth. Luckily, Saul Goodman knows a guy…who knows a guy who knows another guy who, from what Saul hears, is a lot like Walt. Very smart, very cautious. A big time distributor.
Back to Jesse, who’s a twitching emotional disaster. He tells Jane to leave so he can smoke some crystal. Jane goes to the door. Her hand hovers over the knob. She doesn’t know it, but this is a life or death decision she’s making. She doesn’t realize that she’s been inadvertanty caught up in the web of doom that is Walter White, but caught up she is. She doesn’t leave. She heads back to Jesse’s room to get high.
Walt and Jesse are told to meet “the man” at Los Pollos Hermanos. Jesse is late, and strung out. Gus is first glimpsed as the camera passes over him for a second. Later, he stops by Walt and Jesse’s table to ask how their meal is. They pay him no attention. Jesse leaves.
Walt reports to Saul that no one met them. Saul says his man says the guy was there, didn’t like their looks, and the deal is off. They’re screwed. So Walt goes back to Los Pollos. Waits all day long. Finally he really looks at Gus and asks for five minutes of his time. At first Gus plays dumb, but Walt says he knows Gus is the man. Gus adopts a harder tone. Says Jesse is a junkie, and why would Walt associate with such a person? Walt says, “Because I can control him.” Gus doesn’t say whether he wants to deal or not.
After Jesse skips Combo’s funeral, Jane brings Jesse the thing she’s in recovery for: heroin.
And then the text. And Walt races to Jesse’s. Has to break through the back door to get in. Finds the drugged lovers unconscious. Shakes Jesse until he awakens enough to tell Walt where the meth is hidden. As Walt scrambles to collect it, he’s texted by Skyler, who we last saw going into labor at work. “Baby’s coming!” she writes. Walt sits for a moment. What do to? He gathers the meth and hauls ass out of there.
Episode 12 opens with Walt having transacted the meth deal. He goes to Skyler at the hospital. The baby’s in her arms, and who’s there with her? Ted Beneke. Walt missed the birth.
Earlier, Skyler finds financial irregularities. Shows them to Ted. He lies at first, but she’s caught him. He says the company is failing. He had to underreport revenue…by a million dollars. And so another character breaks the law. Ted rationalizes what he’s done. He’s saving the company and therefore saving jobs. He asks Skyler not to turn him in. She says she won’t report him, but that she can’t be a part of it. She leaves…
…And returns the next day. Soon thereafter, the Beneke’s staff throws a b-day party for Ted. He begs Skyler to sing a certain song. So she does her impression of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” which is all breathy and hot. It certainly leaves Skyler hot and bothered.
Hank and Marie come over for dinner, in the back yard by the pool. Walt has decided to have surgery to remove the remaining tumor from his lung. So they need more money. Flynn offers to get a job. Hank offers to pay for a security system for the house. Walt, of course, fumes. He has the money! He can pay for everything! But he can’t tell anyone about it.
Which leads to a wonderful scene late that night. Walt brings the newborn baby into the garage and reveals the stacks of cash he’s hidden behind the insulation. Look at all the money daddy made for you, he says. She’s the only one he can tell. Poor Walt.
Even worse for Walt’s pride, Flynn creates a website extolling the virtues of his ailing dad, and asking for donations for his surgery. Walt barely suppresses his rage. “It’s charity,” he tells Skyler, disgusted.
Walt rants and raves to Saul about his inability to tell anyone about the money. But when he mentions the website, Saul gets excited. Says they can funnel the money into a series of small donations made from computers all over the world. Walt agrees, but he’s still enraged at the notion of no one knowing that he’s the one who earned the money.
Speaking of money, Walt’s still got Jesse’s half from the deal with Gus. Jesse comes to Walt’s high school to demand his cut, but Walt won’t give it to him. He tells Jesse he can have the money when he’s clean, but not before.
Jesse’s far from clean. As Jane shoots him up with another armful of heroin, he reveals that he’s owed $480,000. Jane calls Walt at home. Tells him she’ll reveal who he is unless he coughs up the money.
That night, Walt sits in front of the TV. He listens to Sklyer singing to the baby over the baby monitor. It’s one of those lovely Breaking Bad scenes where we sit with a character and watch them think. What’s going through Walt’s mind here? I think it’s his realization that his family is more important to him than being “right” about Jesse’s future. He can’t risk everything for that. He tells Skyler he’s going out to get diapers.
Jane, earlier, strung out as she’s been, is late for a recovery meeting, which she attends with her dad, Donald. At lunch afterwards, she’s distant and lies about everything, including her relationship with her tenant, Jesse.
Drugged up, she misses the next meeting too. Donald calls her, she says she’ll be right there, only when she exits Jesse’s apartment, there’s dad outside. He storms in, finds the heroin, flips out. Insists she go to rehab again. Jesse fends him off wielding a baseball bat. Donald decides to call the cops. Jesse and Jane both beg him not to. She makes little-kid-eyes at him, says she only needs a day to straighten things out, and then she’ll go to rehab in the morning. It works. Donald can’t call the cops on his baby daughter. He agrees to pick her up in the morning.
Walt brings the money that night. Door slammed in his face. What can he do? He goes to a bar for a beer.
Donald and Walt talk about his baby girl, leading to talk of their other children. Walt mentions a nephew who he’s worried about. He wants to tell this nephew what’s right to do, but the nephew won’t listen. What can you do? Donald essentially gives Walt a pep talk here. Donald says with family you simply can’t give up.
What’s the result of this pep talk? Walt returns to Jesse’s apartment. Finds the pair of them passed out on heroin. Walt shakes Jesse, tries to wake him up, but it’s no use. In shaking him, he knocks Jane over onto her back. Walt looks at the needles sadly. Suddenly Jane begins vomiting. “No no no,” mutters Walt, running around the bed to her, hands out to—he stops. Watches her choking. Does nothing. He watches her die and he does nothing to save her. He stands up. Looks at her. Cut to black.
It’s a devastating ending. You sit there staring at the credits, not believing it. Walt let her die to serve his own interests. She was a loose end, someone who knew too much.
What’s even more awful about it is that it’s Donald’s pep talk that leads to it happening, and it’s Jane’s death that leads to Donald’s error as an air-traffic controller, that leads to the planes crashing. It’s as though all of these connective threads from the whole season wind together into a little knot in this one scene in the bar, then spread out again to wreak havoc and death. And from what? From two men who act out of kindness. Walt calls Jesse his “nephew” for the sake of the conversation, but when Donald talks of never giving up on family, Walt goes to help Jesse. He’s come to think of Jesse as family. And in so doing, Walt lets Jesse’s inconvenient girlfriend die. The whole thing is impressively twisted. No good deed goes unpunished here.
Episode 13 opens with the full flash-forward played out, the parts we’ve seen, and finally the pull-back to reveal the whole street covered in debris, pillars of smoke in the distance, and a van marked N.T.S.B. driving away from the scene. Watching it the first time, I was still confused. A plane crash? But why? And what’s that got to do with anything? Of course at this point, Donald’s job has yet to be revealed.
Jesse finds Jane dead. Another devastating scene. He calls Walt, who calls Saul, who sends over a guy to deal with the matter—Mike (Jonathan Banks). He cleans up the drugs, tells Jesse to say he found her dead and knows nothing else.
Donald arrives to take Jane to Rehab and finds the crew wrapping her up in plastic. He says not a word to Jesse.
Next time we see Jesse, he’s holed up in a drug den. Brought there by Mike, Walt goes inside and gets Jesse out of there, but not before Jesse hugs him and breaks down in sobs. “I killed her,” he says. “I loved her.” We see him next at a pleasant, southwestern style recovery space, wearing a pleasant green robe. “I deserve this,” says Jesse. He says he understands what Walt meant when stuck in the dead RV in the desert Walt said the same thing.
On the surface, what Walt’s done is to begin changing Jesse into someone as horrible as Walt. Only it’s worse than that. Because it’s not Jesse’s fault Jane died. It’s Walt who did it. So at this point, it’s not that Jesse has done something terrible, it’s that Walt, through a major lie of omission, has made Jesse believe he’s done something terrible. Which from Jesse’s perspective is the same thing. He thinks he’s done what he thinks he’s done. From our outside perspective, we see that it’s Walt who’s the monster, and Jesse who’s the victim.
Hank knows the real Heisenberg wasn’t caught. The blue meth has disappeared from New Mexico, but it’s now turning up in every adjacent state. Three businessmen come to the station and meet Hank. They’re donating money to the Fun Run. One of the businessmen is Gus, who sees a photo of Walt over a donation jar that Hank has set up. “One of your agents?” asks Gus. Hank tells him it’s only his brother-in-law, and that he has cancer. Gus puts money in the jar.
Flynn’s website is racking up money, thanks of course to Saul’s machinations. So much so that a TV news show wants to do a story on the Whites. They show up at the house, sit everyone on the sofa. Walt, of course, is unable to smile. His face is clouded with emotion as Flynn says, “My dad is my hero…He always does the right thing.”
Walt goes to surgery. As the drugs take hold, Skyler asks him if he brought his cell phone. He says, “Which one?” Oops.
Cut to about six weeks later. The surgery was successful. Walt sports a new goatee and a shocking pink sweater. Skyler asks pointed questions about Walt’s ability post-surgery to take care of himself.
And the, at home, she announces that she’s going to Hank and Marie’s for the weekend, and when she returns, she wants Walt gone. Why? The second cell phone, for one thing. Also, she talked to Gretchen and learned that she and Elliot never paid for anything. Next she called Walt’s mom, and learned that not only did Walt not visit her for four days, but that mom didn’t even know Walt had cancer.
Walt does her the courtesy, finally, of not denying his lies. He offers to tell her everything. It’s too late. She’s scared to know. She drives away.
Donald, meanwhile, goes back to work as an air-traffic controller, the first time we see what his job is. Overcome with grief, he gives out confusing coordinates.
Walt, alone by the pool, is shocked by an explosion. From above, wreckage rains down. The pink bear—who matches Walt’s pink sweater—rockets into the pool. Walt stands there, alone, staring at it.
Now that is a brutal ending. All his lies have come back to him. Everything he imagines he was doing for his family has resulted in his family’s dissolution. He’s left Jesse a wreck. And although he doesn’t yet know it, it’s because of him, however indirectly, that the planes crashed.
So we leave Walt at the end of this season far from being a drug kingpin. There’s no indication he’s even planning on making more meth. He’s got his money. He’s got his health. But that’s it. We leave him alone and confused.
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10